Journalism is not a profession that lends itself to moonlighting. A reporter might get away with selling maple syrup from his hobby farm, but monetizing your access to the rich and powerful people you cover or interview is about the most egregious ethical sin a journalist can make.
No one should have been more aware of this than Evan Solomon. The wonderboy host of CBC News Network's Power & Politics fell into mainstream journalism after fashioning a career as a media critic and novelist. His first novel, published a decade before he landed the influential Power & Politics gig in 2009, is a searing portrayal of the artificiality of television news culture in the infotainment era.
Yet, once thrust before the cameras himself, Mr. Solomon seemed all too eager to engage in the tricks of the trade that he had savaged in his novel and articles in Shift, the art-meets-digital culture magazine he co-founded in the early 1990s as a fresh McGill University English grad. Mr. Solomon's Power & Politics was equal parts performance art and public affairs programming.
In a recent behind-the-scenes profile in the Ryerson Review of Journalism, Mr. Solomon is quoted coaching a guest in "rehearsal," before going live on the air. "That was f-ing aces," Mr. Solomon tells his guest. "The key is, you're talking to civilians who are watching TV, they're political junkies and they want to like you. They want to love you. You're hitting home runs on the brain side, but now you got to hit on the heart side."
Most of Mr. Solomon's guests needed no such coaching, however. They were part of the cabal of Ottawa politicians, pundits and influence peddlers who understood as well as Mr. Solomon that acting is a big part of breaking through on TV news shows. By the time Mr. Solomon brokered the sale of a painting to Mark Carney in late 2014, the former Bank of Canada governor had become a media savvy frequent guest whose communications skills had helped land him the top job at the Bank of England.
"I traffic in people of great power. That's my world," Mr. Solomon, who also hosted The House on CBC Radio, told the RRJ. "This is about as establishment in my field as it gets."
There is a chasm of disconnect between that comment and the statement Mr. Solomon issued after the CBC fired him on Tuesday for violating the broadcaster's code of conduct, on the heels of a Toronto Star investigation revealing Mr. Solomon's involvement in a side business brokering the sale of art work to Mr. Carney and former BlackBerry co-chief executive officer Jim Balsillie.
"I did not view the art business as a conflict with my political journalism at the CBC and never intentionally used my position at the CBC to promote the business," said the ex-anchor, who had been regularly touted as a leading contender to replace Peter Mansbridge on The National.
Yet, it was precisely Mr. Solomon's "position at the CBC" that enabled him to meet and socialize with the likes of Mr. Balsillie and Mr. Carney in the first place. And he was well aware of the business potential in those relationships. "He has access to the highest power network in the world," Mr. Solomon said of Mr. Carney in an e-mail to his art dealer.
Like so many other journalists in the tiny Ottawa bubble, Mr. Solomon seems to have confused what is ultimately a transactional relationship with friendship. But only a naive or egotistical reporter could think "people of great power" want to be their friend for their intellect or sense of humour.
How could Mr. Solomon not recognize the ethical red flags those relationships raised? And wouldn't the CBC be the first to take down a politician in a similar conflict?
Once again, the public broadcaster has mud on its face. According to Mr. Solomon, the CBC knew about his side business well before The Toronto Star confronted it with intimate details of the operation. But it appears its conscience only seemed to kick in when it became clear that the questionable behaviour of yet another on-air star was about to be exposed by other media.
Is this the result of a ratings-first culture that allows celebrity journalists to get away with behaviour that wouldn't have been tolerated in the days when the CBC was the serious alternative? It's another gut check for the public broadcaster, and the Canadians who pay for it.