In what Jonathan Kay calls Pablogate, and Mario Asselin calls CBCgate, and is really not a gate at all, Erickson fed questions to Liberal MP Pablo Rodriguez about Brian Mulroney’s connection to the current Conservative Party, which Rodriguez asked Mulroney during the Mulroney/Schreiber inquiry over the Airbus affair.
Through this story there’s been a lot of outrage but not much analysis of what exactly went wrong here. The CBC says there was no partisan or unethical intent, and I believe them. It was an unconventional method of getting answers to tricky political questions.
What this story is more indicative of, however, is the amount of informality in beat reporting. It’s nothing new. Reporters and the people they report on have been chummy for decades. That’s how they get the scoops, how they know what’s going on, how they get access to important people.
But the downside is that there can be a perception of partiality when there’s the slightest hint of cooperation between the two. It’s a real problem, and it needs to be tackled in a realistic way by news organizations rather than arbitrarily decided on a case-by-case basis when someone complains.
News organizations should learn from this incident, and update their codes of ethics to cover the problems inherent in beat reporting. The paragraphs the CBC quoted in their statement are far too vague. At the very least, add this situation as an example of what not to do.
UPDATE (Jan. 23): The CBC News Editors Blog discusses the subject without mentioning Erickson’s name (what are we, idiots?). Though it talks briefly about the problems of becoming part of the story and the need to be “inside” while still staying objective, it fails to go into depth about the familiarity problem other than to deny it exists.
Meanwhile (via the Tea Makers) Facebook groups supporting and against Erickson have popped up. Do I even have to point out that the pro-Erickson group was started by a Liberal Party activist and the anti-Erickson group by a Mike Huckabee-supporting Tory?