The CBC’s woke bias has been a problem for decades

“In her letter, Henley accuses the CBC of having gone from being “a trusted source of news” to “churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press.”

Canada’s journalism world was rattled recently when Tara Henley — previously unknown to me — a now-former CBC radio and TV producer, as well as on-air columnist, not only called it quits on her eight-year stint at the CBC, but wrote a rather damning open letter explaining why, published on her new Substack page: “Lean Out with Tara Henley.” (Henley had published a book in 2020, Lean Out: A Meditation on the Madness of Modern Life).

In her letter, Henley accuses the CBC of having gone from being “a trusted source of news” to “churning out clickbait that reads like a parody of the student press.” She writes in the last 18 months alone, she went from sometimes being “the one furthest to the left” in the newsroom to “the most conservative,” simply because in that time frame identity politics — usually framed as “woke” — became the prevailing obsession. Henley describes herself as still faithful to now-neglected traditional leftist concerns like housing shortages and the opioid crisis.

The CBC’s shift from left-leaning to far-left didn’t happen overnight. It’s been many years in the making. An IPSOS/Reid poll from September 2010 indicated while Canadian consumers “envisage themselves as being essentially balanced in terms of ideology,” they see the CBC as ideologically well to the “left” of themselves and almost every other news source. The survey looked at public perceptions of the CBC, BBC, Global, MSNBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail, CNN, the National Post, and Fox News. The CBC was viewed as the farthest to the left, with the BBC ranked second.

Henley’s apologia is an intelligent, hard-hitting piece, and worth the attention it is getting. In fact, immediately upon reading it, I subscribed to her Substack page and very much enjoyed her first podcast with Batya Unger-Sargon, deputy opinion editor of Newsweek, who expanded on the meaning of woke and its effect on the media.

However, I must gently take issue with one of Henley’s assertions. She writes: “When I started at the national public broadcaster in 2013, the network produced some of the best journalism in the country.” I suppose that view depends somewhat on where you are coming from personally. If you were a leftist to begin with — like Henley — you might not notice in one quarter — and on one hot topic — the CBC had long been considered to be the most unbalanced, and the most predictably biased news source in Canada. Namely, Middle East reporting. And not for want of money or staffing; in personnel and resources, the CBC surpassed other Canadian outlets. It was always ideology behind the bias.

But as I say, whether you adhere to old-school leftism — as Henley does — or the newer-school progressivism embraced by the CBC, your views on the Middle East would likely be similar. Before 1967 and the Six-Day War in which Israel miraculously defeated four Arab countries supported by four other Arab countries massed to finish her off, Israel’s image on the left shifted from underdog David to oppressor Goliath, and the now-dispossessed Palestinians became the oppressed: That’s the simplistic narrative the left in all its incarnations has clung to ever since.

Some leftist media consider Israel and the disputed territories it controls such an important story that every single other story of conflict in the region may be given short shrift in order to harp on this one. So I don’t blame Henley that the CBC’s longstanding bias on this topic escaped her notice. It may well be that she has no views on the Middle East at all. Still, I am moved to set the record straight on her assertion that 2013 was the bright line in the CBC’s fall-off from reporting integrity.

Honest Reporting is an independent non-profit created “to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.”  It’s shocking how many misconceptions and downright lies are peddled in the media in general about Israel, but some more than others, and of those some through lazy ignorance, others through calculated choice. (American-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman explains why in his 2014 Atlantic article, “What the Media Gets Wrong about Israel.” For those interested in the subject, his article makes for an illuminating detour.)

Honest Reporting fact-checks, points out misleading commentary, and supplies correct information to flesh out purposeful lacunae in reportage.

According to Honest Reporting Canada (HRC) CEO Mike Fegelman, CBC is by far the most culpable in unbalanced reporting of all Canadian news outlets. “In our close to two decades of existence, we have issued approximately 1,750 complaints sent to the CBC due to its (mis)reportage of Israel,” Fegelman told me in an e-mail exchange. (I have written about the CBC’s bias against Israel on several occasions.)

To their credit, he said, CBC remedied their errors 70% of the time. I take a more cynical view. The fact that in 2021 alone HRC felt bound to issue some 50 corrections to CBC — both English and French divisions — tells me the network would rather keep issuing corrections (that they know few people see) than review and reform the systemic bias on that file that produces the errors so frequently. (Any reader who wants to see the list of complaints for 2021 can consult the HR website, or e-mail me.)

The CBC’s chief correspondent in Israel for many years, Neil Macdonald, was overtly and compulsively anti-Israel on-air, and remained so in his writing even after removal from that post. Members of Honest Reporting vote every year on their choice for winner of HR’s “dishonest-reporting-award.” Canadians nominated Macdonald in 2002 for his effort to disprove documented comments made by Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, in which Nasrallah promised to export “martyrdom operations” worldwide. The comments — reported by British journalist Paul Martin — sparked a Canadian ban on Hezbollah. Macdonald suggested that Martin fabricated the comments, prompting Martin to file a defamation suit against CBC, and the equally culpable, also systemically anti-Israel Toronto Star.

More recently, during last year’s conflict between Israel and Hamas, more than 30 CBC contributors, along with several hundred people also claiming to be journalists (including from Al Jazeera), penned an open letter condemning Canadian media’s insufficiently critical “coverage of forced expulsions and indiscriminate airstrikes” in the Gaza Strip. This is activism, not journalism.

As a National Post editorial observed, “the letter is about what you would expect from the wokest activists working in journalism today: nods to diversity, the ‘impact of colonialism,’ and the obligatory Newspeak.”

The CBC signatories were irate that even the CBC “recognize[d] that the journalists took ‘a public stand’ that ‘has created the perception of a conflict of interest among some members of our audience.’ No kidding.” (Though chastised, the signatories were not punished, and some reportedly continue to report on Gaza to this day.)

Tara Henley’s dramatic departure from the CBC reminded me of New York Times opinion editor and columnist Bari Weiss, who exited the NYT over its intellectually stultifying, staff-driven wokeness, which she too explained in a widely-distributed open letter. Weiss has made a great success of her Substack, “Common Sense,” which is directed toward those “tens of millions of Americans who aren’t on the hard left or the hard right who feel that the world has gone mad.”

As it happens, the NYT’s well-documented bias against Israel, so similar in tone and tactics to the CBC’s, figured large in Weiss’s decision to leave. Indeed, as one of the NYT’s few pro-Israel voices, she was a target of vicious, antisemitic-coloured enmity by several colleagues. Lacking support from her superiors, the frosty environment rendered her continued presence untenable.

Weiss and Henley have so much else in common I would love to listen to a podcast featuring their common newsroom war stories. As Henley will now be looked to as an authority on CBC bias, and given Weiss’s depth of knowledge on the Israel file, such an exchange could be a fine opportunity for Henley to amplify her cognitive command over “Lean Out with Tara Henley’s” freshly staked-out homesteading terrain.

Barbara Kay is a senior columnist for the Western Standard.

Twitter: @BarbaraRKay