The CBC has expressed regrets over a garbled online story that depicted re-elected Conservative MP Rachael Harder as "callous and ignorant." Records detailed snide questions from a CBC Calgary reporter who falsely accused the MP of spreading misinformation about COVID.
"I agree we failed to live up to the high standards we set for ourselves on several fronts," wrote Helen Henderson, senior director at CBC Calgary.
Henderson added: "This piece fell short of what we deem acceptable. Let me reiterate that I regret we did not live up to our, and our audience’s, expectations of CBC News."
The CBC, last November 25, posted a website story headlined "Lethbridge MP Under Fire For Spreading 'Misinformation' About Covid Deaths In Alberta." The article recited social media users' comments after MP Harder on her Facebook page posted a November 17 Toronto Sun story.
The Sun item correctly stated that most COVID deaths occurred among patients with pre-existing medical conditions like dementia. Figures were supported by subsequent data from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Institute of Actuaries, which put the average age of COVID victims at 86.
The CBC account read: "Harder’s sharing of an article on Facebook that says only ten 'otherwise healthy' people have died of COVID in Alberta has triggered angry responses from people who say she is showing a lack of compassion and empathy for all who have died of the disease."
The CBC quoted a Calgary doctor as stating MP Harder "has very little respect for human life." Another person was quoted as, "It seems as if our officials feel that it’s okay that so many people died simply because they have pre-existing conditions."
"The post has prompted a flurry of comments from people who say Harder’s decision to share the article is 'callous and ignorant,'" said the CBC. "Another post read, 'How dare you minimize this disease and the threat to all of us.'"
MP Harder called the CBC story "bent," "inaccurate," and "sensationalized."
CBC Ombudsman Jack Nagler agreed the story appeared manufactured – "I am not a big fan of stories based on outrage over social media," he wrote – and that there was no question data in the original Toronto Sun story were accurate. "They were," wrote Nagler.
The Ombudsman called the CBC version a "significant failure" that "failed the test of balance" under the Crown broadcaster’s Journalistic Standards And Practices guide, reported Blacklocks. "There were violations of policy, and I hope fervently that programmers will learn from their mistakes here," wrote Nagler.
"The overall package was flawed," he wrote. "CBC failed to meet standards."
The network released a written exchange between MP Harder and Bryan Labby, the CBC Calgary reporter who wrote the original story. "Do you believe people with underlying pre-existing medical conditions are less valued?" asked Labby. "Do you think less of these people because they have pre-existing conditions?"