Sordid Allegations, Solid Reporting.

The complainant, Diana Davison, felt CBC was irresponsible when it let Hedley’s ex-drummer recount stories of bad behaviour by lead singer Jacob Hoggard. After all, Hoggard is about to face trial on serious charges. Did the journalism meet the bar?

COMPLAINT

You are the co-founder of The Lighthouse Project, which you describe on your website as “a Canadian non-profit offering free assistance to people who have been falsely accused or wrongly convicted of sexual assault or domestic violence.”

Your initial complaint was published on the Lighthouse website as an open letter to CBC regarding a November 8th article by the CBC. That article, by reporter Judy Trinh, was headlined Hedley singer’s behaviour got worse with fame -- and went unchecked by those around him, ex-drummer says.

The singer in question is Jacob Hoggard, who has been charged with two counts of sexual assault causing bodily harm, and one count of sexual interference. Those allegations have not yet been tested in court.

The drummer in question is Chris Crippin, who used to be a bandmate of Hoggard’s in the group Hedley.

The CBC story was rooted in what it labelled as an exclusive interview with Mr. Crippin. In the article Crippin describes various forms of “inappropriate” behaviour by Hoggard during the drummer’s years in the band. Mr. Crippin makes several allegations, among them that Hoggard graphically disparaged women, that he sent racist and homophobic emails, and that he was “overly touchy” with fans.

You took issue with many aspects of this story, including its very existence:

Using Mr. Crippin as a source to make disparaging remarks and allegations about his beleaguered former band, while Mr. Hoggard is facing a future criminal trial and thus can’t respond openly, is not merely unfair – it is irresponsible.

You wrote that there is evidence that Mr. Crippin himself was guilty of unsavoury behaviour, and that his credibility is suspect because he had been fired by the band in 2017. You acknowledged that the article included a statement from the band’s lawyer challenging Mr. Crippin’s remarks, but you felt that the drummer was not questioned sufficiently about his allegations or his own motives:

“Simply publishing the statement, and noting he was fired, does not overcome the problem that the article almost exclusively focuses on allegations made by this source against his former band mates, and singer Jacob Hoggard in particular. Mr. Crippin’s lack of credibility is, in fact, obvious to any fair minded person.”

You argued that there was not enough effort to verify Mr. Crippin’s accounts. You also said there should have been more investigations into Crippin’s behaviour, as well as the circumstances behind him being fired from the band.

Further, you suggested that CBC was irresponsible in reporting on a six-second pornographic video of Mr. Hoggard allegedly received by Mr. Crippin and another woman, who went unnamed in the story. In particular, you said that the reporter’s choice to share the video with the woman as an attempt to verify its authenticity had the appearance of CBC participating in the sharing of “revenge porn”.

Another complainant, Tracy Jones, wrote that the entire article was “a smear campaign against Jacob Hoggard.” She endorsed your open letter, and added that the story’s bias was evident from being selective about the facts it included:

“The headline states that Jacob Hoggard's behaviour got worse with fame but that would be a subjective statement and is easily disproved by the readily available information about the band's actions from their start in 2005 to 2018. Ms. Trinh did not mention Hedley had been actively involved in the Free the Children movement (now the WE Charity) since 2009, building schools in Kenya (2010), India (2011) and Ecuador (2014), and raising money for the charity. They also raised money for cancer research and donated musical instruments to schools.”

MANAGEMENT RESPONSE

Lianne Elliott, Executive Producer of Newsgathering and Assignment, responded to both complaints.

She stated that the story was newsworthy and in the public interest. She noted that CBC had been following the Jacob Hoggard story for many months, and that there was merit to hearing the views of someone who, for 11 years, “played with the band, travelled with the band and partied with them. As a result he has a unique perspective….”

Ms. Elliott stated that the story included enough information for readers to make up their own minds about the credibility of Mr. Crippin’s remarks. It reported that Mr. Crippin had been fired by the band, and that his departure had been “acrimonious”. It noted that current band members called his remarks a “hatchet job”, and it included a statement from the band’s lawyer which referred to Mr. Crippin as “a disgruntled and bitter former member of our group, whose axe-grinding and bias against us should be obvious to any fair-minded observer.” CBC also asked Mr. Hoggard to comment himself, though he declined.

“It is important to understand here that CBC has an obligation through legislation and policy to carry information on topical events and the different principal points of view on controversial matters in a balanced, fair and accurate fashion. However, it is not the CBC’s obligation to determine what is “truth” (a truly dangerous notion for any broadcaster), but only to present differing views fairly and accurately affording Canadians the opportunity and the information they need to make up their own minds about the nature or quality of the views expressed. And that is what this story does.”

Ms. Elliott says that CBC made every effort to verify the information included in the story, and when it couldn’t, it attributed the source of that information.

On the six-second pornographic video, Ms. Elliott disagreed with your analysis. She said it was in the public interest to investigate whether and why Mr. Hoggard sent this video of himself, unsolicited, to other people. So Ms. Trinh showed it to a source as a means of confirmation.

On Mr. Crippin’s own history, Ms. Elliott noted that the drummer admits that he had engaged in crude behaviour in the past, adding that Mr. Crippin insists all his behaviour was consensual. Ms. Elliott noted that a blog post you shared criticizing Mr. Crippin’s behaviour and motives was not posted until November 10th - two days after the publication of Ms. Trinh’s article.

In her response to Ms. Jones, Ms. Elliott also addressed the contention that Hedley’s track record of charitable deeds contradict Mr. Crippin’s allegation that Mr. Hoggard’s behaviour had deteriorated over time:

“While they may be seen as laudable, the band’s overseas charitable works do not necessarily speak to its behavior on tour. Judy Trinh, the journalist who prepared and wrote the story, one of a number she has written about Hedley, says that the complaints she received from women about Mr. Hoggard’s behavior begin in 2009, with the majority occurring in 2015. The charges Mr. Hoggard faces for the alleged sexual assault took place in 2016. The second alleged sexual assault, this one of a minor under the age of 16, also occurred in 2016.”

REVIEW

The questions prompted by your complaint are among the most fundamental in the practice of ethical journalism: what stories are in the public interest? How do you assess the motivations of a source? How can you report fairly when some statements can’t be verified? And how do you practice responsible journalism when legal proceedings are underway?

CBC’s Journalistic Standards and Practices document does not try to provide an answer for every possible circumstance a reporter or programmer might encounter. Indeed, it’s more analogous to a constitution than to a rule book dictating how to deal with every situation. One benefit to that (and full disclosure, I was involved in drafting the most recent version of the JSP) is that it asks CBC journalists to weigh competing principles every time. It is expected that ethical thinking guides the difficult decisions they make on a daily basis.

This story is a perfect example, in that it provided a number of challenges to Ms. Trinh and her editors. My review led me to conclude that they met the challenge each time.

I had the opportunity to review a transcript of the entire interview with Mr. Crippin, not just the excerpts which appear in the story. Ms. Trinh asks Mr. Crippin why it took him so many months to speak out publicly, and asks if his past silence made him complicit in any inappropriate acts. Those are good questions. It might have alleviated some of your concerns if his full response had been included in the article. However, the article does include Mr. Crippin’s admission that his music career has been stalled since leaving Hedley, reporting that he “has now been ‘regrettably forced’ to speak publicly in an attempt to distance himself even further from the pop rockers.”

That excerpt, in addition to the complete and powerful comments from the band and its lawyers, give the reader considerable information and context from which to draw their own conclusion about Mr. Crippin’s credibility. You and Ms. Jones believe that he lacks credibility. Others will see him in a more positive light.

Similarly, the actual allegations made by Mr. Crippin are described with sufficient detail, sufficient attribution and an absence of hyperbole. The headline attributes the contention that Mr. Hoggard’s behaviour “got worse”, and the lead paragraph refers to “inappropriate behaviour”. This is welcome restraint. Yet the details themselves, including the emails, the alleged statements by Mr. Hoggard and the pornographic video contain enough elements for the reader to make a judgment. You and Ms. Jones might believe they amount to little more than juvenile behaviour; others might see disturbing misogyny. Wherever one sits, there is enough nuance in the telling that it’s unfair to dismiss this story as a “smear campaign”.

That still leaves a handful of other questions to consider.

Was it irresponsible to do this story at all with Mr. Hoggard’s upcoming criminal trial pending? Ms. Trinh told me that she spent time considering the legal implications when crafting the story. Indeed, when you read it carefully, you realize that none of Mr. Crippin’s comments relate to any of the charges. That is even addressed at one point in the story:

“Crippin was interviewed by Peel Police three weeks ago. Sex crime investigators wanted to know if the musician knew the teenager. He did not, but Crippin says he did try to shed some light on Hoggard's character.”

No responsible journalist would want to do a story that thwarts the ability of the justice system to perform honestly and effectively. However, this does not mean that criminal charges automatically make someone immune to further journalistic inquiry. The ethical challenge for the reporter is to weigh the value of the information to the public against the likelihood that it would hinder the judicial process. It appears that appropriate care was taken here.

Then there is the six-second pornographic video. It seems entirely germane to the issue at hand to report on the contents of the video, and the allegation that Mr. Hoggard had sent it to multiple people. Ms. Trinh knew that a source from a previous story had claimed to receive such a video from Hoggard on Snapchat, but no longer had it in her possession. In considering the obligations of fairness and balance, the reporter had to weigh competing issues: was the risk inherent in showing this video to someone offset by the editorial value of verifying it with the second source? From my vantage point, the reporter’s approach was appropriate and responsible - otherwise, how would she know if the videos were the same, or different?

Having said that, I’m less comfortable that the story stated this meant CBC “confirmed” Hoggard sent the video to her. It seems to me that the reporting merely confirms that she says he sent it to her.

Next, the decision not to dwell on Hedley’s charitable deeds is entirely reasonable to me. I appreciate that supporters of the band and Mr. Hoggard feel that you can’t have a complete picture of its members without considering ALL their actions, instead of just the negative ones. The reality is, journalists cannot include every fact about the people or organizations they cover. A huge component of the job is distilling large amounts of information into something digestible for the audience, which means choosing which details are most important to include. In this instance, Hedley’s support of various causes is rather beside the point.

Finally, I should note that I asked Ms. Trinh about various criticisms of Mr. Crippin’s behaviour and motives from third parties, and those include critiques contained in the November 10th blog post you shared. While that blog post was anonymous, it included an email written last February which it attributed to one of the band’s guitar technicians, who was named. Ms. Trinh told me she has looked into some of these criticisms, but they have not yet led to any follow-up stories. I am in no position to assess stories CBC has not done, but I see no reason to think there was any bad faith on display. There is at this time no journalistic imperative to amend the November 8th article.

Putting all those observations together, my conclusion is this: It’s entirely understandable that you dislike this story, and hold the opinion that it shouldn’t have been published. As an activist for the falsely accused, you have a particular perspective. But that opinion does not mean you are correct in concluding that this was bad journalism. The story is not a violation of CBC policy.

Sincerely,

Jack Nagler
CBC Ombudsperson