These days, 24 hours is about as long as CBC gets to feel good about itself.
Last Wednesday, as Parliament Hill was still under lockdown, accolades began flooding in for the performance of CBC's news operation and its most prominent face, Peter Mansbridge. But less than a day later, even as staff were standing a little taller, union reps announced another 400 positions that would be eliminated by March in the name of budget cuts.
And then, over the weekend: a bombshell.
On Sunday, as CBC announced it had severed ties with Jian Ghomeshi, and he responded with threats of a blockbuster lawsuit and an extraordinary Facebook post detailing his bedroom behaviour, the broadcaster was left reeling with unanswered questions about precisely what and when its executives knew of the allegations for which they apparently dumped him. A CBC spokesman told The Globe that information had "recently" come to light that made it impossible for Mr. Ghomeshi to continue in their employ.
That won't work for very long, and they know it. Very quickly, they'll have to be forthcoming, with fuller explanations if they don't want shrapnel from the exploding scandal to take many of them down.
They will also have to explain why they allowed Mr. Ghomeshi to become a very different kind of ambassador for CBC's brand than Mr. Mansbridge.
When Q launched in the spring of 2007, it was hosted by Mr. Ghomeshi but not yet identified with him: His name was not part of the show's title. In the halls, people said they had learned their lesson with Peter Gzowski, the long-time Morningside host who had become bigger than the show he hosted; when he retired, they took years to regain their equilibrium.
But in time the show became known as Q with Jian Ghomeshi, as his Twitter and Facebook following grew, and he became more in-demand as a charismatic host of events such as the annual Giller literary prize. (On Sunday, the Gillers said he would no longer host this year's gala on Nov. 10.) Over the past few months, he has done onstage interviews with luminaries spanning the generations, from Dan Rather at the Royal York Hotel to Lena Dunham at Toronto's Sony Centre. He has rubbed elbows at the Toronto International Film Festival, and taken his show to a Los Angeles stage, where he interviewed Zach Galifianakis, Martin Short, Sandra Oh and others.
Until this past weekend, he was also scheduled to take Q to Vancouver's Vogue Theatre on Nov. 6.
That's because CBC has seen a rare opportunity to burnish its brand through Mr. Ghomeshi's hard work and charm. Over the past few years, the broadcaster has aggressively marketed Q abroad; the show is now on over 160 stations in the United States. The first to sign on was Chicago's WBEZ, renowned as the launch pad for the beloved public radio program This American Life. In recent months, Q has also expanded the footprint for its TV show (though it mostly airs in poor time-slots: it's on WABC in New York at 4 a.m. Saturday morning).
All of this has given Q the appearance of being exactly the sort of success CBC needs in this desperate hour: a glamorous international calling card, a smart take on pop culture that can attract a new generation of listeners. An approving piece in the Washington Post last year noted that its American presence was helping it book bigger guests. (The piece also mentioned Mr. Ghomeshi's "magnetism," and noted that his "dating misadventures haunt him online.")
But in tying its own success so tightly to Mr. Ghomeshi's soaring brand, CBC risked exactly the sort of blowback it is now experiencing. When the news division performs impressively, as it did last Wednesday, Mr. Mansbridge gets the praise; but like Kevin Vickers acknowledging his staff, the CBC's chief correspondent shares the victory with the entire department.
When Mr. Ghomeshi has a great interview – either his notorious encounters with Billy Bob Thornton or Boy George, or his recent intimate chat with Neil Young – it is he, not Q or CBC Radio, who soaks up the acclaim. After each show, he takes to Twitter, promoting the interviews and frequently retweeting the online kudos he receives.
This is the shape of the new media ecosystem, which holds that audiences and consumers relate more to individuals than institutions. But large corporations such as the CBC walk a fine line when they tie themselves to stars. People are fallible. Sometimes they quit, and sometimes they do things for which corporations believe they need to be fired.
Whether Q is actually as big a success as it seems is up for debate: The listenership for its broadcasts (not including podcasts or streaming) is roughly half that of The Current, CBC Radio One's flagship current affairs show: perhaps as little as a couple of hundred thousand people. But nobody is asking Anna Maria Tremonti to host the Gillers.
Depending on how the scandal unfolds, the CBC's big bet on Mr. Ghomeshi may turn out to have been a big risk for very little reward.