I was busy dealing with real news tonight, so I completely missed the broohaha over this incident with Stéphane Dion and ATV News.
For those who haven’t heard of it, you’re lucky to have limited exposure to the echo chamber of political gossip reporting. Here’s the deal: ATV (an Atlantic TV network owned by CTV and rebranded CTV Atlantic) had Stéphane Dion on for an on-camera but pre-taped interview. Host Steve Murphy asked Dion a question about what he’d do about the economy if he was prime minister today, and Dion started answering before realizing he didn’t quite understand the question. It was an awkward exchange with a few false starts.
Dion asked if they could re-start the interview, and Murphy agreed. Murphy also, according to CTV, “indicated” that the bad part of the interview would not be aired.
Except later, after the interview, people at the network huddled and decided to go back on their word and air the outtakes, deeming them to have some news value.
Thanks to Stephen Harper’s decision to devote a whole press conference to this “gaffe,” it’s been analyzed from all angles:
- Mike Duffy aired the outtakes on his CTV NewsNet program, leading a Liberal panelist to accuse him of making fun of Dion’s physical impairment.
- Canadian Press has analysis of the journalism ethics implications
- Colby Cosh looks into Murphy’s grammar and how a non-native English speaker might have trouble understanding it
- The Globe and Mail has the Liberals’ reaction to the Tory attacks, as well as a specific response from Dion saying he just didn’t understand the question
- Norman Spector points out that this kind of thing has happened before
- Canwest has reaction from Gilles Duceppe, who points out that francophone federal leaders are held to a different standards, while anglo leaders don’t have to know French at all.
- Richard Martineau has his usual fake outrage. And similarly from the other side of this non-story.
- Andrew Coyne takes the view closest to my own, mainly saying that this is a non-issue and the backlash to it is just as stupid.
I don’t have much to add, so I’ll keep it brief:
- CTV’s transgression was not a breach of journalistic ethics. There was no promise of confidentiality, no pre-agreement, and no information was gained through deception. Murphy did, however, go back on his word by airing the outtakes after he “indicated” he wouldn’t.
- Dion’s campaign is right when they say the purpose of airing this was to embarrass Dion. It’s a secret every journalist keeps, even to the point of deceiving ourselves. Political campaigns so ruthlessly control the narrative, that latching on to something they don’t want you to talk about gives us a thrill. It’s not that CTV is biased against Dion. It’s simply biased against politicians and in favour of scandal.
- CTV wasted minutes of airtime putting this interview out there. This time could have been spent on news, and the interview outtakes posted to a blog somewhere. Had that happened, we would not be discussing journalistic ethics here, but the clip would have gotten just as much traction online.
- The clip has little news value. It shows that Dion is a logical thinker, perhaps to a fault, in trying to wrap himself around the exact hypothetical situation. But that’s not why CTV chose to air it. The fact that they did not specify what news value it contained is a good indication that there was none.
- Some have mentioned that Dion has a hearing problem and that may be related. It’s not. The question was clear and the room was quiet. It was a logical comprehension question, mixed in with some grammar issues.
Conclusion: Steve Murphy and his cohorts at ATV are douches, and Stéphane Dion a human francophone who can be annoyingly professorial at times. And it’s just a matter of time before someone unearths an interview outtake of Stephen Harper that makes him look bad.
Now can we get back to the issues?
UPDATE (Oct. 24): J-Source looks back on this story with some interesting background on what happened at ATV and CTV News offices.
My grand-father in law (incidently also named Dion) had a very easy solution for that. If you make a mistake say “Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits”. They sure won’t air that.
I couldn’t agree more, Steve. When I finally got around to watching the thing on YouTube I couldn’t believe all the hullabaloo. The funniest part, for me, was not the Dion “gaffe” but the portentous way the CTV guy introed the piece, like we were going to be watching Dion bite the head off a baby or something. And then this innocuous bit of raw feed gets played.
Anyway, let me add that I think this is going to hurt the Conservatives even more in Quebec. Look at how Duceppe has played it, framing the Harper attack on Dion over this as an attack on every Quebec francophone who may have ever had a moment’s trouble understanding an English interviewer, and calling Harper on the double standard, given his own stumbling French.
In think it might actually knock off a point or two more in support for Harper in Quebec.
Do we have video of Harper’s first leaders debate from a couple years ago?
This is a non-event. It shouldn’t have happened, and CTV has no journalistic integrity. Harper was crass to comment on it.
I disagree though that there is no legal responsibility. There is a very good possibility that there was a breach of contract in that when Murphy was posing the questions to Dion, he became the agent on behalf of CTV/ATV. Any statements (recorded or otherwise) became binding, so that when Murphy stated that the miscues would not be broadcast, it became an agreement between parties.
It could boost the liberal coffers if a lawsuit went forth.