The following post is a slightly reworked version of the complaint I submitted to CBC concerning the behaviour of Kevin O’Leary during an interview with Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Chris Hedges on October 6, 2011 on the Lang & O’Leary Exchange. [You can see the original interview here]
The complaint is premised on the assumption that as the Lang & O’Leary Exchange runs on CBC News, it is subject to the CBC’s Journalistic Standards. If this assumption is incorrect, I would still argue that Mr O’Leary fails to treat his interviewee with a sufficient degree of respect.
For those who do not know the show, The Lang & O’Leary Exchange presents itself as business television show which aims to bring the ‘biggest names’ of the financial world to debate topical issues and generate ‘thought-provoking coverage. In the show’s description it alludes to the fact that the show’s hosts (Amanda Lang & Kevin O’Leary) both have their own opinions and may indeed clash over topics. This format is obviously intended to adds the drama of reporting news and some producers may also justify this ‘colourful’ approach show as a means to generate controversy, discussion and, most importantly, an audience!
Despite the format, the manner in which Kevin O’Leary treated his guest Chris Hedges was not becoming of the high standards set by the CBC, is a direct violation of the CBC’s Journalistic Codes and ultimately damaged the CBC’s reputation.
Early in the exchange between O’Leary and Hedges, Hedges was allowed to make his point unimpeded (for a full transcript of see the Creekside blog). However, half way into the interview O’Leary initiates name calling and replies to Hedges’ arguments by saying, “You sound like a left wing ‘nut bar’…”. Understandably, Hedges takes offence to O’Leary’s bullying tactics and rightfully calls him out on it. The interview concludes on
a low point with Mr Hedges asserting that he will no longer be willing to do interviews with the CBC.
The use of name calling is a rhetorical act of desperation deployed in an attempt to discredit one’s character as opposed to the validity of one’s arguments. I fail to see how the use of such bullying tactics deployed by O’Leary either draw on his ‘expertise’, or provide the audience with a greater understanding of the issues. Moreover, I fail to see how it could be retorted that the name calling was simply the expression of a ‘provocative opinion’ in a moment of ‘passion’. It was an act of bullying and do not understand how it can be justified.
It is appreciated that a retort to this complaint could be that Mr O’Leary is a ‘big personality’ and the comments are part of his ‘nature”. However such a reply would not negate the need to maintain a respectful tone particularly during issues of disagreement. This is made all the more important given the CBC’s role and mandate as a public broadcaster.
Mr O’Leary’s actions are a direct violation of the CBC’s commitment to ‘fairness’ and treating individuals with respect. The remarks of O’Leary also violate the CBC’s commitment to balance. On the issue of balance, the CBC undertakes to “contribute to informed debate on issues that matter to Canadians by reflecting a diversity of opinion” and… “On issues of controversy, we ensure that divergent views are reflected respectfully, taking into account their relevance to the debate and how widely held theses views are”. The issues around the Occupy Wall Street protests both matter to Canadians and are an issue of controversy. While it could be restored that the very act of having Chris Hedges on the show was a means to ‘inform’ Canadians about one perspective on Occupy Wall Street, there was a clear failure to handle the opinions expressed by Chris Hedges respectfully.
By having a show aired on CBC, Mr O’Leary has the duty to act responsibly and respectfully. In this instance, he has not only failed to live up to the standards set by the CBC but has clearly violated them to the detriment of the organization.
Given that the above text captures the thrust of my argument to the CBC, which has now been received by Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, I look forward to (and will share here) the reply.
[Edit: A response from the show’s Executive Producer, to my complaint can be read HERE]