A news conference took a turn for the bizarre yesterday when Richard Cashin lashed out at David Cochrane of CBC. The event was hosted by 2041 Inc., the gang of five who oppose Muskrat Falls.
Here’s how Cochrane described the events in his own Twitter feed, pretty much as they unfolded.
“Richard Cashin has decided to make his news conference about my coverage of Muskrat Falls. Last person to yell at me like that was Williams.”
“Cashin must’ve missed our coverage of Bill 29.”
“My conversation with Richard Cashin (in) the parking lot of the Super 8 was fairly epic. Needless to say we agree to disagree.”
“For the record I was walking to our news van in the parking lot and Cashin decided to shout at me as I was walking away.”
“They (2041 Inc.) called for witness testimony. I told him premier had just rejected that. Asked for his response. He went nuts.”
“In short Richard Cashin called me an apologist for the government. That’s his opinion. He is entitled to it. I’m a big boy.”
I sent Cochrane a message, asking for a comment. His reply:
“I've got to file some news. I've been yelled at and bullied before. I will be yelled at and bullied again.”
That is true. Cochrane has been verbally abused over the years by a bevy of politicians.
The incident was not referenced on “Here & Now” last night, though the audio was played during “On the Go”.
It happened when Cochrane informed Cashin what Premier Dunderdale had just said that witnesses would not be called and Muskrat Falls would be debated in the same format as Voisey’s Bay. When Cochrane asked for his reaction, Cashin turned the tables and asked Cochrane what HE thought. He asked if Cochrane understood the difference between a privately funded project like Voisey’s Bay and a publicly funded project like Muskrat Falls.
And then Cashin laced into Cochrane.
“I’ve noticed your coverage of this and I have to say, in the 47 years that I’ve followed the CBC, I have never seen it so one-sided as when you cover it. NTV gives me balanced coverage. The Telegram certainly gives me balanced coverage. I’ve been around for a long time and there were times when I was on the government side and used to say, ‘The damned CBC!’ They were always critical. They were skeptical. They did investigative reporting. That seems to be gone out the window. You’ve become an apologist for the government.”
What was Cashin thinking, lashing out like that? Going after the media is not always the best strategy. I called Cashin to get his side of the story.
I began by stating that he was apparently unhappy with Cochrane, to which Cashin laughed and said, “Well, he was even less happy with me.”
By now, Cashin had already put it behind him and was joking about it. But he held fast to his statements.
“I felt this honestly, and I said to him that I have never seen such one-sided coverage from the CBC in the 47 years they’ve been here. So he didn’t like that.”
Cashin said he “and others” have felt that Cochrane has not been pressing hard enough on Muskrat Falls.
“And he took genuine offence at it. He tore strips out of me afterwards but he’s not the first to do that and he probably won’t be the last. I’ve been avoiding controversy lately but it’s not something I flee from.”
Afterward in the parking lot, Cashin said Cochrane “vented at me, and that’s fine. I only expressed what I felt and he vented on me. So I let him continue and that’s fine … He accused me of being childish, that it’s all about me. He went on at some length. He was highly pissed off. I let him go on, and said to him, well, I call them as I see them so if you don’t like it, that’s tough.”
This seems to contradict Cochrane’s account from Twitter, where he wrote that “Cashin decided to shout at me as I was walking away.” I sent a note to see if Cochrane wanted to respond. His reply: “I’m going to reply on OPR (On Point Radio) on Friday. I’m not going to get personal with Cashin. This has happened to me before. It will happen to me again.”
Cashin said the CBC is different now from how it was a couple or more decades ago.
“My experience with CBC over the years is that CBC has been very skeptical of government, you know? Now it seems that is no longer the case in my view, and the view of others. And I expressed that. He didn’t like it, so tough. That’s all I can say.”
I remarked that it was rather unusual to “blow up” at a news conference.
“I didn’t blow up at him,” Cashin said. “I told him off. I don’t usually do that. But I think this is the most egregious thing. I’ve been around for a long time – not as long as your uncle, or your father – but they’ve ignored the PUB, they’ve had two independent studies but just cut them off and ignored them. All we’re asking for is a proper, due process. And we haven’t had a due process. And to me that’s frightening … This place doesn’t have a long history of democracy. We gave up self-government in 1934 without a whimper, the only people in the whole world (to do that). And now we have an abusive process by this government, not going to the PUB… Anyway, I just find it absolutely outrageous. The world is changing fast. We have Quebec with a surplus of power. We have all this fracking (for shale gas) going on down in the States and there’s been expert opinions expressed on that – but the PUB were not allowed to examine that … (the government) cut them off. Well, what are they trying to hide?”
Cashin isn’t buying the line, repeated often by government, that Muskrat Falls breaks the “stranglehold” of Quebec.
“It plays to the victimhood of Newfoundlanders – and I aint a victim.”
Paddy Daly, host of VOCM Backtalk, had a few words on-air about Cashin’s outburst. Among other things, he said that Cashin was “biting the hand that feeds” by attacking media. I asked Cashin what he thought about this suggestion.
“I don’t usually do it (criticize media) and I’ve done it once or twice before, but I’m a free man. I was born free and I’m not intimidated. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. I’ve been terribly disappointed in their (CBC’s) coverage and I make no apologies for it. I’ll be 76 in January and I didn’t expect to be engaged in a controversy like this. I didn’t expect it. I’m outraged. In this goddamn backward place into which I was born, did we learn nothing? If the media doesn’t like it, I can’t help that … I said that Cochrane was like an apologist (for government). Well, I find that. I can’t help it. Am I not allowed to express myself? Do we live in a society now where if you express an opinion that’s contrary to the conventional wisdom of the media, you’re going to get crapped on? Well, let them come on.”
As noted, this is not the first time that Cochrane has been dressed down in public. His most notorious such encounter happened in 2008, when Premier Danny Williams bristled under tough questioning, before accusing Cochrane of getting his facts wrong and ordering staff to “cut him off.”
However, this is different. When Williams lashed out, he was a powerful premier. Richard Cashin is a private citizen who is taking a stand on a matter of public policy. He has no apparent stake in the issue, outside of being a concerned hydro ratepayer. It was clear from my conversation that Cashin is unapologetic and at ease with what he said.
Either way, I think Cashin made a mistake in lashing out that way. If he had a problem with Cochrane, it would have been better to raise it with the reporter off to the side, one to one. They could have spoken their minds, had a frank discussion and cleared the air without necessarily poisoning it.
As for Cashin’s complaint, while it may be valid to criticize media coverage in general, I don’t think it’s fair to single out one individual. Cochrane is good at what he does and has indeed asked all the tough questions from players on all sides of this debate. His record speaks for itself, in past episodes of “On Point” as well as other news coverage.
That said, I do understand the broader strokes of Cashin’s criticism. It’s a theme I pointed to many times in my “Muskrat Media” series of blogs from a few weeks back. Despite all the questions that are being asked, there are precious few clear answers.
The media in general – not just Cochrane – need to work harder at proving, disproving or challenging what government is saying. It takes more work – you can’t do this with microphones at a media scrum. Ideally, it should be carried out by investigative teams with the time and resources to do the research.
But laying it at the feet of one reporter is simply not the way to go.