Thursday, April 12, 2007

My scoop trumps your families

I sell commercial insurance for a living. I blog as a hobby. But even as a hobby, I take it pretty seriously. I've experienced the frustration that comes from working on a story for a few weeks, only to see it show up in the mainstream media first. In fact, I'm sitting on a couple of stories right now that I'm just aching to tell. One I can't write because of OPSEC reasons - I've resigned myself to that. The other I can't publish until the time is right, because I promised my sources they could trust me.

So I understand how much greater the competitive pressures must be for someone who makes their living as a journalist. Get it right, but get it first, or start looking for other work. It's a ridiculous business that way.

I said all that so I could say this: Bob Fife at CTV News should be ashamed of himself.

He broke the story of the two soldiers killed in Afghanistan yesterday afternoon, on television and the CTV website, while KAF was under communications lockdown pending notification of next of kin. "But, that's his job," you say. Really? Let's think through just how he did that job yesterday.

Assume each deployed CF soldier at KAF has ten people they know back home who would be devastated by their death. Just ten. Spouses, children, siblings, parents, best friends, coworkers. I'm not talking about people who played hockey with them in the second grade, or spent two weeks at summer camp with them in 1992. Ten is a conservative estimate.

With about 2,500 personnel in theatre, that means Fife and his producers at CTV News scared the hell out of at least 25,000 Canadians. Wives saw the news, and sat watching the phone, feeling like they were going to empty their guts. Sisters called each other at work to ask frantically if the other had heard anything about their kid brother. Toddlers knew something was wrong at home, but didn't know what. Tens of thousands of people knew soldiers had died, but didn't know if it was their soldier.

And for what? CTV has reporters in theatre to cover news like this, and they did once Col Cessford could confirm the incident in public. Fife couldn't actually tell us any details in his initial report - not who was killed, or how. The real story didn't come out until the embedded media could tell it anyhow.

No, all CTV gained through Fife's impatience was a sensationalized couple of hours between when he broke the word and when the details were released.

His minor scoop - one that was forgotten by the vast majority of his audience by the time the sun came up this morning - was worth more to him than the feelings of tens of thousands of Canadians with loved ones in Afghanistan.

I understand competitive pressure. I've lived on what I could sell each month. And I still think Bob Fife and his producers at CTV should be ashamed of themselves.

There's a reason the CF has a procedure to follow for situations like this, and it has nothing at all to do with arbitrarily restricting information. The process is in place to protect soldiers' families as much as possible - the ones who didn't lose a loved one, but worry constantly that they will, as well as the ones whose lives are changed forever by a knock on the door.

Bob Fife's actions said "to hell with your families, my scoop trumps your families." I hope one day he gets to meet one of those wives or mothers he emotionally tortured for a few hours yesterday. I hope they look him in the eye and tell him exactly why they think he's an asshole. I hope he has the good grace to apologize, as lame and weak a gesture as it is coming now after he's already done the damage.

But he's a journalist, which means I'm not holding my breath.


Blogger WE Speak said...

In '86 I was on HMCS Saguenay when our main gun exploded during sea trials. Lots of noise, smoke, blood and injured people. As it was sea trials, the gun's doors were open and around 8 to 10 people were crowded around the back.

We didn't have a Sea King on board so had to call Halifax Traffic to request them to clear all shipping for a high speed run into Halifax to offload our injured. Halifax traffic refused to clear the traffic and authorize the run unless we were specific with nature of the emergency. No amount of arguing/pleading could dissuade them. Eventually we had to tell them that there was an explosion on board, we had multiple casualties that required immediate treatment. (This conversation was taking place on open VHF radio)

This was shortly before noon. At noon the local CHUM station lead off with the story that there had been an explosion on Saguenay. At 12:15 the report went national with the futher caveat that they weren't sure if the explosion was in the bridge area or engine room. 12:30 - there was an estimate of 8 to 10 casualties, no known dead, seriousness of the injuries was unknown, explosion confirmed somwhere forward - possibly the ships 3" 50 gun.

My mother was listening to the radio at home in Guelph. The next 4 1/2 hours were pure hell for her. She called my father at work to come home. She called all my sisters. Next she started trying to get information. The news reports that followed had no further details. She knew that I worked on the bridge and was beside herself.

She called local radio stations, newspapers, TV, the recruiting Centre in Kitchener, CFB Halifax, the local MP and god knows how many other numbers.

By this time we had arrived back in Halifax and the Dockyard was locked up tight. The ambulances were waiting and took the injured immediately to the base hospital. Thankfully the injuries were not life threatening. Most of the casualties were able to walk off the ship. The crew was kept onboard for the next several hours while a preliminary investigation was carried out. We were finally released at around 5pm.

I have to say, that was the hardest phone call I've ever had to make in my life. About an hour and a half with mostly my mother crying in relief on the phone. A local reporter had called her back shortly before I reached her to tell her that he just saw a wire report that all the Next of Kin had been notified, so if she hadn't received a call, I was probably alright.

I can't even begin to grasp the pain she and the rest of my family went through for those hours, not knowing if I was alive or dead, injured or safe.

I remember thinking that I wouldn't mind having the pleasure of smacking the shit out of the person who first broadcast the story and the other guy at Halifax Traffic who made it all possible.

Mine was but one story. There were approximately 245 other people onboard that day - both military and civilian. As Brooks stated, a lot of emotional damage to go around.

Sometimes people just need to shut the fuck up.

9:57 a.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger Mark said...

And that, my friends, is why you never allow media on your lawn or answer the door when they knock.

They care NOTHING about you.

12:26 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger maz2 said...

OT. Just a claim on your time.

Please spell out the acronym "OPSEC".

No exclusions, please.

12:29 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger Dr.Dawg said...

