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and I can't do a thing about it

CBC: Fire your non-budsman

Every once in a while, even though it feels like I’ve been around forever, I can be shocked or surprised by something that happens in and around the profession of journalism. The latest surprise was the CBC’s Ombudsman report that came out last Friday.

The background, I’m sure you all remember the incident in question, was when Marg Delahunty (Mary Walsh) of This Hour Has 22 Minutes showed up in the driveway of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. Ford reacted by first running away from the CBC cameras, back into his house, then by calling 911 to get the police to remove the CBC crew from his property.

These are the events everyone agrees on.

Afterwards it was alleged that Ford tried to use his position as mayor to get he 911 operator to react more quickly and that he called the operator names and used the “F bomb” to drive his point home.

The problem is that Ford argues that he never said many of the things he has been quoted as saying. He agrees he used the F-word, but he says he never used his position as mayor and he never called the operators bitches. Further, since the days events and the charges and counter charges, the Toronto Police Chief, Bill Blair, has listened to the 911 tape and he agrees with Rob Ford’s version of the events.

At the CBC the case grew even more bizarre when CBC Online wrote a story about the events and actually put the words Rob Ford had allegedly spoken to the 911 operator in quotes as if they had the actual tape or at very least had heard it. Truth is other than Bill Blair, the 911 operator and Mayor Ford nobody knows what was actually said. Worse Ford and Blair say Ford never said what the CBC quoted him as saying and the 911 operator has been mum on the subject. Therefore it is completely and totally clear that the CBC breached journalistic ethics and the CBC’s own journalistic policy in the reporting of this incident.

Had the CBC reported the incident as a he said, they said case with no one being certain as to what was actually said…you remember, the way it has been done for decades by upstanding news operations, nothing would have blown back at the CBC, but as is the case more and more often in journalism, shoddy reporting, unsourced information and the need to get on top of a story were all more important than getting the facts right and delivering a report that was true to the facts that were known and could be proved.

The fact CBC dropped the ball is hardly big news. It happens too often now-a-days to even comment in normal circumstances, but this case was referred to CBC Ombudsman Kirk Lapointe because of a complaint from Mayor Ford’s office. This is where the shock comes in. The case should be clear to any first year journalism student, the CBC blew it. They reported a quote as if it was a fact. So far, because we and they have not heard the 911 tape, it is not a fact. It is conjecture.

How the heck can Kirk Lapointe, a seasoned journalist with years of experience rule that the CBC’s reporting including its use of anonymous sources, satisfied its policies on good journalism. To call this ludicrous would be an understatement. It crossed the line, it’s obvious, and Mr. Lapointe has made matters worse than before by condoning it. How can anyone ever trust the CBC Ombudsman ever again? Why bother to complain to the CBC about coverage when Kirk, “Rubber Stamp” Lapointe will eventually rule in favor of his bosses.

The stupidity goes even further. Lapointe himself admits that he does not know what was on the 911 tape therefore he doesn’t know if the quote is correct. He actually says “In this matter only one of them is right. It just isn’t clear whom.” Duh! Then how can CBC journalists report what was said as a quote? Mr. Lapointe? To make matters worse Lapointe questions the reliability of Chief Blair because as Lapointe puts it, the chief is dependent on the mayor for his budget. Lapointe all but calls the police chief a possible liar without a shred of evidence. Mr. Lapointe it is time to resign. You have proven your worthlessness without a doubt. From now on you are liability to the CBC. Hubert Lacroix, I sure hope you are listening, get rid of the clown.

In the end we may find out that the CBC was right, although I suspect the 911 tape will never come out while Rob Ford is mayor. That doesn’t matter. The point, and the only point is that CBC reported something as fact that they cannot prove and that the folks who know what happened say is not true. Case closed.

Oh, and one more tidbit, the CBC had the Ombudsman’s report for at least 24 hours before informing their own news service of the ruling. The CBC journalists learned about the ruling from the Toronto Star. Then, to add insult to injury, CBC Online spiked their story about Lapointe’s ruling. It was never published. I guess what CBC brass wants is to make this breach go away.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

A short word about the passing of Larry Solway. I had the pleasure of working with the man for two television seasons when he took over from Pierre Berton doing a half-hour daily interview program.

