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“Resist the Beginnings: Consider the End” – A Distinguished American Historian’s Take on Donald Trump

November 30th, 2016

 One of the privileges and delights of being a foreign correspondent for CBC was to get to know very smart people who helped me to understand their country in ways that I could never discover for myself.  

 Dan Carter, one of the most distinguished historians in the US, is one of those people and we’ve remained friends since I left Washington a decade ago. His specialty is the history of the South, from the Civil War to the present day. His prize-winning biography of George Wallace, “The Politics of Rage,” is an amazing introduction to the transformation of modern US political conservatism and the importance of race.   

 Dan  just shared with me his  thoughts on the roots and portent of Donald Trump’s election, an op-ed inexplicably unpublished in the US. I am proud to put it up on my blog for sharing as widely as possible 


For nearly 50 years I have written and taught about modern American politics and I’ve often been asked to comment upon contemporary as well as past events.  Even when I wrote an “opinion” piece, however, I have always tried to step back emotionally and write with as much objectivity as possible.

I cannot do so in responding to the election of Donald J. Trump.

Like millions of Americans, I fear the damage likely to our environment, to the poor, to women and to religious racial and sexual minorities and I shudder when I consider the long-term damage that will come from President Trump’s judicial and political appointments.  Even more dangerous are his proposed advisers on foreign affairs.  No wonder the rest of the western world is shaken.  And God help the Palestinians.

To a far greater degree it is the same disappointment I felt upon the election of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.

But even though I have sometimes been disappointed in the outcome of Presidential elections, I have never felt that the Republic was in jeopardy.

That is not the case with the election of Donald Trump.

Over the last two decades, I have read and re-read Milton Mayer’s They Thought They Were Free, a haunting book about Germany during the rise and fall of Nazism.  In 1951,  Mayer—a journalist, a Jew and a World War II conscientious objector—lived in a small town outside Frankfurt  where he conducted lengthy interviews with ten former Nazis, none of them directly involved in war crimes, all of them “good” Germans.

A sympathetic listener, Meyer seldom challenged their efforts to excuse their actions, capturing their defensiveness and their sense of shame and bewilderment as they looked backward.  How did it happen, they asked themselves? How did an era begin with hope and faith in a dynamic—if  crude—leader  end in the ruin of a nation and the smoking death camps of Dachau and Buchenwald?

The one thing upon which they agreed was that the decline came gradually as political leaders—supported by their passionate followers—abandoned the self-imposed restraints that underlie any real democracy.  Step by step the German people embraced a charismatic but psychologically damaged individual,  acquiesced in the demagogic creation of Jews as scapegoats, accepted the vilification of political opponents and ultimately the substitution of naked force for the rule of law until what was once unthinkable had become the norm.

Donald Trump is no Adolph Hitler.   He is by the evidence of his own words and actions, a particularly American type:  a shamelessly amoral hustler who prides himself on his ignorance of complex problems, a blowhard television personality, a vicious misogynist, a racist, a bully and a narcissist whose moral core revolves only around his personal glorification and his dominance over others.  But he has ridden the wave of economic frustration and the fears of an overwhelmingly white electorate that is uneasy in the presence of powerful women and feels dispossessed as religious and racial minorities move from the shadows toward a majority in our nation.

Above all, Trump grasped the fundamental weaknesses of our current political culture. He has repeatedly bullied opponents and lied with the kind of brazen disregard for truthfulness, and for civilized norms of political debate.  Instinctively he understood that most of the media—particularly the broadcasting and cable networks—would simply broadcast these lies in the name of journalistic objectivity, the more outrageous the better.   And in a political environment in which complex issues are reduced to 30 seconds of: “She’s a liar”/“No, she’s not”/ “She’s a crook,” “No she’s not,”/  democratic debate was reduced to the 140 characters of the tweets he used so effectively.

As Leslie Moonves, CBS chief executive told his stockholders, the presidential race “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.”  For his network and for FOX, CNN, MSNBC, ABC and NBC—in Moonves’ words, “the money’s rolling in.”  And so, in the media world dominated by President-elect Trump, life and death issues have been transformed into a shallow, exciting and vulgar game show that brings in more revenue.

