The second cameraman on the grassy knoll


The new issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism has a profile of Robert Hurst, president of CTV News. A large portion of the piece revisits CTV’s infamous/brave/despicable decision to air the outtakes from Stephane Dion’s interview with Steve Murphy. 

In addition to details already known, it’s reported that CTV was worried about footage Radio-Canada had recorded on behalf of the press pool. For the record, the Radio-Canada explanation was not mentioned in CTV’s own account of the interview, nor in this letter to the editor by CTV Atlantic’s general manager. A previous attempt to deconstruct the event made only passing reference to the simple competitive consideration. Hurst has also previously said there was “no agreement” not to air the outtakes.

Excerpt from the Review after the jump.

After the third restart, Dion manages to dance around the question and the interview continues. When the red light clicks off, Murphy makes a hasty exit to be back in the Halifax studio for the evening newsbreak. Before producer Peter Mallette leaves, one of Dion’s aides asks if the retakes will air. Mallette says not to worry about it.

During the cab ride back to the station, the producer phones news director Jay Witherbee to describe the unusual beginning to the interview. When he arrives, Witherbee looks at the tape and decides to seek an opinion from higher up.

In his brightly lit, suburban Toronto office, steps from the national news desk, CTV News president Robert Hurst is finalizing plans for the network’s election coverage when he receives Witherbee’s urgent e-mail at 5:20pm Halifax time. Hurst calls the news director and, speaking in the gentle but firm voice he uses when dealing with problems, instructs Witherbee to upload the video to the internal network so he can see it.

The clock is ticking. By the time Hurst watches the footage with senior staff, it’s 5:40pm in the Maritimes. They make a quick decision: run the entire interview. Murphy’s already on the air, but during commercial breaks he works with his producer and director on the script…

Although the Liberals left the interview thinking the retakes wouldn’t air, one of Hurst’s concerns was that if CTV didn’t break the story, another outlet would use the footage Radio-Canada had recorded. Today, despite the ensuing ethical debate, Hurst remains resolute in his defence of that decision. It was one based on his own updates to the CTV News policy handbook and his adamant belief that openness is always better than censorship.


The second cameraman on the grassy knoll

  1. Actually I kind of felt sorry for the guy (Dion) – it was cringe worthy watching that interview and the only person who was truly happy wasn’t a Conservative (in public anyways) and helped catapult him into being interim leader of the LPC.

    • You obviously did not watch the Liberal party youtube address to the nation. Showcasing Dion.
      And the Liberals want to run the country. ha

  2. Just look at what the news media have done to us? There was never even a modicum of substantive news or public interest in this story…not in the question that was asked, not in the response given and certainly not in the ongoing self-referential reporting of this story.

    i welcome all of your various bankruptcies. After all, you worked so hard for them.

  3. It is unbelievable the amount of attention paid to just one “unfair” treatment of a Liberal leader by the media. Can anyone point out the journalistic standard that CTV violated in airing the whole interview?

    Where was this kind of scrutiny and second guessing when Christina Lawand of the CBC, while covering a Harper event in Cornwall juxtaposed an answer to a different question, a clear violation of the CBC’s published journalistic standards, to make him look that he was insensitive to the plight of the Palestintians

    CBC showed a report of the anti-Harper protest that took place in Cornwall where the Conservative Party was holding a retreat. The segment by Christina Lawand shows Elsaadi Daad, a chador-clad woman who was incidentally on her way to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Peter Mackay, saying that burning children and killing people on both sides is wrong and “it’s got to stop”. Lawand then says that “Harper clearly wasn’t swayed” and showed Harper speaking the following words, “I’m not concerned or preoccupied in any way with reaction within individual communities. I think the reaction is very predictable.”

    The juxtaposition of the two statements, not to mention Lawand’s statement that “Harper clearly wasn’t swayed” clearly showed what the CBC wanted their viewers to see — Stephen Harper saying that he doesn’t give a damn about the killing of civilians in the Middle East and more importantly, he couldn’t care less about the “predictable reaction” of Muslims like Daad.

    The only slight problem with Lawand’s report is that it just didn’t happen that way. But why let the truth get in the way of a great piece by the CBC about how bad Stephen Harper is.

    Harper’s comments that were aired by the CBC were not a response to Elsaadi Daad at all. A reporter for the Toronto Star had asked Harper to respond to the fact that the Conservatives appear to be getting new support from the Jewish community and negative responses from the Arab community because of the government’s Middle East policies. The Prime Minister gives a lengthy response, only the last sentence of which was cut and then pasted by the CBC so as to appear to be a response to what Elsaadi Daad had said.

    I must have missed the post where a bunch of Macleans bloggers declared their agreement about how despicable Christina Lawand was for pulling a stunt like that. I mean, you guys are all so fair and balanced, you must have given that incident the same treatment as the Dion interview. Did those posts get deleted as well? Perhaps you could pull your archives from August 2006 and find them for me?

    I’m sure all of the same analysis and second guessing about how the CBC can so brazenly violate their own broadcast standards and then publish only a “regret” that the incident happened, without an apology, was discussed and posted somewhere ad nauseum, and I just missed it. Yeah, that must be it.

    • Was it during an election? Did it help cost Harper an election? Did it help cost Harper his job? Did Harper himself complain about it? Did anyone at CBC assure Harper they would do one thing and then go on air and do the exact opposite?

      • Did it help cost Harper an election? Did it help cost Harper his job?

        No, because it was quickly demonstrated that the “news” article was, in fact, a made up smear piece with no basis in fact. As opposed to Dion’s, which was 100% true; just very inconvenient for him.

        Did anyone at CBC assure Harper they would do one thing and then go on air and do the exact opposite?

        The CBC’s own journalistic standards should have made that unnecessary, shouldn’t it?

        • I’m suggesting some obvious reasons about why one story got some more airplay than the other.

          The bigger reason of course is that the Dion clip showed him to be a goof and “The Media” (TM) were quite eager to play up that image of him.

  4. I wonder if this “gotcha” incident would’ve occurred if the Prime Minister of Denmark was being interviewed instead of Mr. Dion. The Prime Minister of Denmark also speaks English as a second language. But his position would probably be given more respect by the media. Obviously a duly elected Member of Parliament, and Canada’s Leader of the Official Opposition, is not shown the same respect from our mainstream media and that is a shame.

    How can a broadcaster serve as a trustee of our public airwaves when it breaks a trust with a candidate during an election?

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