I have worked with some very fine and talented people over the years but not one was more dedicated and hard working than Larry. He never interviewed an author without reading his or her book. He always did his homework and looked for areas to probe that others had backed away from. He was a brilliant man who never shied away from preparation and hard work.

Larry should have been a star in the journalism and TV world in Canada. Somehow his honesty and principled approach to his profession worked against him.

One of my favorite Larry Solway stories was when he was hired to be a correspondent with CBC News. It was during the Biafran War and the news bosses decided that Larry’s first assignment should be covering the war. Larry pointed out that he had never reported before, had never been to or seen a war, and questioned whether he was ready for this assignment. All of this makes perfect sense to me, but the bosses at CBC News fired him on the spot…the more things change…

Goodbye Larry…those of us who knew you and worked with you will miss you.

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11 Responses

  1. so far only vague reports of what happened at Mayor Rob Ford’s house this morning, but I’m sure the 911 calls will clear it up

  2. No.
    This is all very wrong.

    When it comes to the person holding the position of CBC Ombudsman, I think twice before shooting my mouth off.
    Not out of fear, but out of respect.

    I followed this Ford 911 thing closely, and came to the exact same conclusion as Mr. Lapointe.
    There is contradiction here, yes, but we are at an impasse without further evidence.

    No one is calling anyone a liar.
    Even Chief Blair is not calling the 911 operators liars. But he’s also not calling for an investigation into who leaked reports about the 911 calls.
    That, I find unusual. But we’ve come to expect far worse from the Toronto police.

    CBC News did the only thing they could, when someone calls them up with information.
    They checked it out and reported what they had learned.
    This was a “whistleblower” story.
    They were obligated to protect their sources, but the sources were not anonymous to the CBC.

    Without the tapes themselves, the proof, what was the CBC to do?
    The only thing they could – report that a reliable source was making claims about the exact words used by Ford during the call.

    Are you suggesting that they would have been better to not report the story at all?
    Leave their source to move on to the welcoming arms of the Toronto Star?

    Of course the CBC opens itself up to accusations of being played, being used.
    But that’s an inherent risk in the news business.

    When someone calls Evan Solomon about shipping containers that are filled with rocks instead of military equipment, are they not also “using” the CBC?

    Going to take exception to specific remarks made here:
    “this case was referred to CBC Ombudsman Kirk Lapointe because of a complaint from Mayor Ford’s office”
    Did you read the Ombudsman report?
    Who are the complainants?

    “the only point is that CBC reported something as fact that they cannot prove and that the folks who know what happened say is not true. Case closed”

    Hardly.
    The CBC reported that SOMEONE ELSE was claiming something as fact.
    They reported that some people, more than one, whom they believe to be in a position to know the facts are contradicting other people also in a position to know what happened.

    “shoddy reporting, unsourced information and the need to get on top of a story were all more important than getting the facts right and delivering a report that was true to the facts that were known and could be proved.”

    Where is your evidence of “shoddy reporting”?
    My view is that they were scrupulously careful and exact in their reporting.
    Where is the “unsourced information” of which you speak?
    Which “facts” didn’t they get right?
    My impression is that they did exactly as you insist they must do – “(deliver) a report that was true to the facts that were known and could be proved”. All the CBC did was report that someone had contacted them with such and such information.
    This was a valid news story and of public interest.
    Even if only to show how far union workers will go to damage the Mayor.
    The individuals responsible merit dismissal for having broached their sworn duty.