In the coming weeks, the chattering classes will endlessly explain what has happened either by pointing to the weaknesses and miscalculations of the Clinton campaign or the grievances that Trump so successfully exploited.   Reporters and pundits will parse the exact meaning of his appointments.  Does naming GOP Party head Reince Priebus chief of staff indicate a conventionally right-wing course?  Or is the appointment of white supremacist Stephen Bannon as chief counselor the real key to understanding his coming administration?   Priebus and his like will become “steady hands” and Bannon will be transformed from an overt racist, sexist and anti-Semite into a “right wing media provocateur.”  We will all analyze Trump’s tweets and contradictory statements like Roman seers poring over the entrails of dead chickens, breathing a sigh of relief when he decides to deport only three million Latinos instead of eleven million and pushes through some flim-flam healthcare fig-leaf to justify the destruction of the Affordable Care Act.

And step by step we will normalize Trumpism.

What had he learned from the rise of German fascism, Milton Meyer asked a German high school teacher who lived through rise and fall of  Nazism?  Remember the classic warning by the Roman poet Ovid, replied Henrich Hildebrandt: “Principiis obsta: Finem respice: Resist the beginnings: consider the end.”  That is a difficult task, he admitted, for “one must foresee the end in order to resist, or even see, the beginnings.”

We cannot know for certain where our story ends and we are certainly a more resilient society than Germany in the 1930s.   But we are sailing into uncharted waters, guided by a sociopathic captain who has no understanding of, or respect for, the institutions and the values of a democratic society and the first thing we need to do is to stop pretending that this is simply another election.

Dan Carter 

Professor Emeritus

University of South Carolina






Paul Adams Responds on CBC’s Ombudsman, Neil Macdonald, Journalism, Opinion and The Future

June 20th, 2016

Paul Adams is a former CBC colleague who went on to write for the Globe and Mail, reported from around the world,  and now teaches at Carleton’s journalism school – in other words, owner of a distinguished career in journalism in Canada. Paul sent a very thoughtful note after my blog last week which looked at the CBC Ombudsman’s recent comments about Neil Macdonald and the differences between journalism, reporting  and opinion-making. I am  happy, with Paul’s permission, to re-post it here.



I just think we disagree fundamentally on a number of things, and that’s fine. There are also a couple of things we agree on.

The CBC’s model, like that of the New York Times, and many other similar outlets has produced some of the best journalism on earth. But that tends to blind us to the fact that the traditions of “balance” and “objectivity” obscure the ideology behind that particular culture of journalism from both consumers and for the most part journalists themselves. It works pretty well in a universe with very broad social consensus, shared values and widely supported social institutions.

It also fit perfectly a particular political and economic moment when news organizations had financial or political incentives to appeal to a very broad swath of the public, and were able to find methods to do so successfully.

But the “news from nowhere” model doesn’t work as well in the fragmented media universe we now live in, nor in communities where social consensus is breaking down.

We have seen this most obviously with Trump, who managed to de-pants much of the mainstream media for the entire primary season. Only now are many journalists finding new tools (and gumption) to confront his attacks on core humanistic values and literal truth.

Trump, far from being sui generis is characteristic of a phenomenon in many Western societies, if less so here in Canada. A journalistic model that struggles so ineffectually to handle him is not a journalistic Swiss Army Knife that will work in every situation as the old model was expected to do.

Journalism is rooted in the Enlightenment, an evidence-based craft whose core is a belief in human dignity and the capacity of the rational mind to see evidence, and recognize appreciable truth. There is a real danger to losing sight of this and allowing ourselves a mushy indifference to the truth of what we report, so long as someone actually said it.

The recent report by the CBC Ombudsman, Esther Enkin, on a Neil Macdonald column, demonstrates the degree to which this proud tradition has degraded into a set of unreflected-upon mechanical procedures.

