Dispatch from the Front Line: "Good lord, CBC!" - A New Dark CanCon Comedy
Aggrieved staffers and absentee executives as the CBC seeks to have its license renewed, the U.S.'s glorious dysfunction, and vaccine woes for PMJT.
Happy Saturday, beautiful Line readers. Thanks for another terrific week here. We’ve passed some important milestones and are thrilled to have 2021 off to a good start. But building off that good start depends on your support and generosity. We won’t belabour the point, but if you’re enjoy what we do, and are not yet a subscriber, we could really use you on our team. Please help us hold the line by joining up today. Without your support, we can’t do what we do here.
South of the border, things are … weird. Your Line editors were genuinely worried after the shitshow of last week. There were many, many ways that that could have gotten worse. But we are cautiously encouraged by everything that we’ve seen in the aftermath of the attack on the Capitol. The outgoing president’s political capital has been obviously zeroed out by the incident. He’s been left reading pro-forma statements onto tape for later release, and Trump is never more sad and pathetic than when hewing closely to a script clearly written by a panicked lawyer. His allies continue to desert him or slink quietly off into the night. Law enforcement is rounding up the losers who stormed the seat of government and, in many cases, helpfully documented their crimes with selfies. And in an astonishing display of casual military might, the National Guard has mobilized 20,000 troops — almost the size of the entire Canadian Army, and doubtlessly better equipped — to secure D.C. ahead of Biden’s inauguration.
We are a bit torn on how to feel about this. We can’t help but be impressed by the scale of the effort — America can still do gigantic things with frightening ease. But the fact that the republic is marshalling its awesome strength to combat its own abysmal political dysfunction and societal rot tempers our enthusiasm for the display. In a way, this is actually a perfect example of the enduring contradictions of America — a gargantuan effort has been made to avert a catastrophe of is own making.
Still, on balance, we’re glad the troops are there, and hope they won’t be needed. Photos of thousands of Guardsmen camped out in the Capitol complex will stay with us for a long time. Good luck to them, and good luck to America, during what will be a historic, but hopefully peaceful, week ahead.
Up here in the north, our colleagues over at the CBC are having a weird week themselves. Two big stories are in the news, and neither makes the Mother Corp look good.
The first story is a workplace grievance filed by a former — maybe now current! — CBC reporter/editor, Ahmar Khan.
The saga begins, as do all dramas in media, with a tweet that proved to be more trouble than it was worth.
Just after Don Cherry’s now infamous “you people” 2019 outburst, Khan, a temporary reporter working in the CBC’s Manitoba newsroom, let loose. He tweeted:
“It it (sic) long due time for Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner to be cancelled.
His xenophobic comments being aired weekly are deplorable.
You know why black and brown kids don’t enjoy hockey? Because of the deep-rooted racism, which we get to hear EVERY SINGLE WEEK on national TV”
Reporters within the CBC are barred from publishing personal opinions on social media, lest they give readers and listeners the perception of bias (um). Khan, then 23, was called up before management and informed that stating this position was a transgression of the thrice-holy binding policy, the CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices (JSP). Khan wasn’t disciplined, but he was advised to delete the tweet, and told that he would no longer be allowed to cover related topics. Further, management advised him: “In the future, I suggest you pitch a story about it instead of reacting online — you will reach a wider audience this way.”
Which — if there are any junior journalist types reading this — is actually very good advice. Channeling righteous anger into something that pays the bills rather than wasting that rage on the the illusory, exploitative and unpaid status-seeking of Twitter validation is sound strategy.
So, so far, so good.
But then things start to get messy. After his comment was singled out by Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington, Khan suddenly found himself on the ugly end of a plethora of mean tweets and emails. According to the arbitration document, this seems to have contributed to a fragile state of mental health. Khan claimed that readers were threatening him, and that management failed to adequately support him — a claim the arbiter disagreed with.
“Mr. Khan testified that … CBC journalistic policies were being applied selectively, and in a way that is harmful to journalists of colour. He cited the CBC’s lawsuit against the Conservative Party over copyright infringement during the federal election campaign in the fall of 2019, saying the CBC did not force its journalists to disclose the court action when they covered politics. He also said journalists had expressed opinions about the harassment of women reporters when they are in the field reporting.”
And well, shit, we at The Line have to give the point to Khan. If you’re going to hew to a strict JSP that forbids reporters from expressing opinions online, obviously — obviously — that standard has to be applied consistently, across divisions, and regardless of status and racial lines. Otherwise, the JSP is selective and discriminatory.
Feeling like his issues could not be properly addressed internally, Khan then does what would get anyone reprimanded if he got caught: he leaked his beef to Canadaland, and to Maclean’s columnist Andray Domise. The former wrote a story about the subject, which can be read here.
A few days went by, and the whole kerfuffle seemed to settle down. But then things got really ugly.
You see, Khan had used a shared CBC laptop to leak the info, and he failed to sign out of his social media and messaging accounts. When a colleague, Austin Grabish, next used the laptop, he spotted the communications to the other outlets. Grabish then appears to have gone hunting for other damaging material, including a message sent between several of Khan’s friends that used the word “fag.” These earlier messages were reportedly sent several months before Grabish found them.
Grabish sent screenshots of the concerning messages to management. Management then also searched Khan’s messages to confirm the authenticity of Grabish’s screenshots. Khan was confronted by management and fired with cause.
Khan then launched a suit against the CBC, and the case found its way to arbitration.
The question of whether a journalistic outlet — which thrives on the trust of whistleblowers — ought to fire someone for whistleblowing is actually an interesting question for us journo nerds to ponder. But according to the arbitrator, there were only two relevant issues at hand for the purposes of the case: “[What] Mr. Khan ... did, and how ... the CBC ... found out about it."
The arbiter ruled that the violation of Khan’s privacy “tainted the entire process that led to the termination of his employment."
But the icing on the cake comes when the arbitrator uses the words of CBC’s own editor in chief to legitimize Khan’s original leak to Canadaland, thus providing a post hoc defence for the whistleblowing in the first place. Four months after Khan was fired, and in the midst of a continent-wide reckoning on race, Brodie Fenlon wrote to staff:
“And we heard complaints, not new, that our interpretation of CBC's journalistic standards and practices (JSP) is so rigid it can muzzle within the organization important voices and lived experiences. Do our definitions of objectivity, balance, fairness and impartiality — and our insistence that journalists not express personal opinions on the stories we cover — work against our goals of inclusion and being part of the community and country we serve?
This question will be among the thorniest to untangle, for I believe strongly that our adherence to the JSP is the central reason CBC News is one of the most trusted news organizations in Canada. But I'm equally convinced that being open to this conversation and looking at the JSP through the prism of inclusivity will result in greater clarity for staff and managers, a mutual understanding of JSP intent and greater trust.”
Hey, it’s almost like words still mean a thing! And you can’t just spew positions and statements into the ether without consequences! After all, how can it be fair for Khan to be fired for whistleblowing on an issue that the CBC then concedes is a legitimate problem not four months later?
The arbiter concluded that:
“The messages set out above between (Khan’s manager Melanie Verhaeghe ) and Mr. Grabish suggest a somewhat enthusiastic plan to cause trouble for an employee who was viewed by some fellow employees as a problem. Ms. Verhaeghe’s evidence indicated that there were complaints about Mr. Khan, unrelated to the Cherry tweet, by co-workers. The evidence may suggest that management seized on Mr. Khan’s messages and exaggerated their import in an effort to eliminate an unpopular employee.”
And, yeah, that appears to nail the situation pretty correctly. Rather than just waiting out the remaining four months of this temporary employee’s contract and then letting him wander off into the wilds — as per standard procedure for unpopular young people in journalism everywhere (as your Line editors can personally attest. Some of us never came back!) — Khan’s manager got impatient. His colleague and boss violated a reasonable expectation of privacy, rummaged through Khan’s computer, found private WhatsApp messages between friends, and then used them, inquisitorial-squad style, to accuse the guy of bigotry. Whether Khan should have been fired for leaking to Canadaland is almost a moot point by the time we get there.
This is one of those stories in which no one looks great. Khan comes off as not quite ready to handle the rough-and-tumble of the social media fame/infamy spiral that he appears to be courting. Grabish looks like a rat who then later tried to justify his snitching by weaponizing his own marginalized identity.
We don’t know what the heck management was thinking, and the whole story just makes the CBC look like a miserable place to work.
Slotnick ordered the CBC to reinstate Khan for the four months that had been remaining on his contract at the time of his termination, or to compensate him for the lost work. The Line would like to remind everyone alive that you live in the heaven or hell that you create for yourself.
Also on the WTF CBC front, your Line editors laughed the laugh of the bitter guffaw to hear that Michel Bissonnette, who is CBC/Radio-Canada’s executive vice-president of French Services and second-in-command behind Catherine Tait, spent virtually all of December at his Miami condo. Tait herself, meanwhile, has been living in Brooklyn while caring for her husband, who is ill.
Now Bissonnette is not an elected official, but purely from a perspective of optics and branding, considering that the entire purpose of the CBC is to "tell our stories" lest we be overwhelmed by the U.S. cultural juggernaut, can we all agree that having the two top Canadians tasked with telling Canadian stories to Canadians skipping off to the U.S. so frequently might become a problem? Surely an executive position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ought to be reserved for those who see the job as something more than a ticket to leave.
Lastly, the CBC is before the CRTC to have its license renewed this week. On Friday, the corporation’s president was peppered with tough questions about the MotherCorp’s expansion into branded content, as reported by, ur, the CBC — which seems to have been the only outlet to cover its own hearing. Which given how tough they’ve had it this week, is actually a pretty bad look for everybody else, including us here at The Line.
While we’re north of the border, we had briefly thought that perhaps we’d better start getting our ducks in a row in case the recent federal cabinet shuffle really was a hint of an election to come. We’d have been surprised if that was so, only because of the obvious risks involved in calling an election in the middle of a public-health crisis that is, in the most populated parts of the country, far from contained. But hey, if there’s anything we’ve learned of late, it’s that anything can happen.
And late in the week, something happened: Pfizer announced that it would be slower delivering critically needed vaccine to countries all over the world. The issue is reportedly one of manufacturing capacity, with Pfizer saying it needs to temporarily scale back so that it can actually expand overall production. Canada expects its disruption to last about a month; other nations expect to only be set back a week. And there is still hope that we will get all the vaccine we hoped for in the first quarter of this year, but with deliveries landing lopsidedly in the final weeks of it.
This has two immediate consequences of note: the first, and most important, obviously, is that provincial efforts to rapidly vaccinate the most vulnerable Canadians will be slower now, and some of those Canadians will die. This is grim but unavoidable, and will land most heavily on those parts of the country still struggling with uncontrolled outbreaks, namely Ontario and Quebec.
But it also means that the Liberals, who may have been eyeing ways of getting to a vote early, now have much less reason to do so. Any hope that Trudeau and the gang could ride a successful vaccination campaign to electoral victory took a body blow this week. We make no predictions about what will happen at the next election, but we are confident in saying that that election will come later than we might have thought only days ago.
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