Desmond Seales

| 04/07/2010

The news of Desmond Seales’ death hit me hard on a personal basis. Desmond was one of the most memorable characters I ran into during my brief stay in Cayman. It didn’t take long after I arrived to figure out that he was a colorful figure who might have lived by P.T. Barnum’s famous quip that there was no such thing as bad publicity.

Desmond was a throwback to a different era of journalism. Among the milder epithets hurled at him at times was that of “yellow journalist”. To hear his detractors describe him, you would quickly conclude that he never let the facts get in the way of a good story. His defenders would argue that he was the only established Caymanian journalist who wasn’t afraid to poke a figurative stick in the eye of any of the resident “powers that be”. Certainly, he had a habit of making himself unpopular with whoever held the reins of power at a given time.

Not long after I arrived on island I made myself unpopular among some in the Caymanian news community by making clear my reservations about the formation of a local “media council”. I felt then (and still feel now) that the actual object was to gang up on Desmond and make him persona non grata in hopes that marginalizing him would relieve pressure from the governmenton other media outlets.

The council never got off the ground, but I’ve never regretted taking that stand, especially since I’ve noticed that “self governing” media councils are a popular idea among Caribbean governments hoping to muzzle annoyingly independent news outlets by letting self-censorship take over from government censorship. If a government can function without the oversight of an active free press without worries about embarrassing stories coming to light it doesn’t really matter whether that’s because of government censorship or a press that’s unwilling (or afraid) to report on them; the public is still poorly served.

Desmond was indeed a bundle of contradictions. He loved to trumpet his devotion to reporting all the news of Cayman “without fear or favor”. Yet, his own business dealings often left him open to accusations that he was in fact beholden to one set of power brokers or another. He published columns from diverse sources, such as Gordon Barlow, whose curmudgeonly diatribes on Cayman’s social divisions surely mean an increase in antacids and blood pressure medicines in certain quarters whenever they appear. However, Desmond also had room for a local preacher, local businessmen and a proud native son. Giving voice to those who might in some way feel voiceless were it not for his outlet was something he did without fear or favor.

Of course, it was irony of the highest order that Desmond wanted to portray himself as the voice of the “little man” while running his own business in a manner that caused constant turnover and left more than one employee embittered and vowing some sort of revenge.

Any remembrance of Desmond would not be complete without mentioning that while he loved to point to shady dealings around Cayman he had a few skeletons of his own hanging in the closet.

In his own way, Desmond was athrowback to an earlier time: he might have found kinship with Benjamin Franklin, who before becoming one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, set type, drew cartoons and wrote witty and learned essays for his own newspapers and magazines.
Others who think less kindly of him, might compare him to William Randolph Hearst, Junior, who once famously told a photographer (pre Spanish American War), “You provide the pictures, I’ll provide the war.”

For myself, I think of Desmond as more in league with the original Hollywood movie makers such as Harry Cohn, Mack Sennett and Louie B. Mayer, who bent the rules and broke the molds. Desmond never made it to that level of wealth and influence, but in my opinion he was a
kindred spirit. Certainly his willingness to embrace the Internet and attempts to tap it’s potential was as grandiose and visionary as anything the Hollywood bosses ever dreamed up.

I remember fondly a night at Durty Reid’s when we shared a table and maybe one too many beers and he spelled out his vision of a Caribbean version of “USA Today” that would help unify the region. I don’t remember the details, but, I do remember that it was breathtakingly compelling. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I certainly hope it does.

It’s ironic that Desmond’s passing comes at a time when the party in power is renewing calls for media “self-regulation” and seeking to to overturn the ability of political opponents, reporters or the merely curious to file anonymous freedom of information requests. At a time when independent voices are more needed than ever, the loudest and most independent voice in Caymanian media is gone.

However imperfect he may have been, Desmond Seales was certainly one of a kind. In the words of Shakespeare, “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again”

Mike Hennessy is the former news director of Rooster 101

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  1. anonymous says:

    I can not believe these unscrupulous unsympathetic comments I am reading in this forum.  The bible says to respect the dead.

    There’s a lot I can say but I reverence God’s word.

    Despite everything, the Premier who came against Desmond should have been the first in line to recognize this Great man’s life regardless of their differences, thats what ‘REAL" Christians do and Jesus People Do!

    They FORGIVE and do not hold grudges!

    Big Mac, I we watching You! Why have you not said something nice about Mr. Seals?


  2. Rod Chesnut says:

    I am one of the very few who took Des to court over a canceled check he owed my small business (CDV). He finally paid me and the court ordered compensation. Took a couple years, but we were friends, again.

