Connie Walker’s ethical lapse

Did CBC Toronto correspondent Connie Walker flunk J-school?

I don’t think that’s an uncharitable question. On last night’s CBC News at Six (the Toronto newscast, 2009.07.27), Walker exhibited almost the worst possible ethical lapse: She divulged the contents of an off-the-record interview.

I keep having to explain to the young journo kids that “off the record” is not some kind of really racy and zingy way to quote a source. The way they look at is as follows: A source might refuse to comment on the record, but then foolishly goes on to say something off the record. The greenhorn journo merely views this as a delicious occasion to report something like this: “Prime Minister Trudeau refused to comment today, but, off the record, he stated that what he actually said in Parliament was ‘go fuck yourself.’ ”

This is no longer a fanciful example. Reporting on the cleanup of garbage dumps after Toronto’s civic strike is over, at 0:08 in the newscast Connie Walker says, clear as a bell, “Now, I got to speak to a sanitation worker off the record today, and he estimates that it’ll take at least three days to clean up sites like this.”

Connie Walker (Chyroned as such) standing outside temporary garbage dump

Refresher course

Off-the-record statements are unreportable. Last night, Connie Walker went right ahead and reported an off-the-record interview. The fact that the source was, in effect, a garbageman and not the prime minister changes nothing.

There are only two ethical lapses more serious than this – plagiarism and falsification.