The Curse of Broadcasting–Evan Sokomon, Leslie Roberts and ethics

The field of broadcasting took another hit recently. 
Evan Solomon host of CBC’s Power and Politics and CBC Radio’s The House has fallen from grace, fired by the Mother Corporation for a monumental lapse in journalistic ethics. He follows NBC’s Brian Williams, Global TV’s Lesley Roberts and CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi. You can add to that the names of former CTV news personalities Mike Duffy and Pam Wallin who are embroiled in their own little boondoggle on Parliament Hill. Evan Solomon’s fall from grace was massive in particular, since he was touted as a replacement for CBC Anchor Peter Mansbridge if and when Mansbridge retires. (And Mansbridge has skirted the ethics line as well).
As a former reporter for several major newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States I grieve. Not because I cared for any of them. I didn’t even know them. No, I grieve for the damage that has been done to journalists in general because these celebrity journalists/broadcasters crapped all over ethics. (Interestingly, so far as I know none of them attended journalism school and Williams was a college dropout. Too bad. They obviously missed Ethics 101.)
Public disapproval of journalism is growing. People today want to be told what they want to hear. They don’t want journalists or broadcasters who shine lights where darkness abides. They don’t want to know about the misdoings of politicians (unless they are of the other party, of course). Joe Public has no idea what good journalists really do and how vital they are in the ongoing struggle of free and democratic living in society. Hundreds of journalists have been killed or imprisoned over the last decade—mostly for simply doing their job of asking penetrating and sometimes embarrassing questions or pointing a camera at some illegal or hush-hush activity.
Journalism is one of the least admired professions in North America. To my mind, the uphill struggle that decent journalists and broadcasters fight daily is undermined kicked about by the activities of Solomon et al. 
I put some of it down to the curse of broadcasting and the cult of celebrity. (Some of them–Ghomeshi for example–are just plain evil, twisted people).These men (and woman) all were endowed with massive egos. They were the “stars” in their respective universes. People kowtowed to them. Their bosses looked the other way when they slung their weight around and abused staff below them. Their aura of entitlement, fanned into an inferno by sycophantic bosses, knew no bounds. Their position was, for most of them, a means to an end. And the end was the lining and relining of their bottomless pockets and exploiting their position and celebrity status for personal greed and gain. (Williams at least eschewed that: he merely opted for plain lies about his exploits).
The public points fingers and gloats that their views about journalists are justified. And all the while, good journalists—many of whom work for a barely liveable wage—continue doing their job honestly and with integrity.
The broadcasters of ego are still alive and kicking in spite of the pubic disgrace suffered by their colleagues. Too many broadcasters are more interested in covering Bruce Jenner who changes gender or the latest exploits of the Khardasians (Side note: can anyone explain to me why these people are ‘famous’?) than they are of covering matters of import that affect the health, economic well-being, security and freedom of citizens.
The ink-stained wretches of the print world (of whom I was one) are no stranger to misdeeds. Pulitzer prizes have been removed and reporters fired for ethics breaches in the past and will, no doubt, in the future as well. However, most of those misdeeds were done in a smaller world and the damaging impact certainly was and is not as great even for such major newspapers as the Globe and Mail, New York Times, Washington Post and Rupert Murdoch’s corrupt newspaper empire in the UK.
But the curse of broadcasting is a heavier burden to bear. These finagling broadcasters are personalities; you bring them into your house every evening. You see their faces, hear their voices and realize that they project an aura of friendliness, sincerity, truthfulness and authority. When they fall, they fall big! And when they fall big they cause massive waves in the ocean of journalism.
These people were celebrities. They were pandered to and convinced that they were superior because they brought in huge ratings and therefore dollars to their employers. The rules of the game did not apply to them; they were above it all. Ghomeshi, Roberts and Solomon all had contracts with their employers which included standards of conduct and ethics! But the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” prevailing attitude allowed them to ignore those troubling clauses.

The curse of broadcasting is an era of instant news and blanket coverage of events highlights the push for speed over accuracy and fairness. The curse of broadcasting favours a cult of celebrity and ‘pretty faces’ over professionalism. The curse of broadcasting is the aura of entitlement that applies only so some in the newsroom—the “stars”—and not the hardworking ethical reporters in their newsrooms or studios.

I grieve for journalism. I was taught and mentored by some of the finest editors and broadcasters around in Canada and the United States. I have enormous respect for such CBC personalities as Bruce Rogers who I claim as a friend and colleague. I learned a lot about honest practical ethical behaviour and professionalism from him and my late friend, CTV Anchor Harvey Kirck. There are others to whom I am indebted; some I know personally and some I merely watched and studied from afar.
All of us are damaged and our professionalism diminished by the curse brought crushingly down on our heads by Solomon, Ghomeshi, Roberts, Duffy, Wallin and Williams and their ilk.

Oh for the days of Walter Cronkite and Lloyd Robertson, \”And that\’s the way it is!\”

1 Comment

  1. Doug says:

    \”Journalism is one of the least admired professions in North America. \” It hurts me to hear that. My best friend is a Journalist and our elder daughter is a trained but non-practicing Journalist. I'm a barbarian from south of your border so I am used to the conservatives' phrase \”the liberal media\”. Being a barbarian from south of your border, I am not familiar with the specifics you mention. But I think your conclusion is probably correct. And sad.


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