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

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Monday, December 08, 2008

CBC Ombudsman: Krista was just a babe-in-the-woods and ya can't blame 'er

We've got to say this about Krista Erickson---she's not afraid to take her lumps.

Either that or she thinks we're as big pushovers as Winnipeg's daily newspapers. Shame on you, Krista, if that's the case.

We often get email tips from readers, but the one from embattled CBC reporter Krista Erickson was still a surprise. Read the CBC Ombudsman's report clearing me, she said.

So we did.

We read it from the beginning.

"The CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman received 66 complaints about a reporter supposedly feeding questions to a member or members of the Liberal Party during a committee hearing featuring testimony by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney."

Then we read it again. And again, and again. We took notes. We parsed the sentences. We took a break and re-read it with fresh eyes. We have never seen such a carefully crafted attempt to confuse, bewilder, and befuddle the reader.

The CBC Ombudsman apparently succeeded with the Winnipeg press.

Here's what he wrote:

"In my reading of policy, both written and unwritten, Ms. Erickson clearly did go “over the line” in allowing the appearance that she was providing “script” for certain sources to use."

Here's what Jan Skerritt of the Winnipeg Free Press wrote:

"A Review by the CBC ombudsman has cleared former Winnipeg anchor Krista Erickson of any wrongdoing for feeding questions to an MP during a committee hearing."

Here's the Winnipeg Sun's headline: "CBC ombudsman clears reporter." (Sigh. File under Professional reporters at work.)

CBC Ombudsman Vince Carlin actually said Krista did the wrong thing with the right intentions. She didn't know she was breaking CBC's rules of ethics, so cut her some slack, he said. Blame the CBC management for not having a hard and fast rule on secretly feeding questions to politicians to use to embarass other politicians.

And, Carlin said, there was no evidence that she did what she did out of political bias as claimed by most of the people who bitched to the CBC.

Then there was the rest of the report.

How the hell did she get posted as a Parliamentary Reporter? asked Carlin. (Okay, he used different words, but there's no doubt to his meaning.)

"By all accounts I have heard, Ms. Erickson proved herself to be a journalist of exceptional energy and tenacity. I do note that she had not actually spent a great deal of time as a “street” reporter and, as far as I can tell, had never covered a legislature on an on-going basis. Neither of those factors is necessarily a barrier to being a Parliamentary reporter, but in earlier years, the Bureau was usually staffed with people who had already served as National reporters or who had established significant track records as journalists in one of CBC’s regional centers."

Here's what Carlin skips in his narrative.

* Krista Erickson started at CBC Winnipeg as a researcher in May, 1999.
* Until the end of 2001 she worked as a researcher for the local supper hour show, a chase producer for some current affairs program, and a researcher for a national investigative journalism show that nobody watched and was soon cancelled.
* In January, 2002 she started as a reporter with CBC Winnipeg. Her total reporting experience lasted about 19 months (assuming she took no vacation time) before she became the host of Winnipeg's supper hour show in the fall of 2003.
* She never covered a beat of any kind, never mind the Legislature. But somehow in "late 2006" she leapfrogged into the prestigious Ottawa job.

"Before promotion, CBC journalists should be able to demonstrate a grasp of the ethical requirements of the position for which they are being considered." sniffed the Ombudsman.

But it was in the details of the affair that Carlin outdid himself.

You could tell instantly he spent a long, long time getting it right.

That is, picking exactly the right words to pepper the sentences that were carefully crafted to say something without saying too much while looking like they're saying a lot.

Think we're kidding? Here's a sample:

"Through journalistic inclination, and with encouragement from other journalists, she widened her circle of discussion to find out whether the Liberals intended to follow up her stories in some way, and whether they had significant information to add."

Journalistic inclination? Widened her circle of discussion?
Who talks like that?

Find out whether the Liberals intended to follow up her stories?

C'mon. Who do you think you're kidding?

Here's the translation for human beings: Some other journalists (not reporters?) told her to start working with the Liberal Party and she thought it was a good idea.

Why does the name Harvey Cashore, producer for the Fifth Estate come to mind? Oh, maybe because he's been chasing Brian Mulroney for the past 15 years or so, and Krista Erickson has been chummy with Fifth Estate producer Morris Karp since starting at CBC Winnipeg. Or is it because his father was John Cashore, the former British Columbia NDP minister of Aboriginal Affairs.

Here's what we can piece together from the jungle of language Carlin uses to strangle the facts.

It was being suggested Mulroney had acted as an unregistered lobbyist by arranging a meeting between then Industry Minister Bernier and the CEO of Quebecor Media. Krista Erickson spoke with a "source" who gave her a "series of questions that had not been answered".

"Other journalists" suggested Krista work with the Liberal Party. She contacted "one source" in the Liberal Party and sent him "a note" including the questions sent to her by her "non-Liberal source."