When Enkin protests against Macdonald calling creationism a superstition, she is essentially saying that journalists are not in the company of scientists, living in a palpable world of evidence, but in a kind of post-liberal world in which every statement or claim is just an “opinion” to be equally valued. Like, I suppose, flat-earthers: Bob McDonald can presumably insist the world is round because he is on contract, and not required by the CBC to observe its rule against expressing an opinion embodied in its Journalistic Standards and Practices. If he were a staffer, like Neil, he’d have to keep his opinions to himself.

And where does that end? Faking the moon-landing? 9/11 conspiracy? Maybe the ISIS view that God says it is OK to take Yazidi women as sex slaves is just another valid opinion out there that as journalists we have no tools to evaluate.

But Enkin’s pronunciamentos and the existing journalistic code are not the actual policy of the CBC. Let’s just say for the moment that Macdonald had strayed into the realm of opinion. Why is that so wrong?

The CBC has decided (wisely in my view) that its future must be deeply engaged in digital. Digital requires substantial elements of commentary (as does news television btw). What has happened is that senior news management has decided to change practice before changing the code.

Neil Macdonald is doing what he is asked to do by his bosses — what columnists everywhere are expected to do: generate interesting and sometimes insightful comment and controversy, as well as news from time to time. And traffic. He does all this.

It is just that because he is a poor staffer, he gets to be pummeled in public by the Ombudsman, which Rex Murphy and a gazillion (paid) panelists on the news network are spared. And of course Neil has no way of responding publicly. No doubt he is forbidden to do so.

But what the reader/viewer/listener needs is transparency; not a ban on staffers doing what contract contributors are able to do. How is a news consumer supposed to divine someone’s contractual status and then infer what rules they operate under?

What consumers on CBC.ca need is the transparency we see in other media. Clear labeling that would signal what role a particular piece is playing. Newspapers do it all the time. Lawrence Martin and Jeff Simpson appear on the same page in the Globe and Mail, with the same labelling as opinion columnists. (What matters is not their contractual status.)

The ability to provide readers with such transparency is constrained by the fiction that CBC news management wishes for political reasons to maintain that some practices are the same as they ever were. That’s why I favour changing the code. I understand there is a review underway, but that the bar on CBC staff journalists expressing opinions is likely to remain.

Finally, I confess I do not understand your refinement on the term journalist. You seemed to be using it as synonymous with “reporter”. That has never been the case. Nor has the distinction ever been as sharp between reporters and opinion writers as you seem to suggest. John Ivison breaks news all the time in his column in the National Post, as does Paul Wells, who seems committed to blending the two in his new role at the Toronto Star. John Ibbitson writes news, analysis and opinion in the Globe and Mail, which the newspaper tries to distinguish by labeling.

When I was at the Globe, I wrote mostly news, but plenty of analysis. For a time I wrote a weekly satirical column about politics on the Hill. All clearly the labelled. I don’t remember anyone ever being confused or complaining: because the frame of each piece was clear.

I think this is an important debate. But I fear that you are clinging to a culture and a code that worked pretty well at a certain time in history as if they were eternal verities. More challenging by far is migrating to a new place, preserving what was valuable but amending what is not working (or perhaps never worked as well as we liked to suppose).


CBC’s Ombudsman Reminds CBC News That Its Job Is Journalism, Not Opinion

June 14th, 2016

Esther Enkin, CBC’s Ombudsman, has just reminded CBC News that the job of CBC’s journalists is …. journalism, not opinion-making.

Enkin was responding to a formal complaint from a CBC.ca reader about what he felt were “inflammatory & divisive & discriminatory” comments that CBC journalist Neil Macdonald recently made about Donald Trump’s supporters.

In her formal opinion, the Ombudsman makes it clear that “expressing opinion is prohibited by CBC policy” and that Macdonald’s remarks read “like opinion” and were “unnecessary in the context of this piece.”

A key line here comes at the  end of her opinion: “If Mr. Macdonald were a columnist or an outside commentator …..”

