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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.

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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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About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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