It seems everyone was up in arms on Thursday after hearing that CJAD radio had given Richard Henry Bain, the man accused of killing a man at Metropolis on the night of the election, a 40-minute interview in which he was given free
reign rein to spout his political views, and on top of that deciding to schedule the interview to coincide with the same moment that Pauline Marois was announcing her new government.
Of course, much of the previous paragraph isn't true, but that shouldn't stop us from being outraged, right?
Here's what happened on Wednesday, based on what we've heard from station management and CJAD staff during interviews since then:
Just after 9:30am on Wednesday, the CJAD newsroom received a phone call. Trudie Mason, who does morning newscasts, took the call. The man at the other end at first wouldn't identify himself, but eventually said he was Richard Henry Bain and that he was calling from the Rivière des Prairies detention facility. By this point, Mason was recording the phone call.
Mason and the main identifying himself as Bain spoke for 38 minutes. Mason repeatedly asked him to comment on what happened the night of Sept. 4, when Denis Blanchette was shot dead and Dave Courage severely injured in what some suspect may have been a politically-motivated attack on premier-elect Pauline Marois. But the man wouldn't answer questions on that subject, instead preferring to discuss his political views, including his opinion that Quebec should be split up into its sovereignist and federalist regions.
Throughout the day, CJAD worked to verify that the man speaking was, in fact, Bain. They held on to the story while they tried to verify the caller's identity. In the meantime, there was a significant amount of discussion - more than Mason said she has ever had in her career on an issue like this - about how to handle the story. Newsroom staff checked the caller ID and asked people who knew Bain to identify the recorded voice. Eventually the confirmation came, from Bain's lawyer, a bit before 3:30pm: The man in the recording was, indeed, Bain.
CJAD 800 has an exclusive jail cell interview with Richard Henry Bain, accused Metropolis shooter. Tune in to CJAD at 4:00pm for details.
— CJAD 800 MontreaI (@CJAD800) September 19, 2012
The next newscast being at 4pm, CJAD decided to break the story then. Care was made to restrict the amount of audio that went to air. In the end, less than a minute of audio from that 38-minute conversation was broadcast, and 10 seconds of that is just Bain saying his name and where he's calling from.
There was a very basic discussion of Bain's political views - and by that I mean there was about enough time to read out the slogan on a bumper sticker. Details were cut out and not aired. The first airing of the news story was immediately followed by a discussion between Mason and Aaron Rand on his show, that went into the process of reporting this story. You can listen to that discussion on this podcast, beginning around the 16-minute mark.
At the same time, a written version of the story was posted on CJAD's website, with a timestamp of exactly 4pm. The written version includes no direct quotes from Bain, and no link to audio.
CJAD's sister stations at Astral, NRJ and Rouge FM, also used French-language clips from Bain in their newscasts. You can hear their news story here and an excerpt of audio about a minute long of Bain talking in French.
Unfortunately, most of this nuance never reached the Twittersphere. All many heard was that CJAD had aired an interview with the man accused of a politically-motivated killing. And so the condemnation was quick and severe. There was even a new hashtag created for the occasion, #NouvelleÉmissionCJAD, in which heinous criminals discuss subjects that their victims would no doubt find highly offensive.
But reading much of those comments, it was obvious how many of them came from people who had not heard the news story. (Many said so when I asked, even adding that they didn't want to and should not have to hear what was aired in order to judge it wrong.) Comments on social media said the decision to air the interview was a slap in the face to victims, that it was dangerous, and even that it was intentionally scheduled to air at the same moment Marois was presenting her new cabinet as part of some vendetta the anglophone community has against the PQ leader. From the information presented, it's very hard to come to either conclusion.
Far too many of those comments came from people who should know better than to condemn something they had not witnessed.
The outrage caused Astral to send out a press release Wednesday afternoon re-explaining itself.
It's called journalism
There are some, when challenged on their outrage about this, who say that affording even 10 seconds of airtime to Bain is wrong, that people should not be hearing his political views. I'm sympathetic to that argument, and clearly CJAD was as well.
But the problem is that Bain's motivations (assuming he's guilty of what he's accused of) are, in fact, very important and newsworthy. The man is already being described as an anglophone, even though he has what sounds like a francophone accent and seems to speak French well enough. And people assume this was an attempt on Marois's life, even though there's no evidence yet to suggest this.
It may be distasteful for journalists to interview (presumed) bad people, whether they're convicted murderers or third-world dictators. But what they think does matter, even if we think those views are dangerous. They should be treated with care, perhaps even sanitized and heavily censored, but they should be reported.
So much of what makes this story important is based on the presumed motivations of the man accused of this killing. What the man accused of it says about his views becomes important as a result.
CJAD couldn't pretend Bain never called them. It had to report the story. It did so carefully and deliberately. I might hesitate to say it was done "with restraint" as Dan Delmar tweeted, since the station did promote the story and slapped an all-caps EXCLUSIVE label on it when it was published. But what actually made it on air was tame.
There are some serious questions to ask about this case. The main one is how a man who is sitting in a detention facility had access to a phone for more than half an hour. It was a question that CJAD itself asked on air right away.
And there might be questions to ask of CJAD as well, about whether it was right to air even short clips of Bain's political views rather than just explaining that Bain called the station and leave it a that.
But if you're going to criticize them for something they did, please make sure you first have a clear idea of what it is exactly that they did.
Because, like with the shooting itself, context is everything.
- Global Montreal
- Conseil de presse magazine
- Presse canadienne
- Canadian Press
- La Presse (video)
Unfortunately, I can't find audio of the actual news story on CJAD's website. But in addition to the Rand show link above, you can also hear about this from this podcast of the Andrew Carter morning show from Thursday morning.