Fathers and sons

Dear Steve Paikin:

I read your blog about you and your son and I agree, you have a serious problem. As a high-profile journalist covering politics and public issues on TVO, how do you deal with your son Zach’s plan to seek the Liberal nomination in the federal riding of Hamilton West-Ancaster-Dundas? As you rightly ask, can you continue to be seen as neutral, do you have to stop covering Liberal politics, or are you exaggerating your concern? The last question is the simplest. No, you are not exaggerating. But how do you balance being a father with being a journalist?

Let me tell you how this works in the real world. When I was Washington Bureau Chief for The Financial Post, then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney visited President George H. W. Bush. I wrote an article criticizing Mulroney. At the time, my son Mark was an executive assistant on Mulroney’s staff. Marjory LeBreton, who was deputy chief of staff and in charge of political appointments for Mulroney, went on the warpath. She castigated Mark and complained to anyone else who would listen about my views. So, if your son becomes a Liberal candidate and you criticize the Liberals in any way, party members will complain to Zach and blame him for the sins of the father. Conversely, if you don’t criticize the Liberals as much as the other parties, people will presume you are pulling your punches.

You’ve already run afoul of the problem. Those photos on the weekend showing you, Zach and Justin Trudeau cheering for the Canadian men’s hockey team made it look like you’d gone over to the dark side. I understand you were caught up in a situation beyond your control, and the next time a similar possibility presented itself, you skedaddled out of sight, but it won’t be the last time you find yourself where you shouldn’t be.

Transparency is obviously helpful, but is it enough? On BNN, for example, when someone is commenting on stocks, their holdings are listed onscreen. Viewers are made aware of a potential bias but the notices serve another purpose. The commentator is seen as an expert on those holdings because research has been done and money invested. An onsceen crawl announcing that your son is a Liberal won’t help you in the same way.

All journalists have biases. The critical issue is do those biases get in the way of their reporting. In your case, recusing yourself from political commentary would be professional death. Too many topics would be offside. The Agenda would be the worse for such skimpy coverage.

So, by all means, carry on. Tell it like it is. And root for your son. If he does win the seat, there’s no reason why you both can’t do your respective jobs, but it won’t be easy for either of you. And you probably thought the teenaged years were supposed to be the toughest.

Update: Two job titles have been corrected from the original version.

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