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David Akin: In defence of Sun News

Sun Media’s national bureau chief weighs in on what was missing from coverage of Sun News Network’s demise


 

Harrison Ruess

Yes, some of it bugged me.

Ezra Levant would do this or say that and my life as the straight-up political journalist at the now-defunct Sun News Network would become very difficult. Case in point: Ezra vs. Justin Trudeau et al.

But Ezra, Brian Lilley, Michael Coren and I—the four prime-time hosts on the network—operated for the last four years on the general principle that, no matter how much we might disagree with each other, there were to be no public spats between us. My job was the button-downed “hard news” straight man. It was their job to bring in the crowds, and they would have to break some eggs to bake the cake that would feed us all.

I ignored demands often made of me by readers and viewers of my work that I answer for the work of Ezra, Brian or Michael. It was their work, not mine. And I trust they ignored similar demands made of them when I said “unconservative” things or reported on facts that may have been inconvenient to a conservative narrative of the world.

My daily hour used to follow Ezra’s daily hour. Viewers who had just finished Ezra’s high-octane performance would stare at me for a few minutes, then send off e-mail blasts denouncing me as boring and comparing my work to what they could see on CBC. (I took that as a compliment, although I don’t think it was intended that way.)

And, truth be told, I often giggled at Ezra’s chutzpah and sometimes wished I had the certainty of the truths he proclaimed.

I was signed up by Kory Teneycke, the former top aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He never asked about my politics. Maybe he thought I was a conservative, based on my Parliament Hill reporting for CTV, and the also now-defunct, Canwest News Service. I never asked him. But if so, he saw something Jack Layton did not, since, while I was being wooed to work for Sun, the late NDP leader asked me to join his inner circle of advisers and, maybe one day, run as his candidate. Flattered, I told him I preferred being a reporter.

On our launch and after, everyone paid most attention to Ezra and Brian and little to the comprehensive political coverage I led. That pattern continued in the post-mortems I read over the weekend. Critics wanting something to object to about our network found their preferred target where they wanted it. Fair enough. But notes I’ve received in the last few days from former party leaders, elected officials, political operatives, pollsters and volunteer riding associations—from many different parties at both the national and provincial levels—saying how much they appreciated the attention we paid to the nitty gritty of races that get no national coverage suggests to me that there was, and still is, an interest in the kind of programming we provided.

Federal New Democrats, in particular, seemed thankful that a national news network was taking them as seriously as other national networks take federal Conservatives or federal Liberals. We went live-to-air across the country with broadcasts of each of the three national conventions they held during our existence. CBC News Network was the only other national network to provide substantial live programming at all three.

When the Liberal Party of Canada was choosing its new leader through the winter and spring of 2013, it held several debates across the country. Justin Trudeau, of course, prevailed, and now has a very good chance to be the prime minister. And yet, despite the stakes of that contest, CBC did not air all of those debates. We did, though. Every one of them, from start to finish, unedited and without commentary, live-to air across the country.

Emerging parties—be it the Alberta Party in that province or the Freedom Party in Ontario—got attention from us that we were told they were not getting from any other national news network to explain their policies and be challenged on them.

There was no mention of this in any of the Sun News Network post-mortems, nor of our wire-to-wire coverage of one federal election, one presidential election, nine provincial elections, nine federal and provincial party leaderships, five big-city mayors’ races, plus a handful of by-election races. Sun News reporters and cameras were on each of the main campaign buses for the duration of the federal and all nine provincial elections. I anchored at least a dozen results shows, where we stayed on-air across the country from polls closing until the final speech. When shots were fired at former Quebec premier Pauline Marois’s headquarters, we were live-to-air across the country for that. Others were not.

We were live to-air across the country to report the results of the Oct. 27 municipal elections in Ontario and, then, as it became clear that John Tory would win Toronto, we kept right on going through two time zones and brought live-to-air across-the-country results of four Alberta by-elections. Sure, it was a bit schizophrenic, mixing in a post-election interview with second-place Toronto finisher Doug Ford, while watching the early returns from Alberta. But Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives would sweep those contests, and they became the precipitating event for Wildrose leader Danielle Smith’s historic floor-crossing. Important news. And we were all over it.

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Doing all this, covering campaigns—covering the news—cost Quebecor, our parent and investor, a lot of money. I am grateful for the millions they sunk into the operation and the significant faith shown in my work. Could we have used another satellite truck? Better sets? Of course.

But, please, let’s not continue the fiction we did no news.

In addition to our coverage of multiple Canadian elections, Quebecor spent considerable sums to report from overseas.

I, for one, reported on Harper’s activities during trips to Beijing, Hong Kong, Perth, Manila, Singapore, Los Cabos, St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, London, Paris, Dublin and the United Nations. I’m sure I’m missing a few spots. Each of those trips cost us (and every broadcaster along for the ride) tens of thousands of dollars.

It’s a fact not reported often enough, but, when prime ministers travel or when leaders travel in their campaign buses during an election, news organizations pay their own way. The travel is not free.

I was sent to Berlin for 24 hours while the hunt was on for Luka Magnotta. I was sent to Rome for a couple of weeks to cover the election of Pope Francis. News, folks, news! And I’m glad Sun picked me to report it.

Just before our launch, Sun News sent me to Tahrir Square to cover the Arab Spring. There, I and a TVA cameraman were detained by Egyptian secret police. We were apprehended by thugs who held machetes to our chests before leading us to our mercifully brief interrogation.

When Harper went to the the Middle East last spring, Sun News put me on the plane to report what he did in Jerusalem and Ramallah. We went to Jordan, where I saw the Petra Treasury by candlelight at midnight. Incredibly beautiful. More beautiful: The next day, on the border with Syria at a refugee camp, I met—and reported on—three-year-old Fidaa and her five-year-old cousin Safeia, freshly fled from Homs. I wonder how they’re doing.

I am proud of the commitment we made to covering the work of the country’s political class. I’m also proud of the mostly young reporters and producers who provided my show with excellent daily election coverage.

We did it in a way a business network covers Bay Street or a sports network covers sports: Go deep, explore every stat, and pay particular attention to the transactions at the heart of the matter. In business, it’s all about the deal. In sports, it’s all about the game. The transaction at the heart of our political coverage was the ballot.

We were not trying to replace incumbent news networks. There was no business plan I was ever aware of that included stealing viewers from CBC or CTV or anyone else. We would find our audience by doing news that no one else was doing and now, sadly, no one at all is doing that.

David Akin spent a decade covering Bay Street for the National Post, the Globe and Mail and CTV, and has spent the last decade on Parliament Hill, most recently as Sun Media’s national bureau chief. His contact information is at  www.davidakin.com.


 

David Akin: In defence of Sun News

  1. Good piece. I’ll go one further.

    Sun News aired an interview with Sharyl Attkisson on her bombshell revelations that her computers were hacked, in all likelihood by the Obama admin, because of some tough reporting she did on them, and on corruption within CBS News that makes the Brian Williams story look like a joke.

    Sun News covered IRS chief Lois Lerner, and the targeting of conservatives across the US by the IRS, including the mass coverup and destruction of her emails likely showing White House involvement in that targeting.

    Sun News covered pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s “Lolita Express” and “Orgy Island”, and the fact that his passenger logs include one Bill Clinton.

    Sun News covered Jonathan Gruber, the Obamacare architect who admitted that the law is a scam, passed due to (and I quote) “the stupidity of the American voter”.

    To date, the rest of the Canadian media has not properly covered a single one of these topics, including the absolute joke of a Washington bureau at this magazine. The first 2 stories easily eclipse anything done by Richard Nixon. The third would be fatal to the Presidential ambitions of Hillary Clinton. The fourth may be the death knell for Obamacare. No reasonable person could argue that any of the above stories are not front page news and worthy of Canadian media attention.

    Sharyl Attkisson, Jonathan Gruber, Jeffrey Epstein, and Lois Lerner should all be household names in Canada if the media was doing a proper job. If Sun News was the only network in Canada willing to do it, we need someone to step up and replace them. Now.

    • You know what SNN was really good at, running both whisper campaigns and smear campaigns. That to me this is not journalism and the right name for it, should’ve been the SMUT NEWS NETWORK and not SUN NEWS NETWORK. David Akin is a half decent reporter, not journalist though. He like most who sit around the computer most days like most lazy reporters and report what they see online, after all the MSM are always saying, the new real news, is online news.

    • Poor John G you are suffering from the delusion that events which expose progressives to be hypocritical liars are “news”. As Neoconstantine and Carpet Bomber will tell you, events are only news if they can be used to further a progressive agenda.

    • So what do you consider “proper” coverage? The kind of coverage that turns contested allegations of a computer hack into “revelations”? Or that suggests Clinton is a pedophile when there is simply no evidence this is true?

      How did the American networks cover these stories, and more to the point, why should they be relevant to us?

      And finally, since I never watched SNN, maybe you can tell me how (and if) they covered CRA’s targeted audits of non conservative charities?

      • Gayle admitted:
        “And finally, since I never watched SNN, maybe you can tell me how (and if) they covered CRA’s targeted audits of non conservative charities?”

        Which, is typical for the folks who spent so much time criticizing it.

        Gayle, if you had been watching SUNTV, you would have seen the coverage about the “charities” being examined by the CRA, were examined due to the CRA questioning their status….not the government.

        You would have also noted the amount of money from large American org’s with a financial interest in seeing all oil production in canada being hindered. Tides foundation, rockefeller brothers, etc. There was a lot of money going to these groups, and ONLY SUNTV reported on the connection.

        Basically, there was a lot of money pouring into Canadian “charities” from very well financed interests foreign to Canada in order to further the economic interests of those providing the funding.

        The reason you don’t know anything about this was stated by you at the end of your comment. You didn’t watch SunTV……..

        And that’s why you remain ignorant.

        The folks at SUNTV were a little too strident on ocassion, but they were the only network who connected the dots and reported the news to Canadians. This was just one story they reported on that you never saw on CBC, or read in the mainstream media. There are many other stories reported by SUN, that received no coverage.

        And now no one will be reporting on them. And that’s a shame.

  2. David Akin did in fact excellent work on Sun News.
    But too often, his serious work was overshadowed by Ezra’s stunts. Some viewers might have been repelled by these stunts and tuned out, or didn’t take the network seriously.
    He was covering real news, in a serious fashion, while surrounded by boisterous noise. And it made his work a lot harder it seems.

  3. sorry but as I read this column, the needle on my BS meter went hard over.

    I suggest you knew full well what a travesty Sun News TV was going to be the moment Lilly and Levant, among others, came on board.

    Having to occasionally read or watch their embarrassing and bilious streams of drivel was an affront to anyone interested in the prospect of intelligent discourse. And to have any criticism countered with the charge that finding them and their commentary repugnant somehow meant opposition to freedom of speech was risible if not truly offensive.

    I chose not to watch SNN and their embarrassment of commentary – just like, it seems, about 99.99% of other Canadians. Great business model behind that network concept.

    I was shocked that you would join that organization. You, like many others who came into SNN with their eyes open, whether in front of the camera or behind it, knew full well what a travesty this was going to be, and you held your nose and carried on.

    I suggest you became tainted when you undertook to be part of this organization. To try to downplay Levant’s deplorable conduct (and all you can call it is high octane performance?) and that of many of his compatriots is even more egregious, and taints you further.

    it will take a long time for that taint to disappear.

    • Ottawa Dave wrote:
      “I chose not to watch SNN and their embarrassment of commentary ”

      Does anyone else see a pattern here? It would seem the folks most critical of SUNTV, were the same folks who never watched it.

      that is why Ottawa Dave….didn’t see the video’s of the Islamic fantics currently employed by Canadian Mosques. Ottawa Dave didn’t see the video’s of these muslim nutbars calling for the death of infidels and Jews, or the celebration of ISIS…….nope. Ottawa Dave is completely unaware of what Sun News was reporting on.

      And yet…he’s glad it is gone.

      sorry dave……with the loss of SunTv…the canary in the coal mine died, and no one noticed it…and you know what happens then.

      SUN was the only station to tell folks what they needed to hear, as opposed to the other Canadian media who sticks with what they think is going to be the least offensive.

      I’m sure they’ll be back in another form. It’s very hard to shut someone like Ezra Levant up for too long.

      • Thanks for making me proud I never watched it.

        • Proud of your own ignorance Gayle?

          Yep……you have earned your “progressive” credentials.

          Progessives: It’s not that they don’t know anything, it’s just that what they do know is wrong. (famous quote, altered somewhat for this thread)

    • I rather enjoyed watching the SNN and found very relevant news of the day. While there are some opposing different points of views, its a very healthy position to take providing the discourse includes respect and open dialogue.

      Its very refreshing being informed honestly by the media – the theatrics on the other hand in some precinct is another story. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see and interpret truth – as long as we remain engaged and have the god given capacity for thought, respect for each other.

      To dismiss David Aitkens point of view as BS, or to instead truly read what he as wrote and instead rants off in a tangent is to really put forth a dishonest point of view other than to say it was well written, very thought provoking, relevant and frankly 100% true and verifiable.

      He laid out the argument for everyone in a concise and clear manner. Every single word is verifiable and brings into question why aren’t there reflection instead of the hateful retort. As citizens of this great country, are we not concerned the media, much like the American media (mostly) is not seen as in the pocket of any government?

    • yes, how dare someone have an opinion contrary to yours, Ottawa Dave, BURN THE HERETIC!! BURN THE HERETIC!!

