First published at Global News on February 15, 2018.
In the world of theatre, there’s a precept that when one part of a performance is revealed to be false, the whole thing is.
If such an idea can be transposed to media, CTV’s infamous report of sexual misconduct by former PC party leader Patrick Brown appears to be little more than shoddy performance art, at this point.
The story, published in late January by Glen McGregor and Rachel Aiello, lies in tatters after both allegations face serious credibility challenges.
None more than the first accusation, which CTV’s initial story said occurred “more than 10 years ago.” The accuser said she was, at the time, a high school student who, though not of legal drinking age, met Brown at a bar and was invited back to his house, at which point he took her upstairs, closed his bedroom door and asked for oral sex, which she provided, despite feeling uncomfortable.
After laying low for a couple of weeks, Brown went on the offensive, supplying evidence he lived in a ground floor apartment that had no accessible second floor at the time. While CTV reported a mutual friend of both parties drove the accuser to Brown’s house, that friend told CBC he did no such thing.
According to Brown, this man said as much to McGregor, but it wasn’t included in the story.
After these discrepancies were revealed, CTV published another story — with no reporters claiming authorship — recanting the age of the accuser at the time of the alleged incident.
“She now says that she was of legal drinking age and out of high school,” the story said. “Brown was a Conservative member of Parliament at the time of the alleged incident.”
There was no apology, nor a formal correction.
As I write this Thursday morning — 36 hours after CTV published this alteration — the initial story remains unchanged, still accusing Brown of misconduct with a high school student.
This is especially disingenuous because the first accusation hinged predominantly on the accuser’s age. With no floor, no door, and no high school enrolment, the story is just that a 20-something politician got lucky with a woman he met at a bar.
And even then, Brown says it never happened, repeatedly calling it a “lie.”
The second allegation is hardly in better shape now, featuring not only failings of journalistic competence, but what I see as serious ethical breaches, too.
In an interview with Global News reporter Carolyn Jarvis, Brown said he learned of a personal relationship between one of the reporters of the initial story and the second accuser, a former employee of Brown’s who said he kissed and lay on top of her while she was drunk at a party at Brown’s house. When she stopped him, he drove her home.
Brown says she tried to kiss him, and that he didn’t invite her to his room — she followed him there.
No relationship between the accuser and a CTV reporter was disclosed by the network, which hasn’t responded specifically to the allegation since.
For its part, CTV says it continues to stand by its reporting, and that “Patrick Brown’s allegations regarding our reporting are false.”
“CTV News took steps before publication and broadcast to ensure there was no previous contact with any of the journalists that would influence the reporting,” a story published Tuesday night said.
Note that CTV doesn’t appear to deny that there is a relationship, nor that there was contact — just that the company found no contact “that would influence the reporting.”
I think CTV will find its wordplay isn’t enough to defend the story — even if both accusers are standing by the spirit of their allegations, despite some key facts not backing them up.
One of the most challenging aspects of misconduct allegations is that they are so often he said/she said cases. Witnesses to either an accuser or an accused dramatically shift perceptions for this precise reason.
Any credible witness should have been included in the story. Any witness whose testimony wasn’t credible should still have been acknowledged — and challenged.
If Brown’s claims are true, this did not happen.
It’s unsurprising that Brown pledged in a Thursday post on his Facebook page to sue CTV. The network responded with a statement on Thursday: “We welcome the opportunity to defend our journalism in court.”
If this story becomes litigated in a courtroom, it will be about evidence. There will be no protection of the accusers’ identities. The facts, rather than vague recollections, will determine the outcome. The result, one hopes, will be a credible answer to what happened.
I have to wonder whether CTV will even report it, in that case.