Luc Lavoie and the old boys club

Dec. 18, 2011: North Korean state television announces the death of its dear leader, Kim Jong-Il. On a Sunday evening past 10pm, LCN anchor Melissa François announces the news on air, but (probably in part because of how much a lowercase L looks like an uppercase I) she pronounces his name as “Kim Jong Deux”. A clip of this is posted online and spreads around the French-speaking world, much to LCN’s ridicule.

François was pulled off the air and reassigned to a desk job. Her union defended her and asked TVA to put her back on the job, which in turn caused the president of the union to be suspended. She eventually left and got another job at Radio-Canada.

Oct. 3, 2017: On the LCN politics show La Joute, the three hosts are discussing a less serious story than most: Petitions to the National Assembly about the hunting of squirrels. One petition calls for it to be banned, the other for it to be protected.

Luc Lavoie tries to add a joke about legalizing such hunting (with firearms) in urban areas, because they’re a nuisance. He adds:

In fact, I would have liked to be able to hunt separatists, but it seems it’s not possible.

His cohosts, Paul Laroque and Bernard Drainville, immediately tell him he shouldn’t joke about that, as Lavoie lets out a laugh, apparently amused by his own joke.

It’s too late. A few of the people watching hit rewind on their PVRs, record the exchange and post it to social media, where it goes viral.

Lavoie later posts an apology on Facebook (saying he did so without being asked), and the 11pm rebroadcast of the show is spiked, replaced by a rebroadcast of the 10pm newscast.

The next day, the statement becomes even bigger news. La Presse reports the SQ is investigating. Politicians issue statements condemning the remarks.

Groupe TVA issues a statement that says the comments are unacceptable and Lavoie has apologized. But it mentions no sanction, despite calls from various directions that Lavoie be fired. Three hours later, it issues another statement, saying Lavoie is being removed from the air because of the SQ investigation. The existence of a complaint to the SQ seems like less of a triggering factor than TVA perhaps realizing that people are reacting negatively to their earlier non-firing of him.

Deux poids, deux mesures

So what’s the difference between these two cases? Well, a lot. One was an honest mistake that resulted in mockery. The other was a bad joke that resulted in condemnation. Both were mistakes made by people who should have known better.

But the difference in reaction doesn’t have to do as much with what happened or the amount of reaction to it. Rather, it’s who they are. François was a junior anchor, hired only the previous year, doing a weekend shift. Lavoie is one of the faces of LCN, a former executive vice-president of Quebecor, a deputy chief of staff to Brian Mulroney when he was prime minister, and a friend and sometimes spokesperson for Pierre Karl Péladeau.

One is an expendable employee (who couldn’t be dismissed outright because she was in a union). The other is one of the boys-will-be-boys boys, who gets the benefit of the doubt when he jokingly suggests shooting separatists two days after the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

(And, as has been pointed out, this isn’t the first time Lavoie has had to apologize for putting his foot in his mouth on the air. Or the first time he’s said something stupid.)

So it’s entirely understandable in this context to expect that Lavoie’s suspension will be temporary. Maybe he’ll need to find another job, lay low for a while and do something less in the public eye, but his friend PKP won’t abandon him unless he has no other choice.

I generally don’t believe in firing people for single mistakes like this. I find the punishment over-the-top, and ineffective as a deterrent. I’d rather people be required to make some form of restitution and learn from the experience.

So I don’t necessarily want Lavoie to lose his job. But he owes people a more serious explanation than what he posted on his (since-deleted) Facebook page. He needs to explain what he could have been thinking that would lead him to believe that hunting separatists with guns was funny.

And maybe the producers of La Joute can consider that having three well-paid middle-age-or-older white guys hosting a political discussion show comes with an inherent lack of perspective that leads to people being comfortable with speaking before they think.

UPDATE: Lavoie is back on the air.

7 thoughts on “Luc Lavoie and the old boys club

  1. Jean-Francois Berube

    Both deserved to be fired. Both are idiots. If you don’t know who Kim Jung Ill is WTF are you doing working as a journalist? The other guy is just an idiot who doesn’t make a difference when he’s on or off the air.

    Reply
  2. Dolores Huard

    The only thing that surprises me here is that Luc Lavoie is a friend of PKP’s!. I didn`t see the broadcast but I`m sure Bernard Drainville must have nearly had a heart attack. In any case, I won`t give my opinion here for fear I might lose my “job”!! Good luck Luc. I believe you’re going to need it!

    Reply
  3. dilbert

    I think part of the difference here is experience. What i understand is that at the time, Melissa François was a relative newbie in the business, and she made an inexcusable error that someone with a little more experience would not have made. In the position of anchor, you are suppose to inspire the audience’s confidence by being knowledgeable and informed. She was neither at that point.

    In journalism is in many ways about credibility.

    For Me Lavoie, the game is quite different. He has many years experience. He didn’t make an error, rather during a discussion he made a comment that was distasteful and perhaps more than a little stupid – especially in light of actions of Richard Henry Bain. It’s his personal opinion and not that of the station.

    Both are silly mistakes, but only one of them was personal opinion. The other was bad reporting.

    Now, one has to wonder if Mr Lavoie’s comments had been about hunting anglos or flag waving Canadians if it might have gone over better. That’s a whole different discussion.

    In the end, both should have been taken off the air. Actually losing their employment is a different story with other legal ramifications, but having either on the air after this sort of thing would undermine the credibility of the station(s) in question.

    Reply
  4. Marc

    Never ceases to amaze me how snowflakey thin-skinned far too many Quebecers are. He said a bad joke that wasn’t really funny. He apologized. Move on to something else. But a police investigation?? Come on…

    Reply
  5. Mark

    Kim Jung Dush (bag) would also have been fine for a sociopathic and harmfull dictatator who deservers no respect even in death. To fire a reporter over a small mistake of linguistic intangability is stupidity at its finest.

    Reply

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