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 since 2005, 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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Thursday, January 24, 2008

CBC's coaching plan for errant Krista Erickson

The CBC is learning the hard way about the law of unintended consequences.

John Cruickshank, CBC Publisher (his grandiose title, not ours), must have thought he had cleverly disposed of that pesky Krista Erickson problem with a one-page public letter released Monday. Until, that is, it came back to bite him on the arse.

Yes, he wrote, Erickson did "collude" with the Liberal Party by providing questions to one of their MPs so they could, before the televised Parliamentary ethics committee, link former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to the current Conservative government.

But she did it with the best of intentions--"in pursuit of a journalistically legitimate story."

However, since she technically breached a section of the CBC's policy handbook, she was being reassigned from Parliament Hill to Toronto, he wrote. But then he crossed the proverbial bridge too far.

"Given the potential risk to the journalistic credibility of our Ottawa Bureau, its reporters, and CBC News generally, we have chosen on an exceptional basis to make the detailed outcome of our disciplinary process available to you (the Conservative Party), our employees and the public at large."

Don't break your wrist patting yourself on the back, John.

Far from restoring the credibility of CBC News, the Corporation's handling of the Erickson affair has managed to shred that credibility to tatters.

For starters, it confirmed the cozy relationship between the CBC and the Liberal Party, something everybody in the news business knew, but which the CBC always denied until now.

But, but. but...wasn't Krista acting on her own without CBC approval?

Well, that's what Cruickshank says---without an iota of evidence provided to Canadians to back up that contention. We're supposed to take his word for it.

Well here's a word --- NO.

"When this initially came out, it was a suggestion it was several people, that this was a sign of CBC bias and everybody in the Ottawa bureau, everybody in CBC News, wants to make it clear this is not a sign of bias or unprofessionalism at all. This was an exceptional incident that we dealt with very quickly." Cruickshank told Canadian Press.

The Black Rod highlighted the many, many questions that are unanswered by Cruickshank's missive, including some he alludes to in his comment to CP. They can be summarized as Who, What, Where, When and Why.

And even more questions have arisen from the stories that flowed from the CBC's reponse to the formal complaint about the collusion with the Liberals.

Almost all of the stories assumed that Krista provided her questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez who asked her questions on TV. But the CBC's Cruickshank refuses to name Krista's Liberal Party contact.

He only says Krista provided questions to "a Member of Parliament" with no party designation, indicative of a continuing sweetheart association between the CBC and the Liberals where the CBC does its best to cushion any criticism of the Grits.

The CBC still refuses to report how the Liberals continue to deceive Canadians by denying they received any questions from any reporter at the CBC.

Maybe Pablo isn't Erickson's boy after all and Cruickshank is laughing up his sleeve as reporters make an incorrect assumption. Or maybe Pablo is the Liberal that Krista Erickson was dating, according to one of our sources. Does pillow talk count as Principles, Section 3's " association or contact which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality"?

To CBC defenders the Cruickshank letter was a bitter pill. For more than a month they had been dismissing the collusion allegations as a non-story with the line "everybody does it." Indeed, even after the CBC said Krista Erickson broke the rules and was being disciplined, the defence refused to rest.

The Winnipeg Free Press ended their story (Former city CBC TV anchor stripped of post, Jan. 22, 2008, attributed to Staff/Canwest) with this paragraph:

"Ottawa insiders say some MPs had sympathy for her. They felt she was being singled out for a practice to some degree long used by political reporters and by all political parties."

This explanation is so persistent that the CBC can't escape its implications.

If so many political reporters routinely and secretly feed questions to politicians, how many work for the CBC?

What steps has the CBC taken to weed out these illegitimate contacts? Will they be asking each of their Parlimentary reporters for a list of who they gave questions to, when and why?

This is more than an academic question. Indeed it is vital for the CBC's credibility. Call it the Susan Murray effect.

Susan Murray covered Parliament Hill for CBC Radio for years before quitting in 2004 to become the communications director for Liberal cabinet minister Scott Brison. Did she have an epiphany the day after she left the CBC that took her into Brison's employ? Or did she slant stories the Liberal way for years before she left?

Oh, yes, she would have been "acting on her own", as Cruickshank wrote in his Krista Erickson apologia.

"The bottom line is, providing questions or suggesting questions to a member of Parliament is simply not a proper role for a journalist...Journalists should report on events. They should not try to influence them," according to Duncan McMonagle, a journalism instructor at Red River College where--surprise, surprise--Krista Erickson studied her craft (CBC reassigns wayward Krista, Winnipeg Sun, Jan. 22.)

And how narrow is the CBC's policy book ban on "associations or contacts which could reasonably give rise to perceptions of partiality." Would that include the Parliamentary Press Gallery which is openly in opposition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and which has aligned itself with the Opposition parties in an entente cordial (

where they all agreed to support the press gallery in its fight against the P.M.?

Taking sides is taking sides, n'est-ce pas?

Krista Erickson, meanwhile, is being given the help the CBC thinks she needs. While there has been much speculation, particularly on the Blogosphere, that she would be going to CBC Sports and rewarded with a trip to the Olympics in China, that's not the plan, according to Cruickshank.

He told Canwest news "the moment we heard and confirmed what had happened, we took the reporter off the story and moved her to a place where she can get more coaching."

Erikson, he told the news agency, is going from the parliamentary bureau in Ottawa to Toronto, where she will continue to be a national reporter.

How's that for credibility?

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