When I was growing up CBC television was the gold standard of Canadian journalism: professional, balanced, tolerant, intelligent discourse. When I first began appearing on CBC radio as a young lawyer discussing constitutional issues of our Charter of Rights I was proud to be part of the discussion. Later when I co-founded our present money management firm I was asked to do recurring segments on the CBC business news with Fred Langan talking about market news and how it impacted real life people. I was happy to contribute to a news program which had long been respected in the tradition of the BBC and PBS. That was then.
A few years ago the CBC, began gasping for ad dollars as the Canadian government pulled back funding. Suddenly the focus of CBC was no longer about professional journalism, the focus shifted to grabbing eyeballs from anywhere. I had several conversations about this new dynamic with some of the producers there at the time who I respected. All of them knew that the changes to their funding would change their journalism a lot, and for the worse. Bringing in Kevin O’Leary from BNN to lead the new business focus was a sad day for CBC.
I have met Kevin a couple of times. I know people who know the facts, rather than the PR spin about his business background. I appeared with him on a panel in Toronto in the fall of 2010 as he was promoting his new mutual fund company and firing off glib comments to an investor audience about why they should be happy that corporations are paying CEO’s 300 times the average worker as this was necessary to attract the best talent. When I pointed out those were the high paid CEO’s that had driven the world economy into the ditch over the past decade he became visibly heated. The exchange went on for about 30 minutes with O’Leary throwing out sound bite comments which were easy to refute with facts and grade-school commonsense. The feedback from audience members was that I made O’Leary look bad and that he did not like me. I replied that I did not make O’Leary look anything, his own comments spoke for himself.
I only appeared on the Lang and O’Leary show once after that panel. Kevin did not speak to me. Recently CBC has come under broad-based backlash regarding an embarrassing exchange that took place between Chris Hedges, a former New York Times foreign correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who was explaining why he sympathizes with the protesters camped on Wall Street. O’Leary tore into Hedges, whom he misidentified as a protest organizer, and denigrated the protesters with oft-repeated criticism that they’re unfocused and leaderless. “You sound like a left-wing nutbar,” O’Leary tells Hedges.
It’s a new low for the ongoing degradation of the CBC’s once respected institution.