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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?”

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