The second cameraman on the grassy knoll

The new issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism has a profile of Robert Hurst, president of CTV News. A large portion of the piece revisits CTV’s infamous/brave/despicable decision to air the outtakes from Stephane Dion’s interview with Steve Murphy. 

In addition to details already known, it’s reported that CTV was worried about footage Radio-Canada had recorded on behalf of the press pool. For the record, the Radio-Canada explanation was not mentioned in CTV’s own account of the interview, nor in this letter to the editor by CTV Atlantic’s general manager. A previous attempt to deconstruct the event made only passing reference to the simple competitive consideration. Hurst has also previously said there was “no agreement” not to air the outtakes.

Excerpt from the Review after the jump.

After the third restart, Dion manages to dance around the question and the interview continues. When the red light clicks off, Murphy makes a hasty exit to be back in the Halifax studio for the evening newsbreak. Before producer Peter Mallette leaves, one of Dion’s aides asks if the retakes will air. Mallette says not to worry about it.

During the cab ride back to the station, the producer phones news director Jay Witherbee to describe the unusual beginning to the interview. When he arrives, Witherbee looks at the tape and decides to seek an opinion from higher up.

In his brightly lit, suburban Toronto office, steps from the national news desk, CTV News president Robert Hurst is finalizing plans for the network’s election coverage when he receives Witherbee’s urgent e-mail at 5:20pm Halifax time. Hurst calls the news director and, speaking in the gentle but firm voice he uses when dealing with problems, instructs Witherbee to upload the video to the internal network so he can see it.

The clock is ticking. By the time Hurst watches the footage with senior staff, it’s 5:40pm in the Maritimes. They make a quick decision: run the entire interview. Murphy’s already on the air, but during commercial breaks he works with his producer and director on the script…

Although the Liberals left the interview thinking the retakes wouldn’t air, one of Hurst’s concerns was that if CTV didn’t break the story, another outlet would use the footage Radio-Canada had recorded. Today, despite the ensuing ethical debate, Hurst remains resolute in his defence of that decision. It was one based on his own updates to the CTV News policy handbook and his adamant belief that openness is always better than censorship.

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