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The Cruickshank Redemption

The CBC is about to learn the fundamental lesson of political scandals---it ain't the crime that kills ya, it's the cover-up.

CBC Publisher John Cruickshank confessed the crime a week ago. One of the corporation's Parliamentary reporters, Krista Erickson, collaborated with the Liberal Party on questions for former P.M. Brian Mulroney at a meeting of the Commons Ethics Committee.

Cruickshank fiercely rejected any allegations of partisanship by the CBC. HOW DARE YOU, he snarled at anyone suggesting such a thing. The poor girl was just trying to get a scoop and went about it the wrong way. She needs more training, and the CBC, gosh darn it, will give it to her. In Toronto.

For almost a week Cruickshank tried to cram the genie back into the bottle, but then lawyers for Mulroney popped the cork with a letter to the chairman of the ethics committee, Liberal MP Paul Szabo, containing this sentiment:

"...given the way the proceedings have unfolded thus far, any reasonable observer must conclude that very serious breaches of fairness have occurred and that a lack of appearance of impartiality and instances of actual bias already jeopardize the reliability and objectivity of the Committee's ultimate report."

The letter pulled no punches. (emphasis ours)

"Indeed, a number of glaring violations of the most basic rules of fairness and natural justice have already occurred in the Committee's treatment of Mr. Mulroney."

"Thus, during Mr. Mulroney's appearance on December 13, 2007, certain questions were asked of him by a member of the Committee (which questions we later learned had been provided to him by a member of the media) that clearly fell outside the scope of the mandate of the Committee as you yourself set it out at the outset of the hearing..."

... "Permitting those questions to be posed amounted to the clearest breach of natural justice conceivable."

And suddenly, the CBC was pulled right back into the middle of a debate over bias and partisanship on Parliament Hill.

Or, more accurately, CBC Publisher John Cruickshank has joined Krista Erickson in the soup. **************

Exactly one week ago Cruickshank issued a terse open letter responding to a complaint about the collusion between Erickson and the Liberals, the gist of which read:

"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."

The Black Rod immediately pointed out ( that Cruickshank failed to answer credibly, if at all, even the most rudimentary questions about the collusion---who, what, where, when and why. After a couple of days to mull it over, Cruickshank published a lengthy apologia on his blog where, in a much less belligerent tone, he gave out a few more details as he tried to protect the battered reputation of the CBC.

"When, as in the present instance, it is revealed that a reporter has been collaborating, even if only obliquely, with one party or another, an appearance of partisanship emerges that cannot be dispelled by claims that this is how political reporters interact with their sources.

In this case, our reporter provided questions to two Liberal MPs using her BlackBerry in the hope that these would be put to the former prime minister during the committee hearings.

I accept the reporter's explanation that she did not do this to advantage the Liberals or hurt the Conservatives - that she just wanted answers for her story.

She believed it was permissible to create a temporary alliance of convenience with the Liberals if it would help determine whether Brian Mulroney had lobbied a Tory minister on a recent matter.

But in this kind of information sharing, reporters can become part of the story they are covering, which is not our role. Any time a reporter plants a question and covers the results, they are deceiving their audience about their detachment and fairness.

For our reporters, this makes cultivating sources problematic. We can't make deals that leave us beholden either to members of the government or any opposition party.
We have to stand apart. Our mandate demands it and our audience, the people of Canada, deserve it."

"Two Liberal MPs" ?

Tut, tut, Mr. Cruickshank. The first rule of cover-up is keep the story straight as long as you can.

Then there's the obvious question-- who else at the CBC knew that Cruickshank was going to issue a misleading public letter last Monday? Misleading, hell. It was false and deceptive.

Cruickshank said senior management investigated the collusion allegations. Did senior management know that Cruickshank was going to hide the existence of a second Liberal MP in his public response? It's time we learned the names of the senior managers who were part of the investigation and who may have approved Cruickshank's "modified limited hangout", to scalp a phrase from another political scandal.

Everbody had been assuming Krista's dance partner was Pablo Rodriguez, the francophone Liberal MP who appeared at the ethics committee out of the blue (he's not a member) and asked Krista's questions---in English.

Who would the second Liberal MP be? Just as the Blogosphere outed Krista Erickson weeks before the CBC, a name is floating up.

... I had the same question...who was the second MP?
If it was Paul Szabo, the committee chair, then he must be removed as the chair of this committee immediately for allowing the committee's business to be hijacked for purely partisan purposes.
Posted by: john g at January 24, 2008 4:52 PM

John Cruickshank knows. But he's not telling. Despite all his protestations that the CBC must act transparently, he's chosen to protect the corporation's collaborators.

