Trump vs. The NFL

The complainant, Dan Bourque, objected to CBC Halifax’s Mainstreet coverage of the President of the United States and his interactions with both NFL players and the Pittsburgh Penguins. CBC Halifax staff thought because they provided perspective that the Penguins and Captain, Sidney Crosby, should accept a White House invitation, there was balance to the strongly negative characterization of the President. There should have been more thought in achieving balance.

COMPLAINT

You had concerns about three episodes on Mainstreet, the afternoon radio programme broadcast in Halifax. You thought the coverage was completely unbalanced and showed a strong anti-Trump bias.

How is it possible that a news agency with the resources of the CBC, is incapable of, or unwilling to solicit opposing viewpoints with respect to this concern?

It is apparent that the social justice agenda, as defined by the CBC, has elicited a descent into partisan, American style 'news' advocacy.

There were three broadcasts you cited. The first was on September 25th, concerning the ongoing controversy over NFL players going down on one knee during the singing of the U.S. National Anthem at football games - and U.S. President Donald Trump’s reaction to it. Mainstreet host Bob Murphy talked with Toronto Star sports reporter, Morgan Campbell. You objected to the reporter’s reference to Donald Trump as a “white supremacist,” and to his characterization of the president’s supporters as poor, white, working class and racist.

Such an uninformed and overtly hostile, evangelical anti-Trump zealot should be balanced with a more reasonable pundit capable of objective, intelligent discourse.

You mentioned two later broadcasts, September 26th and 28th, which included derogatory remarks about Mr. Trump from commentators interviewed by the programme host. These two interviews centred around the announcement that the Stanley Cup winning team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, would accept an invitation to the White House. Since Sidney Crosby is from Nova Scotia, the programme devoted time and attention to the imminent visit and whether Crosby should have accepted. You thought that commentators who support Mr. Trump’s agenda should have been included in the discussion. You pointed out there were only critical voices present in all three broadcasts.

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

The Managing Editor of CBC Atlantic, Nancy Waugh, replied to your concerns. She agreed with you that in the September 25th discussion between the program host, Bob Murphy, and Morgan Campbell, there was a breach of policy in that the reporter expressed opinion that may not have been backed up by facts. She cited the demographic makeup of Mr. Trump’s supporters as one such instance:

As you know, there has been a great deal of reporting on the demographic makeup of Mr. Trump’s political ‘base’ -- and the ideological leanings of that population. It’s possible to find writing that supports Mr. Campbell’s statements; it’s also possible find articles that argue why those assumptions are incorrect.

The interview you heard was positioned as a conversation between two journalists: the host and his guest. As an audience member, I would have expected an analysis of the controversy, backed up by factual statements. To my ear, the comments from Mr. Campbell were more opinion than analysis.

She also agreed the statement that President Trump is “an unabashed white supremacist” should have been challenged by the interviewer.

She explained that the other two programme segments had a different focus - they dealt with another sports controversy. Ms. Waugh said that in the case of the first interview with Shireen Ahmed, a freelance writer and sports activist, she was clearly asked for her opinion about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to accept an invitation to the White House. The third segment provided two views of Sidney Crosby’s decision to accompany his teammates to the White House. While both commentators were critical of the U.S. President, they had opposite opinions of that decision. She said the segment was clearly framed as “conversations with two people who held opposing points of view.”

Bob Howse argued that President Trump had behaved “in a shameful way toward Black athletes” and didn’t personally deserve a visit from the Penguins. But he also felt the Penguins had made a decision based on tradition and that critics were being too hard on Sidney Crosby.

El Jones argued that Sidney Crosby -- as a resident of Cole Harbour and an athlete with black team-mates -- could not reasonably separate himself from a controversy over race. She suggested he should not attend the visit.

REVIEW

CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices has policy concerning balance and opinion:

Our programs and platforms allow for the expression of a particular perspective or point of view. This content adds public understanding and debate on the issues of the day.

When presenting content (programs, program segments, or digital content) where a single opinion or point of view is featured, we ensure that a diversity of perspective is provided across a network or platform and in an appropriate time frame.

When we choose to present a single point of view :

  • it is clearly labeled, and

  • it does not misrepresent other points of view.

It also states that in presenting commentators or guests, “We achieve balance by featuring multiple perspectives and points of view to reflect a diversity of opinion.”

The Journalistic Standards and Practices also notes that a range of views are to be reflected taking into account “how widely-held these views are.”

In a way, you and Ms. Waugh were talking at cross purposes. She framed the balance around the two positions regarding the participation of Pittsburgh Penguin team captain and local boy, Sidney Crosby, in his team’s visit to the White House. Your concern is that even the people who argued for his attendance were critical of Donald Trump.

The interviews were framed around the issue at hand. The purpose appeared to be to obtain some analysis of the causes and fallout of the event.

The whole controversy has conflated several issues, as is noted in some of the interviews. The players actually stated their protest concerns systemic racism in the United States, and the President recast the issue as one of respect for the American flag and the military. He also called for the firing of players who participated in the protest. The September 25th episode was introduced this way:

Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders faced a particular challenging press corps today, reporters demanded answers about the U.S. President calling NFL players SOBs.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS

It’s always appropriate for the President of this country to promote our flag, to promote our national anthem, and ask people to respect our national anthem.

BOB MURPHY

On Friday night Donald Trump said players who kneeled during the US national anthem should be fired, then Saturday he uninvited the NBA Champion, The Golden State Warriors, from visiting the White House after star player, Steph Curry, said he wasn’t going. All this prompted more than 250 NFL players to kneel, link arms or raise a fist during the anthem at games over the weekend.

Mr. Campbell’s comments, as Ms. Waugh noted, were contentious and in some cases there is no agreement on the facts that might back up those views. The problem is more complex. There are two different dialogues here - one is what the protests mean and how appropriate Donald Trump’s response has been, and the second is the characterization of the United States President himself. The challenge is that the guests interviewed interjected quite negative overall comments and characterization of the President. As Mr. Campbell noted, Mr. Trump’s base supported his statements about the players, but there was not a lot of support beyond that. Ms. Waugh told you that the focus of these stories was really about the athletes’ responses, and in that regard there was a range of views because some people did agree that Mr. Crosby should respect the invitation to the White House. However, there was not one person interviewed who spoke positively about Mr. Trump. The reality is that virtually all the players, owners and the NFL commissioner himself were critical of Mr. Trump’s statements and supported the free-speech rights of the players. I sympathize with the fact that in live broadcasting situations, as these were, it is hard to control what guests will say. In parts of the latter two episodes on Mainstreet, there was broader analysis to back up the criticism, but there was no one who expressed support for the President in general, or his statements about the NFL players in particular. Failing being able to find supporters of Mr. Trump’s position on the NFL protest, it might have been useful to include more than just the one statement from his press secretary or other politicians who spoke out on his behalf as a means of providing some balance.

When the discussion was narrowly focused on the question of Sidney Crosby’s participation in the White House visit, there was balance and a range of perspectives. There was, however, a preponderance of statements that were highly critical of Mr. Trump. The coverage was flawed.

Sincerely,

Esther Enkin
CBC Ombudsman