Thursday, February 16, 2012

Now Rebecca Scott is the only Press Secretary

I've made an issue of the conflict of interest CBC Legislative Bureau Chief Stephen Smart faces when reporting on Premier Photo-Op and her government while he shares pillows each night with Rebecca Scott, Premier Clark's Deputy Press Secretary.

Wayne Williams, News Director, CBC News British Columbia, said this in correspondence with me:
"Earlier last year, Rebecca Scott, now married to Mr. Smart, accepted a position in Premier Christy Clark’s office. But I should be clear about what her job is and what it is not. Yes, it is a political position. She is one of a number of press secretaries or assistants in the office whose principal job it is to advise the premier on constituency matters and prepare background briefing summaries for particular issues or upcoming events."
I told Williams that I was familiar with Press Secretary Chris Olsen but asked him to name the other press secretaries. Of course, there were no others. Williams did emphasize:
"at no time is she a point of contact for Stephen Smart."
I will ignore that unfortunate wording since the young couple has been married less than a year.

However, I do wonder if the firing of Press Secretary Chris Olsen Thursday changes anything for Smart and Scott. My dictionary defines deputy as a person appointed as assistant who serves as successor in the event of a vacancy. Since CBC defended Smart because his wife was "one of a number of press secretaries" but now she is the only press secretary, the broadcaster's already weak position has further deteriorated.

CBC has argued that no review or complaints about Smart's work noted examples of biased reporting. Critics such as the one you are reading pointed out that Smart's conflict might cause reticence in originating stories that reflect badly on his wife or her boss. Viewers expect the top CBC journalist covering BC's government would follow any lead diligently and without encumbrance. He must not be a me-too reporter repackaging PAB press releases.

Last week provided an example of CBC pulling punches on political coverage in a matter involving Scott. On February 9, The Tyee reported on an email sent to press gallery members by deputy press secretary Scott. It said,
"In place of a formal Throne Speech, the Premier will be appearing on CKNW’s Bill Good Show to outline the government’s agenda for the spring session, The premier will give a scrum to other media who are welcome to watch the interview at the CKNW studio..."
This message was quickly recognized as the wrong message.

Just about every news organization, as well as the twitterverse and the blogosphere, were quick to jump on the "in place of a Throne Speech" message sent by Scott on February 9. Some of the tweeting was delicious and devilish stuff from the likes of Gary Mason and Lindsay Kines.

All of the major media outlets were on this quickly, except for CBC. They took four days. Did CBC hold off on the story because it distressed Stephen Smart's wife?

That deserves an explanation from Wayne Williams and his boss Jennifer McGuire. Anyone care to ask?



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7 comments:

  1. The problem is that any 'example' of Stephen Smart's bias is debatable. CBC wants to be right and so will not see any wrongdoing, nomatterwhat!
    Although they may eventually when people stop coming by their site or listening to their radio dialed to CBC.
    Sometimes it takes a long time for the stupid among us to realize that they just being stupid. Perhaps the CBC should consider 'the customer is always right'.

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  2. Jeepers Norm, you manage to post so much relevant and well analyzed stuff......I found the piece about the ArchBishop of Cantabury and Canada's new "image" as a jingoistic petro-state particularly well honed and timely.

    As to the Stephen "dumb" Smart affair, now that Rebecca is the only press flack for Christy the Useless, our Prom Princess (not) Premier may have to add some RCMP to her detail as I imagine Rebecca would be too delicate to physically protect her holiness from nosy reporters asking inconvenient questions - a job at which Mr. Olsen excelled as video clips I have viewed would suggest.

    As to:

    " "at no time is she a point of contact for Stephen Smart."

    I will ignore that unfortunate wording since the young couple has been married less than a year."


    Lacking your forbearance may I suggest the conflict of interest could be eliminated with an annulment, which should be an option if indeed at no time has she been a point of contact for Mr. Smart - my understanding being that non-consummation is cause for annulment. I would have to give some thought to whether or not if they were just "friends with benefits" a conflict of interest would still exist (actually, I think it would).

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  3. "I would have to give some thought to whether or not if they were just "friends with benefits" a conflict of interest would still exist (actually, I think it would)."

    Then again if Mr. Smart was just using Ms. Scott and a romantic relationship as a means to access otherwise unavailable information, a common spy espionage tactic, would Mr. Smart be a hero or scum?

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  4. Now you might make me regret that reference since it's hardly subtle anymore, if it ever was.

    Of the many people I've talked to who know Smart, he has the reputation as a good and capable guy. He and his employers are mistaken in doing what they're doing but I suspect we should limit the cheap personal stuff to that we've already written. I admonish myself for publishing this but, like the CBC, even if it's wrong, I'm not going to change anything.

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  5. "I suspect we should limit the cheap personal stuff to that we've already written."

    I agree, but without the opportunity to laugh on occasion I wouldn't be able to refrain from embarking on a cull of the ONE PERCENT!

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  6. So, this morning CBC Radio tells listeners that Stephen Smart will be reporting on (his wife's boss') budget today... without any disclosure to listeners of the fact that Stephen Smart is married to the premier's spin-doctor. The words in brackets are mine.

    I guess CBC is determined to keep up this charade, hoping most of their listening public don't know, or have forgotten anything they might have known about it.

    So, I immediately phoned the CBC to express my disgust with their arrogance and their deception towards their listeners. I called during the local newscast, that way I had more opportunity to speak to the host, not the slippery producers who are adept at side-stepping complaints.

    Stephen Smart should not be working at the CBC at all given the access that he would have regardless of where he was placed. And for CBC to continue to hide this matter... well, whatever happened to the concept of "full disclosure" to their audience?

    By the way, I don’t believe it’s been mentioned that the CBC's thin-skinned explanation that there has been no evidence of conflict of interest is fatuous and disingenuous in the extreme.

    A lack of evidence that the Smarts have improperly disclosed, withheld or manipulated political news through our public broadcaster is NOT the point.

    Lack of evidence is not proof that there is no wrong-doing.

    The reason that conflict of interest policies are in place in most organizations is to prevent the opportunity for wrong-doing because any wrong-doing would be too difficult to detect.

    No one outside the CBC and/or the Smart household would be privy to whether this husband and wife are acting improperly. So unless anyone is willing to conduct an under-cover investigation (bad pun, unintended) on the Smarts, or someone at CBC is willing to blow the whistle (extremely unlikely), there is no way of finding out if wrong-doing is occurring between the premier's office and the CBC news bureau.

    The wrong-doing is the fact of this conflict of interest itself -- the fact that husband and wife are working in highly influential, supposedly adversarial, positions where they have the opportunity to operate without scrutiny.

    Finally, with both husband and wife being paid by taxpayers, it’s unthinkable that no one other than the public is doing or saying anything about it. Where are the politicians, opposition or otherwise, federal or provincial? The bosses of both husband and wife need to remove them from their positions immediately, it’s no longer acceptable for one to be shuffled slightly aside with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge.

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  7. As I say on today's front page: Just about every news organization was quick to jump on the "in place of a Throne Speech" message mistakenly issued by Rebecca Scott on February 9. Except for CBC. They took four days."

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