In recent years, I and others have expressed concerns that CBC News  has been having a hard time realizing that some of its most high-profile employees are most assuredly NOT columnists or outside commentators, but journalists who fall under the Corporation’s very specific and clearly-written policies on opinion making and, not a tangential issue, on conflict of interest.

To wit,  the controversy more than a year ago over CBC journalists taking large amounts of money from the private sector for public speaking  events.

Last winter, I wrote about the increased blurring of the important line between journalism and opinion making on my blog (Dec. 9, Dec. 14th) and on Huffington Post (Dec. 10, Dec. 15th.)

CBC responded with a somewhat convoluted defense which you can read here (Dec. 15, 2015.)

Now, it’s good to see CBC’s own Ombudsman reminding the Corporation of its vital journalistic responsibilities.

(As a former journalist, I can’t help but note that the title of Esther Enkin’s opinion is “Trump & The Republican Party” when in fact it is really about a CBC journalist’s policy-breaking  opinions about Trump and his followers. Headline writers! Always messing things up!)

Megyn Kelly’s Master Class In Bad Journalism

May 17th, 2016
  One question in a Republican debate last fall about Donald Trump’s attitudes towards women – and his angry misogynistic tweet soon afterwards – instantly transformed Megyn Kelly into … a tough journalist.
 Now she is being sold as the new face of rigourous journalism on Fox and perhaps for American journalism as a whole. See the New York Times piece in last week’s business section.
  15 minutes tonight in a much-heralded one-on-one with Trump  and Kelly reveals herself as little more than an enthusiastic enabler of, and collaborator in, Trump’s (ever closer, sadly) ascent to the most powerful job in the world.
  Hard to watch. But you should give it a try.
  And this interview should be required viewing in every journalism school.
  Not one question about how Trump might actually use the immense power of the Presidency to deal with the US’s – and the world’s – many challenges.
  Just softballs questions about campaign silliness with no structure or followup, cute one liners, innuendo and smiles.
  What an awful squandered opportunity.
  But for Megyn Kelly   …… a master class on how to make a new friend. 

Mike Duffy Was Not Exonerated!

April 23rd, 2016

Am I the only one reading the Globe and Mail on a Saturday morning and feeling very very queasy about the almost overnight near re-hagiografication of Mike Duffy in the media and the punditocracy?

Unless I am missing something, Duffy was only “exonerated” regarding a series of legal charges in a court of law. And yes, that exoneration should/may result in a rethink of a whole bunch of issues regarding … gosh, it is a very long list …. the Senate, its structure, its rules, the role of appointments, the PMO, its ability (under direction of a PM)  to skew/shape/distort governing processes, the rabidity of the press when it finds a juicy story,  and on and on and on and on  ….

But good heavens,  let’s not all of a sudden turn our backs on something fundamental here.

Duffy’s behaviour was personally reprehensible .. and that in no way is now exonerated by a court decision.

It is not something that deserves to be simply forgotten or downplayed because …. first, a court of law has “exonerated” Duffy of formal legal charges ……second, because he clearly operated (as do other Senators)  well within an opaque, imprecise, purposely-designed and politically-self serving set of Senate appointing and  operating rules …..  and third, and please! spare me the damn crocodile tears seen in article after article over the past few days, because Duffy’s health is in a bad state.

Would any of us suggest that the pattern of practice that Duffy  happily engaged in is something that offers a positive example to anyone in Canada of how to behave in public life? And particularly in a role when you are being paid by the public?

Do we actually think that “an evil PM and his PMO thugs made me do it!” plea has ethical merit to be accepted, let alone embraced or excused or even now deserving of some weird kind of sympathy?

We discourage children from using that excuse in the playground, don’t we?

When you eagerly belly up to a trough as a sentient being, well-versed in who filled it and for what purposes, and then you energetically partake of its contents …  you take your chances.

I am glad that the trough may be being rethought.

But let’s not exonerate from personal, ethical and “passing-a-public-smell-test” responsibility someone like now-poor Duffy who happily stood around that trough.

“The Danger and Sham of Journalistic Neutrality” – Really?

