The Black Rod

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Friday, January 04, 2008

CBC honcho waves rulebook to deflect accusations of partisanship

The head of CBC News says you're undermining the very foundations of Canada's political system if you question CBC's impartiality.

CBC "Publisher" John Cruickshank has written the Conservative Party objecting to a fundraising letter which uses the latest example of political bias at the CBC to ask for donations.

The letter highlights the revelation by TVA reporter Jean Lapierre, a former Liberal Cabinet Minister himself, that a CBC reporter wrote questions for a Liberal member of the Commons Ethics Committee examining former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, off-topic questions designed purely to damage the current Conservative government.

HOW DARE YOU, thunders Cruickshank. HOW DARE YOU say CBC is anything less than non-partisan.

The CBC cannot be biased, he wrote, because they have a journalistic standards and practices book which "covers conflict of interest; it covers issues of journalistic fairness and balance."

Therefore, any examples of partisanship can't be used against the CBC -- because the CBC has a book that says there can't be any partisanship.
"When there are errors of judgment, or misunderstandings or improper interpretation of the journalistic standards and practices, we investigate." wrote Cruickshank.

Note how all transgressions are "errors of judgement" or "misunderstandings" or "improper interpretation." Deliberate partisanship is not even a possibility because, you know, the CBC has a book that says there can't be any partisanship.

"You were well aware when you sat down to write your appeal for cash that CBC News had publicly condemned the behaviour you complain of and had called a disciplinary meeting to look into it." said the CBC publisher.

He wants points for calling a meeting and revealing the fact.

He fails to mention that any internal inquiry will be treated as an in-camera personnel matter with all details hidden from the public.

He doesn't even name the reporter in question, who CBC and other news sources identify as CBC Parliamentary Reporter Krista Erickson, the former host of CBC's Winnipeg supper hour newscast.

"I write this public response to you because I believe that by its inaccuracy, innuendo, exaggeration and expressed malice towards hundreds of Canadian journalists you risk damaging not just your target, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but also public faith in our political process." declares Cruickshank.

But Cruickshank disingenuously overlooks the fact that the CBC is engaged in open opposition to the government over new rules for the Prime Minister's press conferences. The CBC has publicly and proudly declared itself an adversary of Stephen Harper on the issue.

As a result we've seen the shocking example of CBC reporter Julie Van Dusen banging on a door demanding entry to a private meeting between the Prime Minister and children with cancer. And CBC's Terry Milewski calling Harper a liar ("with respect") at a news conference in Vancouver.

The CBC excuses this rude and insulting behaviour as legitimate and in the public interest. The CBC is not opposing Harper for itself, they say, they're doing it on behalf of the public. Never mind the internal support for Van Dusen and Milewski. Atta Girl, Jules. You told 'em, Terry.

How thin is this line? Did CBC reporter Christina Lawand think it was in the public interest when she cut and pasted questions and answers over the Lebanon crisis last year to make Stephen Harper look bad?

Did the reporter writing questions for the Liberals on the ethics committee see it as just her job--in the public interest?

Cruickshank doesn't say.

In 2004, when Cruickshank was still at the Chicago Sun-Times, CBS's 60 Minutes Wednesday host Dan Rather got caught using forged documents to attack George Bush during the presidential election. At first he disparaged anyone questioning his story as right-wing partisans. But at one point, before his producer and three CBS executives were frog-marched out the door and his desk was moved into the alley beside the dumpster, a less combatative Rather said:

"If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story. Any time I'm wrong, I want to be right out front and say, 'Folks, this is what went wrong and how it went wrong.'

John Cruikshank should be aware that just before sending out their fundraising letter, the Conservatives issued a news release about the CBC-Liberal collaboration, pointing out that while the CBC had identified the reporter enmeshed in the allegations and was condemning her behavior, the Liberals were denying everything.

If the CBC determines through its disciplinary meeting process, that there was some transgression of The Book then there's no denying that the Liberal Party lied to the public and tried to deceive them.

We'll be waiting to see if the CBC runs that as the lead story on The National.

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