"Our very mandate is to provide Canadians with a view of their political life unobstructed by bias. To do that, we must be detached from partisan interest, and professional and dispassionate in all aspects of our reporting. We must be seen to be all these things as well." he wrote on his blog.

What the public sees is a cover-up.

Cruickshank MUST identify the two Liberal MPs who conspired with CBC reporter Krista Erickson. If one of them is Paul Szabo, then Szabo MUST resign as chairman of the ethics committee before hearings resume.

If Erickson was in touch with Paul Szabo, it means this wasn't just a "third-rate burglary"---oops, wrong scandal---just a minor flirtation with the Liberal party by a CBC employee. It means it was a carefully planned ambush.

Rodriguez would ask the questions,
Szabo would overrule any objections, and
Erickson would do a story for the CBC news.
As easy as one-two-three.

But we can't stop there.


As we said, it's been assumed that Krista Erickson sent her questions to Pablo Rodriguez, but Cruickshank has never confirmed that. What if Rodriguez is not one of her collaborators? Is there another likely suspect?

There is.

Exploring the possibility, we returned to Krista Erickson's Nov. 29, 2007, original story on The National into allegations that Brian Mulroney lobbied illegally on behalf of Quebecor.

We almost fell out of our chairs at what we saw.

The story by Krista Erickson runs 4:03--- and is a classic CBC hatchet job. This girl doesn't need more training. She's got the routine pat.

The story starts with CBC News God Peter Mansbridge reading the intro, which begins "... another story tonight, one that has nothing to do with Karlheinz Schrieber."

Erickson starts her story with a clip of Prime Minister Stephen Harper announcing he was suspending all dealings with Brian Mulroney until the Murloney-Schrieber issue is resolved.

"That raised this question--what dealings did Harper's government have with Brian Mulroney." she asks accusingly.

"And that was what the Liberals wanted to know more about in the House of Commons today. They asked specifically about yesterday's decision by the government. to open up the wirelss industry to more competiton." continues Erickson.

She inserts a clip of a Liberal MP in Question Period:

"Were there any meetings, conversations, communications, or contacts of any kind with any ministers or federal officials arranged or facilitated directly or indirectly by Brian Mulroney or any of Brian Mulroney's associates?"

Then the hammer drops.

"But CBC News has learned Mulroney did play an active role in bringing together a cabinet minister previously in charge of the file and the CEO of one of the companies that could benefit from yesterday's decision."

It turns out "sources say" Murloney, who sits on the Quebecor board, was chatting with Industry Minister Maxime Bernier when he reminded him Quebecor Media believes the government should allow new players into the telecom sector, something "sources say" Bernier opposed.

Erickson reports Murloney didn't argue the point and just asked Bernier to meet with Quebecor. "Sources say" a meeting happened; in fact, Bernier met with reps of all the telecom companies--- before he was given another portfolio and another minister made the telecom decision.

From this gossamer thin account, based on unnamed sources, of an alleged chat, an alleged statement, and open consultations with all the telecoms, the CBC concocted a law-breaking secret meeting that, coincidentally we're sure, links Brian Mulroney with the Harper government.

To bolster her argument, Erickson declared lobbying rules state that any member of a board of directors who arranges a meeting with a government minister must be registered and---drum roll---"Mulroney is not a registered lobbyist."

The final swipe comes from Doug Conacher "of the public ethics advisory group Democracy Watch" who warns Krista that "Secret lobbying is a recipe for corruption, waste and abuse of the public interest. The registrar should be investigating in terms of violation of the lobbyists code of conduct."

A serious Krista Erickson looks into the camera and declares:

"Tonight the office of the registrar of lobbyists says it will review the matter to determine if an investigation should take place. Meanwhile, more light has been shed in the relationship between Brian Mulroney and the Harper government. It's long been known that the former prime minister had a relationship with the Conservatives as an informal political advisor. Now, it seems that relationship may have included business matters as well."

It's obvious now who those secret "sources" for Krista Erickson's story were.

Gimme an ELL.

Gimme an EYE.

Gimme an BEE.

Gimme an EEE.

You can spell out the rest.

We can see today why John Cruickshank is refusing to name the Liberals that Krista called.

If those two (or more) Liberal MPs turn out to be the sources of her Nov. 29 story, it means the CBC was colluding with the Opposition on a partisan story for weeks before the ethics committee meeting.

It means there has been a longstanding "understanding" between the CBC and the Liberals that transcends "a temporary alliance of convenience."

It means the cover-up goes much, much deeper than imagined.

Before going to air with a story based on "sources", the reporter would have to reveal their identities to someone in a management position. Note, also, that Krista used the plural, so there was more than one source.

That means a producer knew Nov. 29, 2007, who Krista was collaborating with on a story clearly designed to link the governing Conservative Party to a scandal involving Brian Mulroney. Who was this producer?

