For the past few days, I've been reading The Truth Shows Up, by Harvey Cashore - a recently published book described on its jacket as "a reporter's fifteen-year odyssey tracking down the truth about Mulroney, Schreiber and the Airbus scandal."
That's an understatement and/or much too modest a claim.
In fact, most of what we know about the Airbus affair is the result of the work of Mr. Cashore - and most of that work was undertaken at CBC (The Globe and Mail, which thanks to William Kaplan, broke the story of Mr. Schreiber's cash payments to Mr. Mulroney, is in a solid second place). Indeed, it's no exaggeration to say that had it not been for Mr. Cashore, backed by the resources of the CBC, the story would have died a long time ago. (Full disclosure: Mr Cashore thanks me along with Andrew Coyne, Rick Salutin and several others for having kept the story alive in the lean years.)
Mr. Mulroney being a Conservative, some may see the work of Mr. Cashore and his employer as a prime example of the Corporation's inherent Liberal bias. That, in my view, would be an error: in the late 1980's, the CBC was routinely accused of being in the tank on Mr. Mulroney's signature constitutional initiative, the Meech Lake Accord.
Aside from the new revelations on a fascinating story, Mr. Cashore's book is essential reading for those who are interested in how reporters, and the media, truly work. For example, Mr. Cashore on several occasions had to do battle within the CBC against those who contended that Airbus and the two other transactions championed by Mr. Schreiber were non-issues. In other words, far from being a monolith, the CBC is a complex bureaucratic organization with many competing power centres. Not to speak of egos.
Nor does a traditional left-right analysis suffice in this case: While no one should be surprised that the National Post killed the story of the cash payments to Mr. Mulroney, the Toronto Star - sometimes described as the house organ of the Liberal Party - also ignored the story after The Globe broke it. And, lest I be seen as shilling for the Globe, it's worth noting that Mr. Cashore delves into a period of history in which The Globe was joined at the hip with Mr. Mulroney.
All of which is to say that the question of media bias, and specifically of the CBC's bias, is far more complex than a question of partisan politics. Which brings me to the controversy surrounding Frank Graves comments and his role as a pollster for the Corporation - a controversy I in some ways inaugurated thanks to an earlier post on this blog.
I have no interest in getting in the middle of the culture-war spat between the Conservative Party and the CBC that broke out subsequent to that post; as Henry Kissinger once said, there are some wars you wish both sides could lose. However, I did note with some interest that Jennifer McGuire, in her official response to the President of the Conservative Party, noted that the CBC had disqualified from consideration any pollsters with a partisan affiliation.
That to me is commendable, and one hopes that the same policy applies in other media organizations. But I don't think it goes far enough: in my view, firms and individuals who do or have done significant business with governments should also not be included in the request for proposals. Nor should those who've made significant financial contributions to political parties, particularly if those contributions are skewed in one direction. In the alternative - in the unlikely event that there are not sufficient firms that meet this bill - media organizations should look for diversity in the leanings of their pollsters and disclose fully these leanings, just as some do in the case of their political analysts.