CBC ombudsman: A famous aphorism only works if it’s used the way it’s meant
CBC ombudsman Esther Enkin reviews a complaint that a famous Trudeau quote was misused in a World Report story on Bountiful, BC.
The complainant, Don Bourgeois, objected to a reporter’s use of the famous Trudeau quote about the state having no place in the nation’s bedrooms in the context of a story about charges against the leaders of the polygamist sect in Bountiful, B.C. He thought it could be taken to mean that Trudeau would condone sex with children. The way the story is written leaves it somewhat ambiguous. This is really a reminder about the importance of sharp writing.
You were concerned about a story broadcast on the 7:00 a.m. edition of World Report on October 9, 2014, concerning a court case against the leaders of the polygamist community of Bountiful, British Columbia. The reporter invoked the famous phrase of Pierre Elliot Trudeau about the state having no place in the bedrooms of the nation. You asked what the journalistic purpose of using the reference might be in the context of a story about polygamy and the trafficking of underage girls. You explained your concerns:
The report left the impression, with me at least, that Trudeau’s comment included sex with children. For those who are not familiar with the context, Mr. Trudeau was speaking on a much different matter – same sex relations or other sex relations between adults in private.
Paul Hambleton, the Managing Editor of CBC Radio and Television News, responded to your concern. He replied that the Trudeau quote is often used in the context of discussions about “the enforcement of the law applied to a citizen’s private life.” He added that in this case the story was emphasizing the question of whether the British Columbian government had the right to prosecute the leaders of the polygamist sect in Bountiful for their “lifestyle.” He explained it was kind of shorthand in a brief radio news item so that listeners would understand the issues involved. He noted that the second reference was a “stylistic device closing the piece by referring once again to that famous quote.” He added that it might have been more useful to use a more up to date reference:
That said, I’ll concede that the quote in such a short piece might have been a trifle laboured, and may have distracted the listener from the issues at play in the story, being asked to recall suddenly an event that happen so long ago.
I hope this helps to explain the reference and that while it was grounded in political history for effect, perhaps a more up to date reference even to the BC Supreme Court ruling might have worked better.