By one measure, the Fifth Estate episode airing on Friday is just another Linden MacIntyre report: A classic story about a life ruined by an abuse of power, a cautionary tale about the danger of gossip and the importance of truth. But it is also MacIntyre's curtain call. After 24 years as a co-host of the investigative show, and 38 years at the public broadcaster, MacIntyre is leaving CBC's airwaves for good.
Last May, as CBC/Radio-Canada announced it would eliminate another 657 positions, MacIntyre, now 71, volunteered to be one of the departed. He hoped both to save the positions of one or two younger staffers, and also to put a highly visible face on the cuts.
Viewers will miss his patented blend of hard-boiled wisdom, knowing empathy, and Maritime charm, all of which are on display in his swan song. The report is a deep dive into a 2006 murder investigation by Peel Regional Police in which they browbeat witnesses into changing their stories until they fingered an innocent man. In 2010, that man, Eric Morgan of Brampton, Ont., was charged with murder. He was finally acquitted last year, after spending three years in jail; he remains under a cloud of suspicion.
It makes for galling viewing.
"Looking at the videos of the interrogation, I said, This can't be going on in this country. This is so abusive and manipulative, and unfair, and untrue," said MacIntyre earlier this week. "Outright lies and distortions!"
He was sitting in the offices of Random House Canada, the publishers of his new novel, Punishment, sipping a cup of coffee. Like this week's Fifth Estate report, the novel tells a dire tale of what happens when people dismiss facts and evidence that don't fit their preconceived notions of how the world works.
"A certain police mentality responds to gut instinct, which I don't ever trust," he says. "I remember once, when I was starting on TV, somebody asked me if I had fire in my belly, and I said, I hope not. Because fire in the belly sometimes sends smoke up into the brain."
But then, the brain can be addled by so many things. On Wednesday afternoon, MacIntyre gave a lecture at the University of Toronto's Victoria College on "Toxic Stardom." There's been a lot of that kind of talk in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal, but MacIntyre puts it in a very specific context. "The larger environment of the CBC workplace right now is set by a feeling established by a sense of crisis, and deterioration, and responses that have involved the increased vulnerability of a larger number of people," he notes.
"CBC is now sustained in the trenches by a whole lot of new recruits who are enthusiastic and ambitious and gifted, and who desperately want to get a foothold in media. And desperation and vulnerability will go together, and then if you put that in a place where there is an influence driven by ego, narcissism, a kind of abusive personality, you start moving along a continuum. It starts with just a sort of obnoxious, 'Run down and get me a coffee.'" Unchecked, he says, "It moves into a sense of entitlement that allows you to make greater demands and be a bigger bully."
And even through MacIntyre spent decades on TV, he says he never lost the sense he had cultivated during his first 12 years in the business, as a lowly print reporter for a regional paper. "There was no horseshit there, boy," he says with a chuckle. "Entitlement wouldn't get you a cup of tea.
"The problem with the culture is that it nurtures that kind of celebrity, and it nurtures that kind of entitlement, because stardom tends to put a rosy glow over the whole institution, and makes the managers who cultivate the stardom look competent, and effective. And it makes them a little bit starry, too," MacIntyre says. "So the Ghomeshi thing was always a problem. Because Ghomeshi has always been arrogant, he's always been obnoxious – in the sort of the passive way, where he's always been so vulnerable: 'You can't hurt Jian,' even though he hurts other people. And his tantrums and his workplace relationships: 'Well, he's very rigorous, he's a perfectionist, you know?' So he is allowed to bully and abuse people. You know, that's the way it works, that's what you put up with, whether it's Mansbridge, Gzowski, whatever. They were not like shrinking violets, either. So along comes Ghomeshi: 'Oh, yeah, he's in the tradition of that. But somewhere along the way, it crosses a line. It does cross a line."