I’m baffled by people arguing that CBC host Evan Solomon shouldn’t have been fired.
The conflict of interest seems obvious.
Solomon was inviting rich and powerful people on his TV and radio shows. He made a secret deal with a friend and art collector to try and get some of those people to buy some of the works from his collection in return for a 10-per-cent commission.
So how tough are the interview questions going to be? If Solomon wanted to persuade former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney to spend thousands of dollars on paintings from his friend Bruce Bailey’s collection, is he going to risk alienating him during a 10-minute interview?
We’re not talking small change. Solomon pocketed $300,000 in barely 12 months on works sold to Jim Balsillie, co-founder of Research in Motion (now Blackberry). Solomon’s access to Balsillie came because he was ostensibly trying to woo him as a guest on his interview show.
So he used his CBC position to make contact with Balsillie and, when they met for the first time, brought Bailey along as a guest. If Balsillie had appeared on the show - that never worked out - would Solomon have put his big commission cheques at risk with a tough interview?
And, more importantly, what would a reasonable viewer who learned of the secret deal think about Solomon’s independence or commitment to journalism?
Solomon has not spoken about the deal, or the firing. In a written statement, he claimed he had disclosed the arrangement to CBC management.
But that appears to be a half-truth. He signed the 10-per-cent deal with Bailey in August 2013, and kept it secret until this year, when he and Bailey got in a $1-million fight over the commissions owed and the truth was going to come out.
Personally, it seems sleazy to me to be steering people to buy art, supposedly as a friend, without revealing you’re getting secret payments if they buy. That’s a conflict worth declaring in personal life.
The whole affair also highlights - again - the palsiness of celebrity journalists and the powerful in a club with its own unwritten rules. (I’ve written about distance between journalists and the people they cover in The Tyee.)
There are good questions still to ask. Why did CBC only act when the Toronto Star reported the story, rather than investigating more thoroughly when Solomon belatedly revealed the arrangement?
And, as Bruce Livesay asks here, how come Solomon got a quick chop when Amanda Lang, also caught out in a serious conflict, was defended by CBC brass.
But Solomon betrayed the trust of the corporation and viewers by creating a clear conflict between his roles as journalist and commissioned art salesman. His credibility is gone.
I’d fire him.