Celebrity and journalism make for strange bedfellows. With celebrity comes a sense of entitlement. For those who practice it, entitlement is a natural right of the gifted; it’s sexy, its addictive, it’s an aphrodisiac reeking of power and control and authority. It’s the latest fashion statement.
Who cares whether entitlement compromises journalistic integrity? It’s all relative, anyway. It’s do as I preach. My business is between me and my accountant, not for the preying eyes of the public, which, by the way, has no right to peek into bedrooms of the nation where rough sex rules.
It doesn’t matter that the greater the degree of celebrity and the more ingrained the sense of entitlement, the more odious and offensive the breach in ethics.
I think you know where I’m going with this line of inquiry, but let’s put some faces on the matter.
Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin were prominent and influential prime-time journalists before being appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose dislike of journalists is the worst kept secret in Ottawa. One has to wonder why Harper appointed journalists to the Chamber of Sober Second Thought in the first place — unless he was confident of exploiting their celebrity to benefit the party and its increasingly unpopular leader.
Duffy and Wallin delivered, even if they didn’t actually reside in the province they were appointed to represent. After all, weren’t rules meant to be broken?
Duffy and Wallin entered the Hallowed Den where entitlement, including undeserved financial perks, was taken for granted. It was one of the few non-partisan elements in the Senate, transcending traditional party lines. No wonder they immediately felt at home. They became two of the very people they earned good money as journalists investigating in defence of honesty and integrity and accountability.
Duffy and Wallin were caught with their grimy, little fingers in the public cookie jar and we all know the rest, starting with allegations of wrongdoing, demands for restitution, suspension from the Senior House and, in the case of Duffy, criminal prosecution. Duffy was eventually was acquitted on all 31 charges.
A sad, sorry story that garnered headlines for the the former media darlings. By the way, it would not surprise me if Duffy is acquitted, at least of most of the charges. He has retained a good lawyer.
However, the court of public opinion is loath to exonerate him. Even if he leaves the courtroom after his interminably long trial a free man, the putrid aroma that is the Senate will linger in the nostrils of voters who want to see that decaying institution abolished.
Then we had Jian Ghomeshi, the ex-pop musician who catapulted to media stardom like a comet, only to crash and burn under the glare of ignominy. The multiple charges of sexual misconduct he is facing are the byproduct of an egotistical punk who took his sense of entitlement into the bedroom, with the eyes of his beloved teddy averted. According to Ghomeshi, mutual consent lies in the eyes of the seducer. He was eventually on all charges.
Finally we have Evan Solomon, the hot-shot, journalistic wunderkind who, like Ghomeshi, became a poster boy for the CBC, only to be fired in disgrace. The Ottawa-based host of Power and Politics on TV and The House on radio, had been anointed heir apparent to Peter Mansbridge on the flagship The National.
Solomon’s ethical undoing wasn’t sexual in nature, but his actions nonetheless resemble those of a financial pimp who placed greed above journalistic integrity. The allegation that he used his contacts to profit from a lucrative art-dealing business is the latest sucker punch to the solar plexus of the public broadcaster, while taxpayers sit ringside aghast.
Brokering art transactions among the rich and famous — including former Blackberry co-head honcho Jim Balsillie and and Mark Carney, former Bank of Canada governor, now governor of the Bank of England — in return for serious coin is the kind of ethical malfeasance for which Solomon would gleefully nail politicians. Apparently accountability is a one-way street in the posh Rockcliffe neighbourhood where he resides.
As in the cases of Duffy (known affectionately as the Duffster before his fall from grace), the steely Ms. Wallin and the slimy Ghomeshi, Solomon’s avarice reveals a disturbingly arrogant sense of entitlement.
Facilitating the transfer of expensive art in the highest echelon of the Canadian social mosaic clearly constitutes a conflict of interest. Why? Because it exploits his relationship with his employer as a prominent CBC host who interviews the country’s rich and famous, powerful and influential. Solomon apparently made big bucks cashing in on his position with the public broadcaster.
Moreover, brokering the sale of art for a third party compromises his ability as a journalist to be fair, impartial, balanced and disinterested when dealing with guests on his TV and radio programs. His actions taint the credibility and accountability of the CBC to gather and disseminate the news and offer opinion without fear or favour.
Since Solomon violated normal ethical journalistic standards, not to mention the broadcaster’s ethics policies and guidelines, the CBC had no option other than firing Solomon. He should have known better, but greed clearly obscured his ethical vision.
The only question that remains is how long will he be unemployed until another media giant scoops him up, dusts off the ethical dirt and celebrates the hiring of a bonafide, Canadian media star. Entitlement be damned. Atonement awaits. Let the resurrection begin.