A few weeks ago, I wrote a column for the National Post arguing that readers will miss the mainstream media when we’re gone. Oh sure, bloggers have a lot of spicy opinions. But when it comes to investigating important stories, they don’t hold a candle to big, deep-pocketed, old-fashioned newspaper writers and broadcast media outlets.
Imagine my embarrassment, then, when it turned out this week that the flagship newscast on the biggest, deep-pocketeddest, old-fashionedest Canadian media outlet of them all — the taxpayer-funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) — got suckered into reporting a story that the blogosphere chewed up, debunked, and spit out two days earlier.
The story revolves around Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who on Friday was announced as John McCain’s pick for VP candidate. Almost immediately, a weird rumor took flight: that Palin’s fifth child, 4-month-old baby Trig, was actually born to her 17-year-old daughter Bristol. According to sources swirling feverishly around left-wing clearinghouse Daily Kos, Sarah had fraudulently claimed maternity of the child while Bristol was removed from school under a phony excuse involving mononucleosis.
Many conservatives were concerned. A Michigan-based political-junkie friend of mine — a tireless Web surfer who acts as a sort of human RSS feeder for his friends — sent out a worried email on Friday night declaring: “I think that the accusation … is credible enough to require evidence — more than just words — in reply.”
But then the rumor fell apart. Photos surfaced of Sarah, clearly pregnant, going about her Gubernatorial duties in early 2008. It was also established that Bristol is five months pregnantright now — making the rumor a biological impossibility. “I shouldn’t have dignified this with an email,” my friend reported late on Sunday night. “At this point, I would say that [the Republicans] should let the rumors build up to a fever pitch before they squash them, to maximize the embarrassment.”
Except for a few British outlets, no mainstream media reported on the rumor — even before it had been debunked. The Daily Kos itself shut up about the subject from Monday onwards.
But then, on Tuesday night — two full days after the rumor was killed — CBC’s The National went live with it.
“Sarah Palin was strangely absent from public view today,” reporter Neil McDonald told viewers from the Republican convention in Minnesota. “The story surrounding her grew ever stranger, too.”
“It’s baby Trig who’s generating the questions,” McDonald went on. “There are the pictures of [Sarah] Palin looking slim just weeks before the April birth. In March, the Anchorage Daily News reported that Palin ‘simply doesn’t look pregnant.’ Then, there was the birth itself. Palin was in Texas on April 17 when her water broke, but she went ahead with a speech, then, rather than checking into a hospital, she headed back to Alaska.” (The CBC provided a helpful map showing Palin’s lengthy plane ride, with dramatic-sounding music.)
“There is no record of the birth,” McDonald added somewhat breathlessly. “Some suspect that Trig is actually Palin’s grandson, and that Bristol, the now-pregnant teenage daughter, is the baby’s real mother.”
All total nonsense, of course. Total taxpayer-funded nonsense.
This is more than just a tiny factual slip-up. This was a marquee segment on the CBC’s crown jewel — The National — delivered by the network’s Washington correspondent at a major political event. How is it that McDonald would base his whole story on a political hoax that thousands of humble Web surfers like my friend had debunked a full two days earlier?
Putting aside the role of McDonald — who has a history of left-wing smears — how did no one at the CBC catch this? As Canadian taxpayers, doesn’t our $1-billion buy us a fact-checker or two?
Left-wing bias from the CBC — that my fellow Canadians have come to expect. But rank amateurism is unforgivable. If this is the face of the mainstream media, maybe they won’t miss us so much when we’re gone.
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