Another Boycott of CBC

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Apparent crime was saying the 'D word' on air

So why is the premier so mad at CBC?

Reporters at CBC cant get near Danny Williams, for an update on his heath care issues and, presumably, any other issue of importance to this province. The NTV Evening Newshour seems to have the closest relationship with the premier, but The Telegram and VOCM also managed to get phone interviews with him this week.

However, the CBC is still out in the cold. And heres the reason why, from a story at CBCs web site:

CBC News requested an interview with Williams, but his office refused, saying the premier wouldn't be talking to the CBC about his health.

In an email to the CBC, Elizabeth Matthews, Williams's director of communications, said that the day before his surgery there were some very unfortunate and unnecessary comments made about the premier on the CBC that Matthews said were irrelevant and hurtful to his family, and for that reason the premier won't do interviews with the CBC about his health care.

It must be difficult for a seasoned professional like Matthews to be forced to turn down a media outlet like CBC, based on a whim from her boss. She knows better than anyone that tactics like this dont work.

This is not the first time Williams has boycotted CBC, or one of its reporters. I wrote about a similar situation in May of 2008, when the premier cut off reporter David Cochrane for having the audacity to ask tough questions.

So what did CBC do this time, to incur the premiers wrath?

On February 3, the CBC Radio Morning Show convened a media panel comprising Bob Wakeham, formerly of the CBC, Peter Jackson of The Telegram, and host Jeff Gilhooly, to discuss fallout from the premiers heart surgery story. During that panel, Wakeham spoke about the premiers divorce. It was not referenced in any sensational manner; Wakeham merely pointed out that media have been perhaps too circumspect in not covering this story.

However, the premier seems to think that such discussion is irrelevant and hurtful, and this apparently is why he is boycotting CBC. Never mind that the offending comment was not part of news coverage; it was unscripted, and came up during a live guest panel. Does the premier want CBC to control stuff like that? Has he really thought this through, or is he acting on impulse again? Furthermore, the premier is not a journalist, and should not presume to tell the editors at CBC what is irrelevant. The editors decide that.

Heres a transcript of the relevant portion from the Morning Show panel:

Wakeham: Im just going to make one last point in terms of Premier Williamss private life. I think the media in Newfoundland has handled (the premier) with kid gloves. I dont think weve done a Tiger Woods or anything like that. When he was caught (using) a cell phone in his car, we reported it. He had a bad back even a few years ago, and we saw him hobbling around on television And I always found it kind of passing strange that the media has never dealt with the fact that never reported on his marital problems. To me that was kind of something that we should have reported, not in a real intimate way, trying to find out why the marriage went belly up, but just as a matter of fact. This was a woman who had been with him on the podium on election night, had been with him on election campaigns, and all of a sudden she disappears. We always described him in profiles as married with so many kids, and all of a sudden theres no longer a wife there. So just as a matter of fact, three paragraphs on the bottom of page three Theres nothing wrong with reporting any of that.

Wakeham does have a point, one I hadnt considered when I wrote this blog item back in April of 2007. Heres what I wrote then:

Some people have asked why I havent written about ongoing rumours concerning the marital issues of one of our elected officials; or, more to the point, why other media havent reported it. Theres a simple reason for that. It really isnt news. We might want to know about it, in a gossipy kind of way, but is the public interest served by revealing the personal affairs of our public figures? I submit there is, but only when such entanglements affect that persons ability to function effectively in their position.

Actually, there were also rumours floating around at the time that went beyond the mere breakup of a marriage; rumours that were really hurtful and nasty. They were also untrue. So my inclination was to pull away from it completely.

The divorce of a premier or prime minister is no big deal roughly two of every five marriages in this country end in divorce. But politicians do use family to help craft their political image during elections, so news of a divorce may indeed warrant a short story on the bottom of page three.

Incidentally, Wakeham was not the first media person to reference the premiers marital situation. It was mentioned in a Toronto Star profile, in June of 2008. Here it is:

He's separated from his wife, Maureen, and dotes on his four children and grandchildren.

There it is. Not sensational or overblown just matter of fact. Since then, it has been referenced on at least two other occasions, by Ryan Cleary of The Independent and Craig Westcott of The Business Post.

Some people are going to dump all over me, for having the gall to actually use the D word and the name of our premier in the same sentence.

Those people should take a pill.

To those people, I say: where were you when the premier accused a private citizen of betraying his people, simply because he asked some challenging questions. That, to me, is far more hurtful than referencing a persons marital status.

Our tough-talking premier seems to have a pretty thin skin, for one who is so quick to insult and attack the dignity of others.

Finally, here are the closing remarks from the blog item I wrote the last time Williams cut off a reporter. They seem to work well in this situation too.

You simply cannot manipulate media outcomes by barring access to certain reporters. It doesnt work. The media always gets the last word.

In the early days of any government, there is usually a honeymoon with the media. But inevitably, mistrust sets in and politicians draw battle lines, as the media reveals government mishaps and mistakes.

Try though they might, however, the politicians never win.

Political parties and their leaders come and go, but the media always remains.

And they get to write the obituary.

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Recent comments

  • John
    July 27, 2010 - 14:54

    I was at Here and Now back in the 80's when Peckford cut us off in a similar fit of pique.
    It didn't work the, it won't work now.
    DW should pay attention to that old newspaper maxim: don't pick a fight with people who buy their ink by the barrel.