The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

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Monday, January 21, 2008

CBC to Canadians: Sure Krista helped the Liberals ambush Mulroney. Get over it.

Well, isn't that just too precious.

The CBC has investigated itself and found itself guilty--of trying too hard.

Today CBC Publisher John Cruickshank issued a terse and self-serving reply to the Conservative Party regarding a complaint about "collusion" (Cruickshank uses the quotation marks) between a CBC reporter and the Liberal Party of Canada at the Mulroney/Schreiber hearings in Ottawa.

"Following an investigation by senior management of CBC News, we have determined that our reporter Krista Erickson did, in fact, provide questions to a Member of Parliament in the lead up to the Ethics Committee meeting in December."

She may have breached CBC News policies and procedures (specifically Principles, Sec.3), said Cruickshank, but she did it for the best of reasons--"while in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story" and from her own "journalistic zeal."

All together now: AHHH.

Releasing this response on the eve of the Manley Report on Canada's mission to Afghanistan, the CBC hopes it will be buried quickly and that the crass insinuations of political bias will be squelched once and for all.


Cruickshank concedes that Krista Erickson's actions could cause a reasonable person to reasonably believe there was partisan bias at the CBC. He cites Principles, Sec. 3:

"Credibility is dependent not only on qualities such as accuracy and fairness in reporting and presentation, but also upon avoidance by both the organization and its journalists of associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality. Any situation which could cause reasonable apprehension that a journalist or the organization is biased or under the influence of any pressure group, whether ideological, political, financial, social or cultural, must be avoided."

But, says Cruickshank, the conspiracy between Krista Erickson and the Liberals was entirely innocent

"Our investigation determined there was no bias in related news coverage. However, our reporter, acting on her own, used inappropriate tactics as a result of journalistic zeal, rather than partisan interest."

The last time anyone tried that line was when CBS cleared itself of political bias for using forged documents to smear George Bush during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Dan Rather and his producer were simply honest journalists too competitive for their own good, declared CBS, just prior to firing producer Mary Mapes and assigning Dan Rather to watch his career go down the toilet.

At the CBC, they decided to discipline Krista Erickson by reassigning her to Toronto, where collaboration with the Liberals carries no stigma.

Did we say Liberals? That's interesting, because nowhere in Cruickshank's response does he identify Krista's fellow conspirator as a member of the Liberal Party of Canada.

Is this an example of a full, honest and transparent response to a complaint?

But then the CBC is bending over backwards to protect the Liberals from criticism. A reasonable person might reasonably suspect some partisanship at play.

The CBC, knowing full well that its reporter DID conspire with a Liberal MP, said NOTHING as the Liberals lied to the public and denied any such association. One can only ask why the cover-up?

But, then, Cruickshank's response answers NONE of the questions that need to be answered before the CBC can reclaim its credibility.

Let's go down the checklist that even the greenist journalism student knows.

The CBC identifies Krista Erickson as the "overzealous" reporter, even though the Blogosphere identified her weeks ago. But that's just a start.

* Did Erickson confess her involvement immediately? Or was she outed?
* Did her cameraman tell someone? Did her producer? Did a fellow reporter?
* Did she alert someone to watch the hearings carefully because something interesting might happen? And who was told first? Who was told next?
* How did the information go up the ladder? And how fast?
* If the CBC knew Krista Erickson was colluding with the Liberals from the day the story broke on Mike Duffy Live, why didn't they immediately contradict the denials from the Liberals?
* Who made that decision?

There was an investigation by "senior management." Who is "senior management?" How many people does that encompass?

The CBC says Krista "did, in fact, provide questions" to a Liberal M.P. Well, what questions?

In England, the BBC conducted an inquiry (the Hutton Inquiry) into the shoddy reporting of their employee Andrew Gilligan who invented the story that the government "sexed up" intelligence reports to justify invading Iraq. The 2004 inquiry discovered that Gilligan e-mailed questions to a Member of Parliament to ask a crucial witness appearing before the foregin affairs committee. The Hutton Inquiry report published the e-mails so the public could read for themselves the exact questions Gilligan wanted asked. Why doesn't the CBC do the same?

When did Erickson provide her Liberal Party contact with her questions? The reporter who broke the collusion story said he knew what questions would be asked of Brian Mulroney the night before the ethics committee hearing. Did Krista provide her questions to the Liberals that night? Or that afternoon? Or the day before? Or...when?

Where was she when she phoned her Liberal pointman? Did she call from the CBC offices? Was she outside parked in a CBC vehicle? Was she at home using her own phone? Or was the story that she phoned in her questions wrong? Was she there in person with the Liberals helping them hone her questions?

And, of course, there's WHY?

The CBC assures Canadians that Erickson acted out of "journalistic zeal, rather than partisan interest." Says who? Did she make a statement to that effect? What's it say? And why should anyone believe it?

The CBC has made no secret its in an adversarial position with Stephen Harper over the issue of who controls the Prime Minister's press conferences. Once you've taken sides, can you still claim to be non-partisan?

We've seen other examples of "journalistic zeal" from CBC employees. Who can forget Julie Van Dusen's banshee reporting on Parliament Hill or Terry Milewski's insults at a Stephen Harper news conference.

When does "zeal" cross the line?

When your colleagues in the mainstream media forget to turn a blind eye and actually report the antics of CBC reporters?

The Liberal Party of Canada knew who Krista Erickson was working for when she provided them with questions for the ethics committee. They even lied to the public to protect her.

Apparently colluding with CBC employees is just business as usual for the Liberals in Parliament.

So why should anyone believe now that there was no bias in Krista Erickson's actions, or in the CBC's refusal to report on the Liberals' lying denials that anyone at CBC helped them prepare their attack on Brian Mulroney?

There has to be more proof than "because we say so."

Both CBS and the BBC, when confronted with allegations of bias in their reporting of major political significance, convened formal inquiries to examine the facts and try to restore their credibility.

Faced with the same situation, the CBC issues a one-page letter clearing itself based on an investigation by itself.

What's wrong with this picture?

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