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.”
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.