Why CBC reported on judge’s nude photo scandal

Today the CBC ran a story about Lori Douglas, a Manitoba family judge
that is involved in a scandal over nude photos of her that were posted
online. Further complicating the story is the fact that Winnipeg man Alexander Chapman alleges that Douglas’ husband, lawyer Jack King, “harassed him in 2003 by pressing him to have sex with Douglas, who was also a lawyer at the time”, the CBC reported.

Should the CBC have run the story, considering the careers and
lives at stake? Cecil Rosner thinks so. Here is his reasoning, as originally published by the CBC:

Complex stories rarely come to us as neat little packages that are immediately ready to broadcast.

There is usually evidence to weigh, facts that need confirming, motivations that require questioning and widespread deliberation and investigation to determine what the facts mean.

Only after completing that process are we ready to go to air.

We also recognize that in reporting stories, harm can often be one of the consequences. Some people pressure us not to report things.

But we are guided by the principle that important stories in the public interest must be told and, in doing so, we make our best efforts to minimize any harm that might ensue.

We believe this story about the judge whose lawyer-husband had published nude photos of her on the internet has important implications for the public.

The issues here deal with a lawyer’s duty to a client; the duty of other legal professionals to report matters of concern to the relevant professional associations; the duty of a potential judge to disclose pertinent matters in advance of his or her selection; and the responsibilities of judicial selection committees as they make their choices.

Also of concern here is what the public is entitled to know about all these things.
Different standards

We know that running this story will have real impact on certain people’s lives. That’s true of many of the stories we do.

In this case, some of the details are graphic and damaging. That is why the possibility of harm had to be weighed carefully against the need for us to share facts with the public.

We didn’t come to the conclusion to broadcast this story in isolation. We consulted with more than a dozen legal figures — former justices, law professors who teach ethics and instruct judges, as well as experts on journalistic ethics.

We revealed to them important details of the story but not the identities of the principals involved. All of them believed we had a duty to inquire and report on these matters, and to pursue accountability in determining how a judge was appointed in these circumstances.

The standards for judges are much more stringent than for most of us. Their appointments and elevation require much more in the way of due diligence.

Our interest in this story is not the specific and arguably prurient details that put this judge’s appointment into question, but the system that allowed it to go ahead.

That was our tough choice. Photographs are a key part of this story, and we have described them to you, but we won’t show them. We have judged the harm that publishing them would do far outweighs the public need to see.

Again, our focus is to seek accountability.

Every piece of evidence that came to our attention was carefully tested and we made efforts to confirm every fact independently, regardless of where it came from.

We also conducted significant due diligence on every player and fact in this case and we have been transparent about that. This story is not an attempt to advance the cause of any particular person, but to explore an issue of importance.

Any news organization has a social responsibility to its audience to seek out important truths that will serve the public’s interest. It also has a responsibility to minimize unnecessary harm while so doing, to be careful and sensitive in the presentation of controversial stories.

Finding the right balance is never a simple matter. Our ultimate aim, as always, is to present the relevant issues to you and allow you to make your own decisions.

Read Christie Blacthford’s column about the scandal, where she writes:

“A judge’s credibility depends on legal knowledge, fairness, experience and courtroom manners, not what he does with his member, or what she does with it. . . . In stepping aside, Judge Douglas is but another woman, at least for the moment, done in either by the actions of a man she trusted or by her own sexuality or by both. Ugh.”