Commentary on The National

The complainant, Lydia Clarke, thought a commentary by Rex Murphy was anti-Muslim and contained factual errors. A graphic accompanying the commentary had the wrong date for a London bombing attack. There was no other violation of policy.

COMPLAINT

On May 25, The National aired a commentary by Rex Murphy. He was critical of the response of the Canadian and other western governments to terror attacks in the wake of the recent bombing of a Manchester arena. You thought the commentary was strongly anti-Muslim:

The manner in which Muslim people were juxtaposed negatively with white people, both visually and verbally, is deeply damaging. In addition, poor research and journalism reigned throughout his poisonous rhetoric.

You also believed that there were factual errors in the segment. You disputed linking ISIS to the attack because that had not been confirmed just three days before.

You believed there was a second error in a graphic which gave the date of the London bombings as 2007, and you thought that attack occurred in 2005. You added that ISIS could not have taken responsibility for that incident, as it did not exist yet.

You thought this commentary contributed to a toxic environment and it “does not bring strength, courage and clarity to those who need it in the event of terrorist atrocities.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Executive Producer of The National, Don Spandier, replied to your complaint. He stated that Mr. Murphy delivered a commentary in praise of Malala Yousafzai, who had survived a shooting by the Taliban. He said the point of the commentary was criticism of western governments’ responses to the shooting and other violent events.

Clearly Mr. Murphy is critical of the violent actions of the Taliban, and of ISIS, but he is also critical of the response of Western governments to these acts of modern terror, and demands that they do more than simply profess their outrage. As he says, “Where is the real resolve, a renovated sense of determination, an edge of justified anger over such callous unjustifiable onslaughts?”

REVIEW

I have reviewed Mr. Murphy’s commentary in light of your inquiries about the accuracy of his statements. You are correct that the graphic accompanying it was incorrect. The London bombing he was referring to was in July 2005, not 2007. On July 7th of that year, four suicide bombers detonated four devices - three on the London subway system and one on a bus. He did not attribute that bombing to ISIS, but does mention that group in a list of attacks which were the work of a variety of individuals - some claimed by various groups, others not. That might have been the source of the confusion.

Mr. Murphy went on to chastise the response of governments to attacks of this nature. He suggested the sheer number has led to a lack of rigour:

What happens often blunts response. In turn, cities and countries fall back into a semi-ritual, a pattern response that begins to look like falling into an accommodation with these horrors as something to be lamented, but which we must come to expect, even perhaps accept. We gesture towards these outrages, offer hashtag solidarity. National leaders retreat into near boiler plate compassion. There are street rallies of sympathy and solidarity, but none of these adequate in either depth or power to the events they address. Gesture is an unconsciously camouflaged retreat. Where is the real resolve, a renovated sense of determination, an edge of justified anger over such callous unjustifiable onslaughts? The response of Western governments to modern terror is incomplete, missing a commitment of absolute resolution, and a manifestation of leadership equal to this horrible moment.

This seems to be Mr. Murphy’s primary purpose for the commentary. Since this is an opinion piece, he has more latitude to present a point of view. There are no overt anti-Muslim statements in this commentary. In this instance Mr. Murphy focused on attacks claimed by Islamist groups - because his message is that governments should be doing more to counter these organizations.

There was a violation of policy because of the inaccuracy on the graphic. There is a broader discussion to be had about acts of mass violence and their causes. I hope that CBC news management will consider other perspectives for future editorials. I have mentioned before that the fulfillment of a commitment to a diversity of voices would be better served if The National showcased a range of commentators, as well as Mr. Murphy.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman