By Casey Bukro
Consider the differences in the way Canadian and United States broadcasting officials reacted when their star performers got into trouble.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation swiftly fired political anchor Evan Solomon, one of the biggest names in Canadian journalism, for moonlighting as a fine arts broker.
NBC is still trying to decide what to do about high-profile anchor Brian Williams, who was suspended for six months in February for saying he was aboard a helicopter over Iraq that was forced down by enemy fire, which proved untrue. Reports say Williams’ lawyer is making negotiations “excruciating” for NBC as it tries to decide what to do with Williams.
The comparison is interesting because both Solomon and Williams have been described as among the biggest media names in their countries.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, officially known as CBC/Radio-Canada, serves as the National Public Radio and Television broadcaster.
CBC acted swiftly after the Toronto Star reported that, for commissions of about 10 percent, Solomon had been working with a Toronto art collector and had earned at least $300,000 over two years, and believed he was entitled to another $1 million.
Solomon had disclosed to CBC in April that a production company he owned with his wife had a business partnership with an art dealer that would not conflict with his CBC News work.
After an independent investigation, CBC/Radio-Canada CEO Hubert Lacroix said Solomon was fired to protect “the integrity of the content and the journalism that we make.”
Reaction at CBC reportedly was mixed with anger and frustration, in part because of other ethics issues that had surfaced in the past. Some called it a “disproportionate response” and Solomon could appeal.
Tim Bousquet, editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner, called what Solomon did a “crime against journalism.”
CBC’s sensitivity to ethical lapses no doubt was heightened by the earlier downfall of another CBC star, Jian Ghomeshi, who was fired for rough sex with women. He is facing trial on charges of sexual assault and choking.
The Guardian quoted critics who said the broadcaster’s decision to “groom celebrity journalists” led to a “corrosive culture” of stars with tremendous power and little self-restraint. Said one: “When you create these celebrities, you create monsters.”
Meanwhile, the Brian Williams case drags on. After suspending Williams, NBC reportedly found other instances where the anchor had exaggerated his involvement in events. Williams had apologized for the helicopter event, after military sources pointed out that Williams was not riding in a helicopter that was forced down by enemy fire.
“This was wrong and completely inappropriate for someone in Brian’s position,” Deborah Turness, president of NBC News, said in a memo.
The outcome remains to be seen. The suspension ends in August.
Nothing so far has been finalized in the Williams affair, reported columnist Lisa de Moraes, calling it a media cliffhanger.
The case drew attention from The New York Times. It said the episode “has called into question not only the credibility of Mr. Williams but also the ethics and culture of NBC News.”
Politico media writer Jack Shafer writes that Williams knows he’s dead, but is negotiating the terms of his burial.
In Vanity Fair, correspondent Bryan Burrough says the newsman is too damaged to return to the anchor’s desk. Burrough toyed with possibilities for a return.
Clearly, there are cultural and historical differences between Canada and the United States, as anyone who has traveled the two countries can attest. But maybe it’s possible to generalize and say that among the similarities between the two countries, which are fast allies, is a faith in media ethics. The details usually are messy, but ethics matters.