And we have to assume that Peter Mansbridge knew who the sources were as well, given how he was putting his credibility on the line by introducing the story.

The moment a CBC reporter's collusion with Liberals at the ethics committee hearing was revealed, many people at the corporation knew who it was. Again we insist that Cruickshank explain how Krista Erickson was identified. Did she confess immediately?

Or did she try to ride it out until someone finked. Were Peter Mansbridge and the unknown producer prepared to hide the name of the most likely suspect as long as possible?

Cruickshank knows. Until he releases the names of Krista's Liberal Party contacts, the cloud over the CBC will only get darker.

"When, as in the present instance, it is revealed that a reporter has been collaborating, even if only obliquely, with one party or another, an appearance of partisanship emerges that cannot be dispelled by claims that this is how political reporters interact with their sources." he blogged.

If a CBC reporter uses MPs as unnamed sources in a story, isn't that as serious a breach of company policy as secretly providing questions to MPs? Is the only difference here that Krista Erickson got caught doing the latter, and the CBC was a willing participant in the former?

If it turns out that the CBC collaborated with the same Liberal MPs twice, why shouldn't we believe that the CBC was acting as the propaganda arm of the Liberal Party in November and the Liberals returned the favour by acting as the political arm of the CBC two weeks later?

And let's not lose sight of just who the link between Erickson's original story and her ethics committee escapade might be.

In her story, she carried a clip from a Liberal MP in Question Period.

None other than Scott Brison. Brison has a long and comfortable behind-the-scenes relationship with the CBC.

Highlighted by his hiring veteran CBC Radio Parliamentary reporter Susan Murray as his press secretary a few years ago.

Did one longstanding CBC contact grease the wheels for a new alliance with a fresh Parliamentary reporter?

Is CBC Publisher Cruickshank covering-up Krista Erickson's contact with Scott Brison?

Unless he's stricken with conscience and coughs up the names of her Blackberry friends, we may never know. And the CBC will never be cleared of the taint of bias and partisanship.

We've seen how heavy hitters in the mainstream media like Maclean's columnist Paul Wells and CTV's Mike Duffy tried to run defence for the CBC by claiming that its common practice for reporters to pass along questions for politicians to use against other politicians.

Cruickshank refuses to play along. He stated on his blog:

"Some people have suggested that this kind of interplay between reporter and politician is normal practice in parliamentary reporting, the kind of give-and-take that goes on in the cultivation of sources and pursuit of information. Others condemn it as unethical and unprofessional."

"From the beginning, members of the CBC radio and television news operation on Parliament Hill took the position that what happened in this case was neither normal nor in keeping with the practices to which they are committed."

Still, its apparent that the mainstream media are not treating this as a legitimate news story, not even on par with the death of Heath Ledger.

For years they've intruded into private lives claiming it was in the public interest.

Now, despite their vast advantage in access to politicians and working reporters, they have devoted no resources to uncovering the facts of this political scandal, leaving that to bloggers.

It was the Blogosphere that first identified Krista Erickson as the reporter working with the Liberals (the CBC was prepared to hide her identity behind the excuse "it's a personnel matter.")

And it's only on the Blogosphere that anyone will learn that the CBC explanation of the incident has materially changed (one MP, two MPs, what's the difference, eh?)

Winnipeg Free Press columnist Dan Lett this week became the only mainstream journalist in the country to admit the obvious. In a newspaper-sponsored blog, he wrote:

In the mainstream media, there is an unwritten rule that demands that we not waste space writing about other media outlets. It's not universally respected, of course, but in general there is an "honor among thieves" philosophy that says, "I got my say, and you get your say." It's generally frowned upon if columnists begin to take each other on by name in their columns, or if one newspaper devotes a front-page story denouncing another media outlet.

The blogosphere, on the other hand, is often dominated by commentary about how mainstream news organizations missed stories, or did bad stories, or spelled stuff wrong, or made mistakes in fact. Fair enough - there is no purpose in denying that all that happens.

But IMHO, it doesn't make for compelling content, whether it's on a blog or not."

It's an astonishing admission.

Lett confesses that where the Blogosphere cares whether news organizations get their facts wrong, he, and presumably the Winnipeg Free Press, doesn't. It just "doesn't make for compelling content."

We'll leave the final word to Ouimet, allegedly a CBC manager who blogs on a site she calls The Tea Makers.

On Friday she linked to John Cruickshank's latest update into the Krista Erickson affair. We suspect she voices what CBC insiders, who can see where this is leading, think to themselves.
Friday, January 25, 2008
The Sidecar: TV feeds my family
Cruickshank: "A temporary alliance of convenience with the Liberals" involving 2 MPs, the second one still unnamed, at least for now

I kind of wish he'd just be quiet.

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