March 14th, 2016

 There was a mini-firestorm in the US media world this morning when National Public Radio (more or less, akin to the CBC in Canada) found itself explaining the important difference between reporting the news and offering opinions about the news on its flagship national morning radio program.

Cokie Roberts, one of NPR’s most revered voices for 40 years, found herself explaining – awkwardly and under orders from senior management – that while she started as a staff journalist at NPR, she became a commentator in the early 1990s.

And as a commentator, her job is to offer her opinions on what goes on in the US, as distinct from her former role of just reporting the facts.

The problem for NPR is …. who knew? I’ve listened to NPR for decades and till today, I would have bet good money she was a journalist.

In recent weeks, Roberts has published critical opinion pieces about the dangers posed by Donald Trump to the Republican Party, politics and democracy in the US.

NPR apparently felt it was necessary to make her role crystal clear to its millions of listeners. Hence her appearance on Morning Edition (listen here) akin to The Current on CBC Radio.

Then, this afternoon, Glenn Greenwald – he of the Pulitzer Prize for publishing Edward Snowden’s leaked emails on our collective governments’ massive secret surveillance of citizens – stepped up to offer a stinging criticism of the iconic importance of journalistic neutrality, or impartiality.

In effect, a rebuke to NPR and the rest of the mainstream US media.

“The Rise of Trump Shows the Danger and Sham of Compelled Journalistic Neutrality”  appears on his blog, The Intercept.

According to Greenwald, it is a complete delusion to think that mainstream media (both commercial outlets and public broadcasters such as NPR / PBS; I am quite sure he’d include CBC as well) can be impartial.

Greenwald terms the reverence for impartiality as “the embodiment of the ethos of corporate journalism …. and a potent illustration of why its fetishized reverence for “objectivity” is so rotted and even dangerous.“​

In other words, argues Greenwald, it is perfectly okay (even necessary!) for journalists to be harshly critical of the clear danger to public democracy posed by the obviously fascist dreams and maniacal political strategies of Donald Trump – at the very same time as they report the hard facts of what Trump actually said at this campaign rally or on that TV talk show, because ….   well …. because Trump is clearly  a threat to democracy.

​ ​This is a very dangerous circular argument.

It completely blurs fact and opinion, which is also a real danger to a democracy.

i.e. Did Donald Trump / Hillary Clinton /Bernie Sanders / Justin Trudeau say “X” at a campaign rally?

Or did he actually say “Y” (something quite different) at that rally, but in the journalist’s opinion, he really meant to say “X”

There is a huge difference. Don’t you need to know what it is?

And sorry, comforting oneself with the nostrum that Trump is, of course, irrefutably awful doesn’t cut it.

(Journalism in Canada has been discussing the rise in the blurring of fact and opinion in recent months. See my HuffPost blog)

I’ll stand by the view that as best as humanly possible, journalists should stick to reporting the facts.

Then, the commentators can “let slip the dogs of … opinion.


CBC Officially Responds To My Blog on Mixing Journalism and Personal Opinion

December 15th, 2015

This afternoon, I received the following letter from Jack Nagler, CBC’s Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, replying to my blog on what I see as a worrisome trend at CBC of mixing journalism and personal opinion. As you will see, Jack’s letter is written on behalf of both Heather Conway, Executive Vice-President of CBC’s English Services and Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News.  (This is the full unedited text of Jack’s letter.)


Dear Frank:

I read with interest, as always, your thoughts on the current state of journalism here at CBC News. I am replying on behalf of both Heather and Jennifer.

With your experience and commitment to the quality of our craft, you’re well placed to offer feedback. You worked at CBC as a journalist for over 25 years and know the overarching importance of CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices in every facet of our work. It guided your work at CBC and it continues to guide the work of every single journalist working for us now. That policy stands on integrity, fairness and accuracy. Yes, facts: the cornerstone of every story we produce. And context, too – it is always an expectation on us, and on you as well.

The policy acknowledges that making sense of stories takes more than just listing facts. We expect our journalists to add context, to add information about why stories happened, what they mean and how those events fit in a larger picture. Without that, stories can be meaningless, even misleading.

In practice, that means senior journalists – you referred to Keith Boag and Terry Milewski – who have been reporting political stories for decades can bring insight, judgment and experience to inform a story and convey significance not otherwise available. We call it analysis and we clearly identify it for readers in our online stories.

Terry’s recent piece on Mike Duffy is not a report of what happened in court that day. You will find other places on our web pages that cover that. Terry’s piece, “Forget Mike Duffy – the scandal is in the Senate”, is posted under the heading “Analysis”. It is a commonly seen heading on our pages and signals to readers that what follows is not a news story, but an experienced journalist who brings his grasp of the facts, his understanding of the context to add his perspective to the story.

The challenge for all of us at CBC News is doing that effectively without going so far as to express personal opinions on matters of public controversy, which would be a violation of our JSP.

Two years ago, CBC News General Manager and Editor in Chief Jennifer McGuire wrote an excellent blog post on this very subject, entitled, not surprisingly: Opinion vs. Analysis. Jennifer wrote the following:

Our hosts and reporters don’t have free rein to say what they want about the issues of the day. Our (JSP) makes it clear that we’re guided by the principle of impartiality, and that CBC journalists don’t express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue.

The key word here is “personal”. An observation based on the facts of the issue, and years of experience covering a beat, which I would describe as analysis, isn’t the same as a view that comes out of left field without supporting arguments, or in other words, opinion.

Terry’s analysis was largely just that – his perspective and his interpretation of events, but based on the facts.  He definitely uses colorful and deliberately provocative language. And it is possible that the wording used in the section you quoted went too far. Of course, it was not the only paragraph in the story, nor was it the main thesis. But we’ll take a thoughtful look at the whole piece. At CBC News, we argue and debate all the time about where the line is on what reporters are and aren’t allowed to say – just as we did a decade ago when you were reporting from Washington and I was producing The World at Six.

You’ve offered views on Terry’s piece, as well as Keith’s. I am happy to share those thoughts with my colleagues, because this is an issue we will be wrestling with for a long time in a business that is always subjective. The CBC Ombudsman has looked at what she calls “the grey zone” between analysis and opinion on several occasions. Sometimes she has sided with our writers, and sometimes she has ruled that a certain story went too far.

But these are isolated stories. Your blog pretends that this is rampant, and as a result you paint a highly distorted picture of what CBC News is all about.

Instead, you could focus on the literally thousands of stories we produce each week from every corner of the country. The devotion to investigative journalism. The award-winning coverage of important issues from Ebola to Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Or the groundbreaking work done every single day on our digital platforms, as we seek the best ways to serve Canadians with the latest news, and the most important public service journalism.

I should note that other public broadcasters grapple with the same dilemma. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, for instance, allows some of its staff to contribute analyses and opinions, and showcases them in a special section of its website known as “The Drum”. You can check it out at http://www.abc.net.au/news/thedrum/about/. I think it’s a fairly innovative approach. And maybe it’s an option we should look at down the road.

But to get back to the very core question: is CBC journalism now mixing fact and opinion, as you suggest? No, it’s not. We are not, as you fear, ignoring our own policy or forgetting what it says. CBC’s journalistic policy remains as strong as it always was and remains the touchstone of our journalism.

I will add a reminder that one of the ways we demonstrate our values is by being accountable through a very public and very effective Ombdusman complaint process. It’s probably the best way to ensure that your concerns get full consideration.

Thanks again for sharing your take, and allow me to wish you a very early happy 2016.



CBC Threatens Its Own Future …. The Danger of Mixing Journalism and Opinion

December 14th, 2015

After my post last week complaining – and yes, worrying – about  CBC journalist Keith Boag’s personal opinions  about Donald Trump, I told myself to lie low. It’s the holiday season.

That turns out to be very hard to do, because once one realizes the extent to which personal opinion has become the day-to-day fodder of an ever widening circle of CBC journalists, you see it, hear it and click on it everywhere.

Let me be crystal clear: this threatens the future of the CBC.