(Why does the name Stevie Cameron come to mind? Oh, because she's been searching for years for a smoking gun to link Mulroney to illegal activity.)

Erickson "had removed any identifying information before sending."
That not only makes no sense grammatically, but its a fine example of saying something without saying anything.

Removed any identifying information? What does that mean? She hid her CBC employment? Or she removed any trace of her "non-Liberal source."
What trace could there be in a series of questions?

The Liberals got back to Krista. They told her they intended to raise her questions at the committee meeting called to investigate the Mulroney-Schreiber matter, and they tipped her off to which MP would do the asking.

And on committee day, wouldn't you know it? Gosh darn golly, by sheer coincidence, there in front of the news cameras was Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez asking questions that sounded exactly like the note Krista sent the Liberals.

But, honestly, it was pure coincidence, whimpers Carlin.

"Some of the questions are quite similar to those posed by Ms. Erickson’s source which she shared with sources in the Liberal party and discussed with other sources of both Conservative and NDP sympathies."

"I should note that Pablo Rodriguez appears to have written his own
questions based on material supplied to him by his colleagues. Due to the nature and specificity of the subject matter, it is not surprising that the language would be similar to the original questions shared by Ms. Erickson. "


Yeah, right, Vince. We're not surprised in the least. It must have been the Vulcan mind-meld technique taught all CBC Parliamentary reporters.

Note how cleverly Carlin slips in that Erickson discussed the questions with "sources of both Conservative and NDP sympathies." Look, ma. No bias.

"Conservative and NDP sympathies." That's strange wording. It's intended to suggest she talked to Conservative and NDP MP's, but a close reading shows he's not talking about politicians. Harvey Cashore's father was an NDP cabinet minister -- does that count as NDP sympathies?

The affair blew up when, says Carlin, "later that day a former Member of Parliament, Jean Lapierre, now a radio host, said on the Mike Duffy Live program on CTV that Mr. Rodriguez had been fed the questions from a CBC journalist."

Not quite. Lapierre said he knew the night before what questions the Liberals were going to ask and his Liberal sources told him that a CBC reporter had provided them.

Busted, Erickson tried to deflect criticism. She was just trading information with politicians, she supposedly told more senior journalists. It's done all the time Carlin said.

"These varied communications could be seen as the stock-in-trade of Parliamentary reporting-“what do you know, here’s what I know.” Only, said Krista, her trading "was in the form of direct questions."

She was advised to come clean, and she did. Kinda, says Carlin.

"Although several people with knowledge of her first conversation with CBC News management say that Ms. Erickson admitted that she may have “crossed the line,” in subsequent meetings Ms. Erickson has maintained that she did not knowingly commit an error. "

Well, which is it? She knew she done wrong? Or she didn't? Is management lying here, Vince? Or...?

Carlin doesn't care. He has another agenda.

Remember what he's investigating:
"The CBC’s Office of the Ombudsman received 66 complaints about a reporter supposedly feeding questions to a member or members of the Liberal Party during a committee hearing featuring testimony by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney."

What did his investigation determine?

A reporter fed questions to the Liberal Party during a committee hearing featuring testimony by former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Seems pretty open and shut, eh? Not in the eyes of the CBC Ombudsman. Carlin uses the Dan Rather gambit.

You will remember that when CBS bigshot Dan Rather got caught using forged documents to slander George Bush, he responded with the argument: I don't have to prove the documents are true; you have to prove they're false.

Carlin proves a keen student of Dan Rather.

"The reaction to this episode does little credit to most of the parties involved: the Conservatives who complained loudest appeared to be trying to distract attention from the solid reporting that Ms. Erickson had done, raising questions that have still not been answered.

Nyah. Nyah. Nyah. So what if Krista Erickson was collaborating with the Liberal Party. You can't prove Dan's documents are forged.

Carlin concluded:
"Trading information in developing stories is not, per se, a violation of policy. However, when trading can be viewed as direct prompting to action by someone else, CBC’s policy on Credibility comes into play since such an action could cause “a reasonable apprehension of bias.”

Isn't that exactly what the 66 complaints were about?

Oh, wait, there's more.

"It is clear, however, that there was no bias at play, no matter how perceived by partisan interests. "

So, if it looks like there's bias at play, it doesn't matter, because if you say there's no bias, then anyone who sees bias is partisan, and biased themselves, so you can't say they have a valid complaint even if what they're complaining about is true, except for the bias part. Or something.

Nevertheless, Krista Erickson is off the hook. In fact, she's going back to Parliament Hill next month.

It makes sense to the CBC

A reporter who lacks both the work experience and knowledge of CBC ethics to work as a Parliamentary reporter is being sent to work as a Parliamentary reporter to get the experience she needs to work as a Parliamentary reporter.

As we said, professional reporters at work.

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