Robert Cushman, a theatre critic for the National Post, reviewed a Stratford Festival play for which his son was an assistant director. He acknowledged it in his review, but is there still a conflict of interest?

Robert Cushman, a theatre critic for the National Post, recently wrote a review of Stratford Festival play for which his son was an assistant director. He acknowledged the family connection in his review, but is there still a conflict of interest?

The Toronto Star's entertainment editor Janet Hurley certainly thinks so. Asked what she would do if a similar situation arose at the Star, she said in an email to J-Source that she would say "absolutely no to a review."

"Personally I wouldn't allow a reporter/critic to cover/review a show in which a family member had a role," she wrote. "If the play was important to review I would assign it to someone else."


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Cushman disagreed. He told J-Source there isn’t a conflict since his son did not have a prominent role in the production. “(There) would have been if he'd been the director,” he said.

J-Source also asked Benjamin Errett, the Post's managing editor of features, to explain the newspaper's decision to allow Cushman to review the play.

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"We made a point of using another critic when reviewing Terminus, a play directed by Mitchell Cushman last year," he said. "For The Merchant of Venice, though, we believe the elder Cushman's encyclopedic knowledge of Stratford and the younger Cushman's more peripheral involvement with the production warranted the best review we could give our readers, one complete with full disclosure in the traditional cast-and-crew paragraphs."

Don Rubin, president of the Canadian Theatre Critics Association, said also raised the issue with Cushman.

"I have asked him to write about the issue for the Canadian Theatre Critics Association but he has said there is no issue," Rubin said.

Rubin, speaking as an individual, says he wouldn't review a play his children were involved in.

"If Robert feels he can do it with integrity — and that has always been his guideline — I won't criticize him. He is an honourable man," Rubin said. "In any event, his responses have consistently been in line with what other professional reviewers are saying about the same work. Would another writer from the Post say anything different? I have my doubts."

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Tamara Baluja is an award-winning journalist with CBC Vancouver and the 2018 Michener-Deacon fellow for journalism education. She was the associate editor for J-Source from 2013-2014.