I personally agree with Terry Milewski’s “analysis” of the Senate, posted this morning on CBC.ca.

But with a straight face, tell me this is impartial journalism.

For a vast, modern democracy to be saddled with an unelected upper house is an embarrassment ………..  the Senate’s ludicrously lop-sided makeup makes it doubly farcical ….. It’s as though we dug up a relic of an ancient civilization …..  could the rites of the pharaohs be any more bizarre? …..  these absurd imbalances, fossilized by history …. 

Can I say what Terry said? Sure I can, because it’s my personal opinion And I don’t work for CBC. (Anymore.)

Should Terry be saying it on CBC? No, absolutely not.

These comments, these opinions, unequivocally violate – spoiler alert: here’s the broken record again –– CBC’s long-standing and incredibly clearly-written policy statement that its journalists and the organization itself must not take ANY positions on issues in the public life of the country. They must be …. impartial.

CBC’s senior news managers need to get serious about this. It’s their job.

What’s more, Canadian citizens and taxpayers expect CBC to live up to this policy because democratic discussion demands it, in an increasingly partisan media environment and in public life more generally?

This flouting of the Corporation’s own rules is really a serious problem for journalism at the CBC but, clearly, it now is journalism at the CBC.

And that is very dangerous for the organization’s future, especially with many people hoping that a new government in Ottawa may rethink the role of the CBC in Canada’s public life.

As more and more of CBC’s journalism is directly allowed to be – let alone just perceived to be – personal opinion, it nurtures a growing public perception that “the CBC is just another media platform like the other private media platforms in the marketplace, so why exactly, should the public pay taxes to fund it in the future?”

I don’t think the answer should be:

Oh well, get a grip Frank! ….. it’s 2015!


Lincoln Electric, 67 straight years without layoffs, 82 straight years of profit-sharing bonuses ….

December 11th, 2015

Lincoln Electric, which I profiled in my book SPARK, just announced its 2015 employee profit-sharing results, backed by the firm’s now 67 years-long unbroken no-layoff promise.

2015 details (2014 in italics) with my comments further below.

 82     =  uninterrupted years paying an employee profit-sharing bonus (Lincoln has been profitable every year since 1934.)

$ 26,291   =  average 2015 bonus / permanent U.S. employee (apprx. 3,000)       (2014 $33,984 )

$ 73,543    =  average 2015 total earnings per employee  (wages/salary + bonus)    (2014  $82,903 )

$ 80 million  (apprx.)   =  pre-tax profits shared among employees (32% of pretax corporate profit)   (2014  $101 million (approx.) )

 0  =  number of layoffs in 2015    (67 years layoff free)

Lincoln (Nasdaq: LECO) remains #1 in the global marketplace for welding technology and materials.

The Guaranteed Continuous Employment Policy remains unbroken since at least 1948.  (The no-layoff track record may in fact go as far back as 1925.)  No one has been laid off at Lincoln Electric in the US for lack of work through the Great Depression, wars and the Great Recession.

My 2015 comments:

These are tough times for manufacturing globally and that includes Lincoln. The collapse in the price of oil, austerity measures in many countries, etc. have reduced spending on infrastructure and construction (for energy projects and general purposes) almost everywhere. These are Lincoln’s prime markets. The rise in the US $ has also lowered sales and hence profits.

As a result, the average bonus is smaller this year. BUT …  no one was laid off.

For a number of months, Lincoln’s US production workers have been on reduced hours: many regularly work only 32 hours per week, the minimum guaranteed under the terms of the no-layoff promise. (Slowdowns in place in other production countries too.) This is a significant and painful sacrifice for employees and their families.

BUT … it still means steady work, no small thing compared with the unemployment office.  (Lincoln employees are covered by the no-layoff policy after 3 years with the firm.)

In 2009/10, as the Great Recession dragged on and on, non-production workers (from the President to floor sweepers) saw their salaries reduced and their workloads were often increased. (This may happen again now.) BUT ….  there were no layoffs.

