"Reality Check" about some federal election candidates

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services


“Reality Check” about candidates in the federal election campaign who appeared to question the official explanation for the 9-11 attacks in the United States

You wrote originally in early October, 2008, in the midst of the last Federal Election campaign. You complained about a feature called “Reality Check” done by CBC reporter Terry Milewski. The item pointed out that while the Liberals had removed a candidate who appeared to question the official explanation for the 9-11 attacks in the United States, the NDP was standing by candidate Bev Collins who, the item said, had made remarks which could be construed as supporting the notion that the U.S. might have been complicit in the attacks.

In several e-mails you made a number of points: that The National linked Ms. Collins with another candidate whose views some might interpret as anti-Semitic; that the item was “lifted” from a Liberal blogger; that the item did not clarify that Ms. Collins “has not made comments or remarks that could be interpreted as anti-Semitic”; that the item did not explain that Jack Layton, the NDP leader, may have been friends with well-known “9-11 Truther” Barry Zwicker, but did not endorse his views.

Mark Harrison, the acting Executive Producer of The National, responded that the two items were separated by several days and that the removal of the Liberal candidate was referenced as context for the Milewski item. He also said that Mr. Milewski was unaware of the Liberal blog until after he did the item; that the item did not state or imply that Ms. Collins's views were “anti-Semitic”; and that the item pointed out Mr. Layton's long-term friendship with Mr. Zwicker, gave Mr. Layton an opportunity, which he took, to distance himself from Mr. Zwicker's views.

The hallmark of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices is that an item be accurate, truthful and fair. And that sufficient context is provided so that the viewer/listener/reader can understand the issue.

In this case, the program set out to see if other federal candidates had views similar to those that resulted in the removal of Lesley Hughes as a Liberal candidate. She had been quoted as saying, as Mr. Harrison pointed out, that Israeli intelligence had advance knowledge of the attacks on the World Trade Centre, that it had shared that information with American intelligence and that Israeli businesses had vacated the buildings before the attacks. While there have been and still are many theories about the origins and unfolding of the 9-11 attacks, this particular variation has been deemed by some to be anti-Semitic. However, there are many other theories.

Ms. Collins expressed another view on a U.S. radio program saying, as you pointed out, “People are truly waking up realizing who the people are responsible. You know, that there was complicity for 9-11, that the people used that 9-11 to bring about a war on terror.” She then went on to give the appearance of agreeing with the host's contention that 9-11 was a “false flag” operation—that is, in the parlance of the “truthers,” an operation either instigated or tolerated by the U.S. government so that it could be used as a springboard to other action.

I have listened to Ms. Collins speak and she is clearly an intelligent and articulate person. You seem to imply that she was merely saying the operation was carried out by terrorists and that the U.S. used that action to justify the U.S. “war on terror.” However, the word “complicity” implies to a reasonable listener that the U.S. had knowledge of the plan. My Oxford Canadian dictionary states that “complicity” means “a partnership in a crime or wrongdoing.” Clearly that is a different concept than the U.S. moving after the fact to achieve its own foreign policy goals. So, in the interview, Ms. Collins appears to make two points: one, that there was complicity and, two, that U.S. officials used 9-11 to bring about a war on terror. One can believe the second without accepting the first. But the first point clearly puts Ms. Collins in the context of those who believe that the “truth” about the 9-11 attacks themselves has not come out. She went on to apparently endorse the host's statement that the attacks constituted a “false flag” operation.

Mr. Milewski then went on to interview the party leader, Jack Layton, on the subject—clearly a matter of public interest. He noted and Mr. Layton confirmed that he is a long-time friend of Barry Zwicker who, it is safe to say, is one of the most prominent “9-11 Truthers” in the country. Mr. Layton said he did not agree with Mr. Zwicker's views. Mr. Layton also said that Ms. Collins told him that she believed that the attacks were carried out by terrorists and that she had not attacked any identifiable groups in Canada. To be honest, from a knowledge of the claims of some of the “Truthers,” it is not inconsistent to believe that the attack was carried out by “terrorists” at the same time that one believes that the U.S. was complicit, i.e., that the government had foreknowledge of the plan and allowed it to play out.

So, it seems that Mr. Milewski accurately reported Ms. Collins's previous statements, sought and received appropriate comment from Mr. Layton and provided context for the viewer to judge the issues involved.


The item conformed to the principles of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman