Interviews with Marci McDonald

Review from the Office of the Ombudsman | English Services

Summary

Interviews with Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada

You wrote initially in June, 2010, to complain about two interviews with Marci McDonald, author of The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, carried on CBC Radio's The Current and CBC's Television's The National.

Mr. X wrote initially to say that he was “appalled at all the airtime given to Marci McDonald. She is obviously a bigoted and religiously intolerant writer and spokesman for the Liberal Party.” You also picked up a theme, echoed in a Conservative Party communiqué, linking Ms. McDonald's appearance with remarks made by Frank Graves, the President of EKOS Research.

Esther Enkin, the Executive Editor of CBC News, replied. She pointed out that Ms. McDonald is a well respected journalist who has produced a “well-documented book” on the subject of certain aspects of the Christian Right. She pointed out that subsequently on both programs voices were heard opposing Ms. McDonald, although from different perspectives.

You were unsatisfied with Ms. Enkin's response and asked for a review.

Ms. X wrote as well to take issue with Ms. McDonald and the CBC's decision to carry interviews about her book. You said that there was “false information” in her book, although no examples were offered. You did touch on what I presume would be some “false insinuations”: e.g. “just because Mr. Harper is a practicing Christian and as such has a common faith basis with all other Christians including Faytene Kryskow, this fact does not make him part of the so called “Christian Right.” You went on to say that Canada does not have a “Christian Right,” that it is a U.S. phenomenon. You also pointed out that many Christians in Canada are oriented toward what is called the “Social Gospel” and have strong affinity with the New Democratic Party.

You also went on to make a more general criticism that the CBC is “riddled with bias against the current government,” citing the McDonald interview as an example.

From time to time CBC programs interview authors of interesting and significant works. In this case, both Radio and Television decided to interview Marci McDonald about her newly released book, The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. I note that over the last 12 months, The Current carried about a dozen feature interviews with authors on topics ranging from General Rick Hillier's memoir to an analysis of how the Vatican assesses reports of miraculous healings.

Contrary to suggestions by some, the book cannot be described as “anti-Christian.” Ms. McDonald clearly differentiates between the deep and wide stream of Christian belief and the noteworthy beliefs of a smaller and narrower segment of the Christian world. If one reads the book, one finds that Ms. McDonald distinguishes between the various strands of Christian belief, acknowledging that some Christians have adopted a “Social Gospel,” others have remained in the broad mainstream of religious belief, while some have become adherents of narrower strands she refers to as “Christian Nationalism,” “Dominionism” or “Reconstructionism.” Ms. McDonald writes: “I have chosen to focus on those political activists whose goal is to attain the same political power that their counterparts have enjoyed in the United States…I have highlighted one faction I refer to as ‘Christian nationalists', a militant charismatic fringe with ties to Harper's Conservatives that has gained influence out of all proportion to its numerical heft.”

So the book and the interviews on which it was based are not about “Christianity,” but quite clearly about a small subset. It is no more “anti-Christian” than a book about militant Orthodox Judaism or about fringes of Islam could be considered as attacking the broad base of those religions.

In both cases, the interviews probed Ms. McDonald's thesis. On both Radio and Television we heard within days from people who had different views. I would note that one of those, Lorna Dueck, complimented Ms. McDonald on her research while disagreeing with her conclusions.

Of course not every controversial viewpoint must be counteracted immediately by other viewpoints. Account must be taken, with continuing programs, of the voices that have been already heard, or will be heard within a reasonable period of time. I note that one name that appears in the book, Charles McVety, has been heard on both CBC Radio and Television on a number of occasions.

The notion that the interviews were an “attack” on the Conservative government cannot be credited. I note that Ms. X, in particular, suggested this and also posited a continuing effort to embarrass the government. I would suggest that one of the burdens of any government is to endure close scrutiny since the party in power is just that—in power. Ms. X seems to overlook the stories during previous governments about dissension in the ranks of the Liberal Party and intense coverage of scandal. I can say through direct personal experience over the last 40 years that every Prime Minister felt he or she was being unfairly treated by the media and, in particular, the CBC.

If there are close links between aggressive fringe elements and any government, that is clearly a matter of public interest. There appears to be an implication that the interviews and/or the book advance the notion that all Christians are on the “right.” As I have noted, that is not correct. But it is also beyond dispute that there are elements of a Christian “right” that Ms. McDonald characterizes as a fringe, seemingly with influence. I will leave it to others to pursue the question of how strong that influence is, but it seems absurd to deny that the events outlined by Ms. McDonald did not happen.

From my listening, the interviews were an attempt to elucidate the main conclusions of Ms. McDonald's research and they appear to be well within the bounds of CBC's Journalistic Standards and Practices.

Conclusion

There was no violation of CBC policies.

Vince Carlin
CBC Ombudsman