​ ​ A voluntary separation program is also now being offered, as it was during 2009/10.

Lincoln Electric is an American-based Fortune 1000 multinational. In other countries where it has production facilities, it tries – under often very different legislative, labor and regulatory regimes – to treat its workers with the same respect and employment structure that US employees earn. In Canada, Australia and Mexico, profit-sharing and steady work has remained as close as possible to that in the US itself; further afield, local factors have forced many accommodations.

In the past couple of years, Lincoln has purchased some smaller welding tech companies in the US. In several cases, when offered employment under the Lincoln incentive system – with its appealing upsides of large profit-sharing bonuses and an unbroken no-layoff promise – employees in these new acquisitions have rejected the offer – because the new employment structure also requires them to embrace reduced hours in tough times and compulsory overtime when demand picks up.

Their concerns and fears seem to arise from a deep and profound lack of trust (sadly, all-too-understandable!) in modern corporate leaders that shared sacrifices by everyone in a firm in the tough times will be repaid fairly through significant profit-sharing and guaranteed steady work over the long term

Lincoln Electric has done its best to earn the trust of its workforce by keeping its people on the job through thick and thin – while remaining technologically innovative and thus highly profitable for more than a century.

This goal should be embraced by many more private sector firms and by policy makers in the public sector at all levels.

Opinion vs. Reporting: There Is Still An Important Difference, CBC News!

December 9th, 2015

Just asking …..

Should Keith Boag, CBC’s senior journalist in Washington, cover the ongoing sad state of politics in the US by offering strategic political campaign advice to the US Republican Party?

Republicans have mostly pussy-footed around Trump, taking only tentative little jabs, usually in self-defence,  ever wary of provoking his base.  Surely that can stop now. Trump is a stain on the Republican Party brand that will spread further if it’s not cleaned up fast. So the party needs to get busy. They can begin at next week’s candidates’ debate on CNN.   (emphasis added)

Boag’s call-to-action comes from an “analysis” piece on CBCNews.ca: Donald Trump Muslim ban: Fascist or not, it’s time Republicans face their Trump problem.

The title was probably writ by an online editor, but it accurately summarizes Boag’s opinion of the challenge for Republicans if they are to avoid an electoral disaster in the campaign to win back the White House in 2016.

What’s worrisome here is that more and more often, CBC journalists are being asked to offer their personal takes (called analysis pieces) on stories they regularly cover. And more and more often, these analysis pieces seem to be venturing into what can only be described as personal opinion.

That’s actually the job of editorial commentators, of which CBC would be wise to use more.

A quick read of the CBC’s Code of Journalistic Practice makes it clear, in simple language, what CBC’s journalists can and cannot do.

Impartiality:   We provide professional judgment based on facts and expertise. We do not promote any particular point of view on matters of public debate.”   

That’s a long way from explicitly telling a political party what it needs to do to get back in power or stay in power.

Or even, yes, yes, hectoring someone about being a decent human being, which The Donald seems to be having trouble doing.

And it doesn’t matter that many others (including senior Republicans) are offering the same advice. Or that the story is unfolding outside Canada.

There is a tendency in this sad Trump tale to just dismiss the importance of separating what is opinion about a story from what is reporting on a story because tens of millions of Americans  – and I’m sure most Canadians – understandably and passionately think Trump is an appalling race-baiting bigot.

Boag is adamant:  “His (Trump’s) candidacy has become unsustainable.”

Really? For sure? How does Boag know?  What will he say if Trump wins some primary votes in the next few months? Or the nomination?

Lots of people in the US believe that is quite possible.

The job of CBC’s journalists is to describe with facts, as accurately as possible, what those involved in a story are actually doing, fearing and dreaming – using the documented words and actions of those individuals and groups.

It’s not for CBC’s journalists to offer their own opinions and verdicts about what some of those individuals should do. Even when it’s so tempting, as it is with Trump, to agree with that opinion.

The danger for good journalism here is that the next time around, you (CBC’s audience) may not agree with the “opinion.”

And then, what will you feel – what will you believe – about the “facts?”