It's "operational security." But I still can't figure out how an insurance salesman is privy to that sort of thing in the first place.

1:27 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

But I still can't figure out how an insurance salesman is privy to that sort of thing in the first place.

I spent some time in uniform, and I have friends, Dawg.

1:40 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger Dr.Dawg said...

Understood, and sorry if I sounded smart-assed. But I thought OPSEC meant just that--need to know, that sort of thing.

4:06 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger langmann said...

Well you sounded like a smart-ass Dawg.

The real issue here is the insensitivity of CTV, but what do you expect from Fife, who is always rather arrogant for which I cannot see why.

5:47 p.m., April 12, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

I think Fife did his job just fine. The army has no right to ask the media to keep quiet about a story. I don't believe their concern was with the families of the victims. They want to buy time to prepare a proper response with the government. And, oh, yeah, lets's not forget to tell their families. It's NOT the other way around.

Fife acted responsibly by not naming the victims, and that's what any responsible journalist should do until the families are notified.

If Fife had kept the news secret, the public in general would have been left with the feeling that maybe he was working for the army and NOT his viewers.

Shame on all of you for suggesting FIfe doesn't care about soldiers or families. I'm a journalist, and we have families, we have feelings, and yes, some of our relatives are indeed in the army.

1:53 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Posting the same comment twice, Mr. Angry Reporter? What are you, some kind of journo spam-bot?

2:31 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

Babbling Brooks, I'm new at blogging, hence the unintended double-post. But I love how you IMMEDIATELY jump at the conclusion that I must be using a bot. I expected no less of someone with your values.

3:47 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère: Your "values" seem on a par with Haroon Siddiqui's.


4:08 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

Mark, Ottawa:

If Haroon is a journalist, then there's a good chance we share the same values because we're in the same boat. Hope there's nothing wrong with that.

4:20 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère: Along with those famous journalists Karl Marx

and Joseph Goebbels?

Just to point out that "journalist", in and of itself, has nothing in particular to do with values, even in Canada.

For Siddiqui (do you really not know who he is?):


4:52 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

Mark in Ottawa:

OK, I just looked at Siddiqi. He's a columnist, a man paid to express his opinions. I'm a reporter, a man paid to keep his opinions out of the facts, as is Fife, and most others in the Media. Columnists, editorial writers etc. are hired by newspapers, radio and TV to add colour and entertainment to the otherwise rigid and strict formats dictated by news reports.

You are free to think otherwise.

But hey, no one forces you to consume media if you think they're poison. Bloggs hold the truth, after all ;-)

I can't comment on Marx and Goebbels. They're not remembered for their media work.

5:05 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Jim Morrell said...

I've never seen such an idiotic response by a reporter. Fife is a disgrace to the profession. A proper response? How about allowing families to be told their loved ones died for Fife decides to do on live TV. A real scoop....a veritable Watergate Conspiracy for him. There is not much the military can say beyond the sad news that xx soldiers died. If Fife gave a damn about families, he would not have done what he did.
By the way, has anyone looked to see what Canadians think of journalists lately? It's not surprising given this behaviour.

10:14 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

With all due respect Mr Morrel, Fife didn't identify the victims. THAT would have been wrong, if the families weren't notified.

Not agreeing with me doesn't make me an idiot. And Canada's role in Afghanistan is a highly divisive subject in this country.

10:25 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Jim Morrell said...

It's amazing how reporters have such moral smugness in deciding want we have 'the right' to know. I'd like to know what went through Robert Fife's head before he started blabbing on tv. What went through CTV's collective brains back at the newsroom? Great, let's run with this blockbuster story because it's really in the interests of Canadians for us to announce to military familiies across Canada that two of your fathers, husbands and sons died today - oh and now for the weather report. From what I understand, CT -Vee didn't even have the balls to give the Army a heads-up.

As for Angry Reporter. Why don't you go and right another "objective" story for whatever rag you write for.

10:28 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Jim Morrell said...

If roles were reversed, I suspect that reporters - angry or otherwise - may feel differently.

10:31 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

Maybe it would be different, I don't know. Our guys get murdered during every war while we try to explain to the public what the army is doing, and I've never seen a soldier cry over our fate.

I understand your frustrations. You know my blog, just go and express yourself.

10:46 p.m., April 13, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Not agreeing with me doesn't make me an idiot.

You're right. It's pretty much everything you say that makes you an idiot. Nothing to do with whether we disagree.

And since you're new to blogging, let me give you a hint: it's considered poor form to flog your url in the comments section of someone else's blog. Especially when you've come solely to criticize.

12:39 a.m., April 14, 2007  
Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Expoz, your comment crossed a line, so it was deleted.

2:02 p.m., April 14, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...

I just heard the terrible tragedy in Blacksburgh, Virginia. 33 dead so far.

I think it's totally uncool for CNN, FOX, and all those other stations to even mention it, as police are still trying to notify the families of the victims.

This rush to throw this on the air, while parents of thousands of students now wonder if their sons/daughters are among the victims.

Your thoughts?

7:35 p.m., April 16, 2007  
Blogger Mark, Ottawa said...

Go poof!


7:43 p.m., April 16, 2007  
Blogger cliffhanger said...

"I think it's totally uncool for CNN, FOX, and all those other stations to even mention it, as police are still trying to notify the families of the victims."
--that depends--was there a known protocol in place for this type of incident, a communications blackout that involves not only the media but everyone in the location--preventing them from contacting loved ones, and their loved ones from contacting them.

9:48 p.m., April 17, 2007  
Blogger The Angry Reporter/Reporter en Colère said...


Police, unlike the army, can't impose a protocol, espcially in a public place. That's why the constitution protects the press from gag orders.

But you're right, embedded journalists are subjected to controls.

6:10 p.m., April 19, 2007  

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