    Des worked with me & I for him, and he tossed work my way many times. He advised & counseled me & we fought numerous times over the years. I listened to his expanding publishing plans and his hopes to get back into broadcasting. And yes, he served his time for "stealing from Peter to pay Paul during his CITN & CTS days",  his words. I was one of the first people he tried to hire after he got out. Luckily my partner, David Foster, another great Caymanian, said I wasnot for sale.

    I just want everyone to remember Desmond Seales was also a broadcaster, who brought cable television to the Cayman Islands. He was a genuine, one of a kind Caribbean man and I for one will miss him.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Regardless of who or what one might have perceived him as, Desmond Seales did more for journalism in these Islands than any other single individual. Beginning with the Nor’wester Magazine, Desmond did much to put the Cayman Islands "on the map" of journalism. For this we owe this man, (regardless of personal feelings) a, "Thank you Des".

    I extend sympathy to his wife, two daughters and other family and friends.

  4. Craig Merren says:

    Will said Mike.

  5. NorthSideSue says:

    Whatever his flaws, I am going to give him props for being one of the only 2 sources of information about the Cayman post Ivan (the other being storm carib).  For that alone, those of us with long time ties and generations of friends in Cayman, should say "Thank you Mr. Seales."  R.I.P.

  6. Anonymous says:

    well said, you have put his life in prospective,  may his soul rest in peace

  7. Rectus femoris says:

    Well done, Mike. You nailed it with this description of Desmond as a deeply flawed but somehow likable scoundrel who made an impact in the Cayman Islands. 

    I was shocked by the many comments posted after the CNS news report describing Desmond as a saintly business leader who did no wrong. I can only assume those people did not know him or are bending over backwards to be respectful. But as you showed in this excellent viewpoint, there is no reason to lie.

    Desmond lived his life the way he wanted and we should accept that. He was energetic, bold and creative. He also had a chronic inability to follow the law, pay debts and treat employees properly.

    We should remember the bad along with the good and try to extract a lesson if one is to be found in the life of Desmond. That is how one respectfully honors the passing of anyone. 

    • John Evans says:

      The last sentence of your penultimate paragraph pretty much sums up what it was like to work for or deal with Cayman Net News and his other associated companies.

      I think Mike’s comments tend to gloss over just how difficult Desmond was to work for but then I doubt he ever experienced first hand what it was like to have a pay check bounce on Friday afternoon or discover that the money taken for medical insurance and pension contributions had been used to fund his employers lavish social life. I’m also sure he never experienced the repeated abitrary editorial decisions that killed good stories, promoted material that was completely unsubstantiated or allowed ill-informed interference during re-editing in Miami, all of which in my opinion did so much harm to Net News as a whole. 

      Having said that, I don’t think I would have missed a minute of it and my great regret is that the wealth of material Desmond accumulated on senior figures during his career will go to the grave with him. There must be more than a few politicians, civil servants and businessmen who owe their jobs, and probably in some cases their freedom, to Desmond’s adherence to the concept of ‘Knowledge is Power’ and his ability to keep their embarrassing secrets firmly locked in the proverbial closet, ready to be released if things didn’t go his way.

      • Anonymous says:

        The last paragraph of your post is simply not true, Mr Evans.

        A very longterm friend of Desmond’s.

        • An ex-employee of DS says:

          You may have known him a long time but you did not see all. As an ex-employee I can assure you that John Evans’ last paragraph is absolutely true. That’s why he could be so entertaining when he wanted – he had dirt on everyone going back decades. I wonder if he wrote it down somewhere.

          • Geoff Eisenhauer says:

             I completely agree with John Evans. I only worked for Desmond for a year (actually that probably qualified me for a long-service award),  we spent most of our time yelling and shouting at each other, the hours were crazy and half the time the staff didn’t get paid. Oh boy, was it fun. Loveable rogue certainly sums him up and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Good on you Desmond!

      • Mike Hennessy says:

        I am more than willing to leave descriptions of what it was like to work for Desmond to those who actually worked for him.  

    • Anonymous says:

      A fair and well written peice. Good to know that some people are open-minded enough to understand and write the truth even when it’s not all that pleasant.

      Great thing about view-point is exactly that: it’s your point of view. Doesn’t matter if others agree or otherwise.

  8. Peter Schmid says:

    Well said!

  9. Dred says:

    RIP Desmond. Your biggest story is now to be told and before the grandest reader of them all.

    God Bless and keep you…



    • anonymous says:

      I keep wondering if  Desmond XXXXX

      CNS I am surprised that comments like these are suppressed by you not printing them please tell us why.

      CNS: Because I routinely delete wacky conspiracy theory garbage. You may as well stop posting it on CNS because I am not going to approve it.