  4. David, I don’t think any reasonably thinking person who actually watched your work has anything but praise for your work. “Your” work.

    I do think you are being a tad disingenuous by avoiding the fact that the clowns SNN network hired to “bring in the crowds”, the low standards, and the hard, mocking, thoughtless conservative agenda requirement that dominated every other inane second, thought or spoken word of the goofy network not only tainted your fine work but eliminated any possibility of it being taken seriously by a wife audience. Nobody was going to tune into a channel of spewing stupidity for the one small bubble of reality. Not when that reality was offered many other places without the lunacy or same level of agenda bookending it.

    It’s a tragedy for the jobs lost, people impacted, a triumph for sanity and a waste of four years of a small number if people’s time.

  5. Not to worry Mr. Akin, CTVs Question Period every Sunday with its wonderful expert guest panelists of John(Tom Flanagan)Ivison, Gloria Galloway, and Craig Oliver(conservative war room strategists), not sure about Tonda, I don’t think Tonda is even sure sometimes. Also not to mention Don Martin and the Power Play, who seem to have the same kind fetish(sometimes more) for Trudeau as SNN, will only be too happy to take over from Ezra and Brian.

  6. Sheesh. I think David Akin was smart enough to realise – going in – that a news network fashioned after ‘Trailer Park Boys’ with a pinch of ‘Fox News’ was going to be a problematical enterprise. Especially leavened with the political kneading from the owners. Add in a certain amount of religious fundamentalism and it’s no surprise to me they have reaped what they sowed.

  7. well yes that too is my point.

    If indeed there was some semblance of actual news which virtually no-one watched because of being turned off by the vile commentary of many of the on-air people, it seems somewhat of a doomed business model. Oh wait, the business did fail, didn’t it?.

    if a tree fell in the forest and no one heard it sort of thing.

  8. You chose to get in the clown car of your own free will. No self-respecting journalist would.

  9. I respect David Akin as a journalist – I had nothing but derision for Sun News.

    Yes Sun covered all of those political events – but all of that coverage was counterproductive.

    Why? Because they did not have the trust of most ordinary Canadians. They simply frittered that away. The coverage of anything political was suspicious because one could not help but wonder to what end would the coverage be ultimately be used – and in what attack ad….whether it be Levant showing pictures of Trudeau at a wedding party while spewing sexual slurs about his parents, or railing on about different ethnic groups in a manner that most Canadians find disgusting and unacceptable.

    For Akin, then, to be so casual a bout the unforgivable and offensive behavior of Levant, Coren and Lilley is head scratching at best.

    You simply cannot run a credible News service that is based on non credible behavior of it’s key players.

    So all of the News coverage that Akin is so proud of was all for naught…undermined by his so called friends.

    Shame.

  10. What is up with Kory T brokering silence for Ezra?
    He managed to pull it off with David, Kinsella, and who knows who else.

    When you need to make a pact to STFU on certain things, then something is fishy.

    Guys like Kinsella can spew all sorts of rhetoric for their support of SNN, but it comes off, for me at least, as turd. Sorry, but I just do not trust people whose silence is pre-arranged. Kinsella sold off his integrity when he made a pact to keep quiet about Ezra, despite how he spins it. There is nothing Punk about that.

    • Warren Kinsella is an avowed Liberal. Certainly more “liberal” than those in the party he supports.

      While I disagree with kinsella on many things, he at least respected the right of folks to disagree with him, just as he expected the same in return. He’s already written that SUNTV was the ONLY media he’s worked with that never censored what he wrote. He had free reign to say what he wanted. Given that the folks at SUN were diametrically opposed to everything he stands for, that is a pretty good record of respect.

      • Sorry, but anyone familiar with Kinsella is likely also aware of the history between him and Ezra. This arrangement was made, if memory serves me correct, right from the onset of his relationship with the Sun. One way of interpreting this is that the muzzle was a condition of his employment, either explicitly or implicitly. To brag that you have never been censored when such a deal is in place is pretty lame.

        I’m not sure I agree with you about the “respected the right of folks to disagree with him”. When #blockedbymalick was rolling around, some people questioned why Kinsella, a notorious impulse blocker (disclosure – he blocked me when I called him out on his lame strategy of trying to tar and feather John Tory (whom I’m not a fan of) as a misogynist in the early days of the mayoral race) seems to get a free pass.

        Even worse is what he does on his blog, where if you use an online alias to comment and tick him off in the process, he tries to get back at you by posting your IP address, and any other info he thinks he has found about you. Pretty childish. No doubt, effective and useful against real trolls, but on many other occasions used and abused.

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