    Your complaint merits dismissal for not taking a moment longer to think before making wild accusations that you cannot prove.
    Now THAT’S shoddy journalism.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Allan, Joe…I respectfully totally disagree with you. The problem came when CBC Online put the Ford statements to the 911 operator in quotes. It was hearsay evidence. Had they said they had been told what was said without confirming the info in quotes, they would have been in the clear. My sources tell me that the person who wrote the story did not put Ford’s statement in quotes, it was the bosses that forced the writer to add the quotes.
      Further, unless one has proof one cannot call the Chief of Police a possible liar to protect his budget, unless of course you have the goods. The CBC does not. He has heard the tape, he is a professional, we can question him, but we can’t say his position works against his truthfulness. If that were the case, what about the fact that Lapointe works for the CBC…does that mean we can’t believe him either? He is just as compromised, maybe moreso than Bill Blair.
      You know guys, I can think of at least half-a-dozen times when I was the recipient of inside information that would have been a great story if published. In all of those cases we never went to air even though we knew our info to be correct. Why? We couldn’t prove it. It would have been our word (and the word of the informants) against the other side’s word. That’s the way journalism is supposed to work.
      My sources inside CBC News say they are embarrassed by the CBC’s coverage and that heads should have rolled. I can’t divulge my sources, but I did not write the statement in quotes either.
      It is my belief that many people’s distaste for Rob Ford is coloring and changing their journalistic ethics. I am no fan of Ford, but I am a huge believer in doing one’s due diligence.
      Lapointe, in my opinion, is dead wrong. Previous ombudsmen, like Bill Morgan, came down hard on the CBC in cases that were never as clear as this one. All news organizations have is their integrity…here it went missing.

      • Sir

        You knew something was true, but couldn’t prove it.

        Then you are claiming psychic ability?

        You need to reflect on that statement, because it makes no sense.

        CBC did not claim that what their sources said was true.

      • hlbtoo says:

        Allan…I don’t know where you work or what your experience is. I didn’t Google you, maybe I should have. I will explain one case to make a point. When I was at CBC news we were given a copy of a speech that took place behind closed doors given by a cabinet minister. We checked it out with several people who were in the room and heard the speech first hand. It was racist and inflammatory towards one group of Canadians.
        While the people who were there told us the speech was the one they heard, they refused go on the record to say anything for fear of government retaliation to their business. They told us if they were called upon they would say they didn’t hear the speech.
        On the other side, the minister’s staff said that what we had was a forgery meant to discredit the minister.
        We had more than 2 sources but we knew they couldn’t be counted on. The story never went to air. The CBC lawyers told us it was against CBC policy to publish without being able to prove it.
        One further point. As soon as quotations were put around what Ford is alleged to have said that infers that you have certain, unimpeachable knowledge. Since the CBC has never heard the tape and the unnamed sources have never heard the tape the use of quotation marks breaks the ethical rules and the CBC’s own journalistic policy.

  3. Joe Clark says:

    You’re disregarding the fact, well covered in Lapointe’s report, that the anonymity of the sources in the case had to be protected. As such it was impossible for Lapointe to independently verify the sources’ claims.

    Bill Blair is in no respect an unbiased commentator on the actions of Rob Ford. In that respect Lapointe was correct.

    I begrudgingly support Lapointe’s conclusion.

    • hlbtoo says:

      Oh and Joe, you’re disregarding the fact that the only people who have actually heard the tape say Ford is telling the truth…

      • Joe Clark says:

        I’m not “disregarding” squat. This may be your blog, but it is not a venue to score zingers against your commenters.

        I read the ombudsman’s report and I stand by my sentiment: I begrudgingly support Lapointe’s conclusion. I strongly disagree that it was a travesty of any kind. There were competing interests at play and it is never the straightforward case you suggest.

  4. Sue says:

    The amazing media haste to fulminate at length against Conservatives, before the SSM facts were all in yesterday may have similarities to this unfortunate partisan effort by the Ceeb.

  5. Just Me says:

    So the OPP Commissioner has now chimed in, supporting Chief Blair’s version of the 911 call.

    http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/media/text/20120120-opp_blair_ford_911.pdf

    Now that a completely neutral, third party has vindicated the chief, I feel the need to write in. I’ve worked for the CBC for nearly 20 years, gone abroad on assignments, and have had the opportunity to work with some of the best Canadian journalists. There are a number of us who are hoping our management will use this to establish some accountability.

    In the past, reports like this would have never made it to air. It’s ashame to see our cherished high standards so blatantly ignored in this case.

    I’m no fan of Mr. Gravy Train either, but targetting him for a cheap laugh, then running stories of dubious journalist quality and intent, are beneath us.

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