You really cannot, in Canada, link a U.S. vice-presidential candidate like Republican running mate Sarah Palin with the phrases “white trash” and “porn-actress look” and get away with it.
The CBC reversed its position of standing by its opinion columnist Heather Mallick, apologized and retracted her online column posted Sept. 5, “A Mighty Wind Blows Through the Republican Convention.” The column became the subject of extreme vitriol by the right wing, threats against Mallick, hundreds of reader complaints and thoughtful, strong criticism from media analysts including the CBC’s own ombudsman.
In her piece, Mallick said Palin appeals to “the white trash vote” with her “toned-down version of the porn actress look.” CBC publisher John Cruickshank originally stood by the column but then changed his position, said the public broadcaster had erred in its editorial judgment and the column should never have been posted.
“Vince Carlin, the broadcaster’s ombudsman who was later asked to assess the offending article, determined many of Ms. Mallick’s assertions lacked a basis in fact,” noted a Canadian Press story. “Mallick’s column is a classic piece of political invective,” Cruickshank agreed. “It is viciously personal, grossly hyperbolic and intensely partisan.”
This tawdry episode is not victimless. CBC critics are howling that Mallick’s column confirms their charges of the public broadcaster’s lefty bias. An early story in the National Post was headlined, “Another week, another disgrace at the CBC” — but as usual the Post never mentions that its own masters, the owners of CanWest, which competes with the CBC and which can arguably be slammed for their own right-wing bias, have repeatedly called for the CBC to be privatized. The story itself hammered this theme (without one mention of CanWest’s conflict of interest in trying to wipe out its competition), asking, “Why, exactly, should Canadians be paying $1-billion for agitprop they can get from DailyKos.com or Rabble.ca?” Predictably the American Fox News — the unapologetically neoconservative mouthpiece that insists it’s fair and balanced — referred “to the notoriously liberal Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.” Numerous commentators whose own work wouldn’t stand a chance under Carlin’s critical eye expressed glee, including calling Mallick a “poo-poo head” and a “largely anonymous journalist, a legend in her own lunchtime …” (No, I’m not going to give them oxygen by linking to any of them).
Mallick’s reputation has also been tarnished. Maybe that’s not important to her, given the outrageous things she seems to delight in writing, but she will have a worsening problem getting herself published. Mallick previously had a column in the Globe and Mail and has a following of readers. Personally, I’ve been occasionally repelled by Mallick’s intentional outrageousness, but as a writer it’s impossible not to relish her ability with words. She has an often-refreshing and occasionally insightful point of view, seems to be consistent and stands out in Canada’s mostly bland landscape of liberal mainstream media commentary. And what none of the critics admit is that her outrageousness remains bland compared to the vitriol spouted by what has come to pass as the far right.
Cruickshank said changes will be made at the CBC, including in editing for the website and broadening the range of commentary. The Globe‘s Adam Radwanski expanded the criticism of the CBC website to the online portals of most mainstream media (he said, of course, that the Globe’s site is an exception J). “There are those who would argue that these remedies are needed in all that the CBC does, not just on its website. But you get the impression on the radio, and especially on TV, that the network is consistently aware of the need to give the appearance of balance — and, more broadly, professionalism. On the website there seems to have been a lower standard, which unfortunately isn’t all that unusual.”
(Image: screenshot of Fox News)