Last year the CBC got $675 million in new funding over five years from the Liberal government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was the first significant boost after years of flatlined subsidies under the previous Conservative regime. Perhaps emboldened by the generosity of a friendlier paymaster, the state-owned broadcaster has since been pressing Ottawa for an additional $400 million a year so it can air its TV shows without advertisements. This would raise the annual subsidy to almost $1.5 billion.
Federal Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly did not address the CBC’s request in a major cultural policy paper released this fall, but she did proclaim her government’s support for a “strong public broadcaster”. In a world where fears are rising about Canadian content being overwhelmed because domestic news and entertainment providers are bleeding audience to internet-based multinationals, it’s easy to imagine Liberal Ottawa writing a much fatter annual cheque to the CBC in the name of protecting Canadian culture.
But it hardly seems necessary if Canada is to realize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s vision of the country as a place without a cultural identity, the world’s first “post-national state”. And it hardly seems desirable if the CBC is going to make programming decisions like it did in the last month, when it aired one documentary peddling long-debunked conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination, and spiked another documentary that offered a refreshingly balanced look at the controversy over medical treatment for children presenting with gender dysphoria.
The CBC’s venerable Fifth Estate has done a lot of good work on important stories over many decades. But its record has been marred by repeatedly peddling fantastical stories about the 1963 murder of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. The most recent came on November 17, with “The JFK Files: The Murder of a President.”
The broadcast was produced by Brian McKenna, a veteran CBC documentary filmmaker who has authored no less than six on the topic for the Fifth Estate. The highly-decorated newsman’s many awards include a 2010 Pioneer Award from JFK Lancer, a Texas-based organization that conducts research and hold conferences in support of its fervent belief that the U.S. government has conspired for over half a century to hide the truth from the world. McKenna was honoured for his “lifetime of searching for the truth” about who killed JFK.
The award was well deserved. McKenna keeps finding conspiracy wherever he looks. The newspeg for his latest effort was the November release of a huge trove of U.S. government documents related to the assassination. It contained some interesting tidbits about CIA schemes to kill Fidel Castro and the FBI’s dim view of Martin Luther King but nothing particularly revelatory about the Kennedy shooting. Some bits were redacted by the Trump administration in the name of national security. That was enough to inspire McKenna to recycle some hoary old myths about the “truth” and the “cover up”.
Kennedy truth revealed! Again!
McKenna opened his new expose with a document dated two days after the assassination in which FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover is quoted as saying: “The thing I am concerned about is having something issued so that we can convince the public that Oswald is the real assassin.” This was presented as new evidence confirming the belief held by “many” that “Lee Harvey Oswald was the U.S. government’s patsy in JFK’s death.”
But the document is not “new” at all. It was written by Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Lyndon Johnson, and it was published 38 years ago by the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA). All it confirms is Hoover’s concern that “the public needed to be settled down” as FBI inspector James Malley, in charge of the investigation in Dallas, explained to the House Committee.
There was much concern about public reaction in the wake of the murder. Gossip about an international conspiracy was rampant because Oswald was a communist. He had defected to the Soviet Union in 1959. Hoover and Kennedy’s successor in the White House, Johnson, wanted to stop the rumours from escalating into a full blown Cold War panic.
The Fifth Estate’s November 17th broadcast recycles footage from an earlier documentary they broadcast – also a McKenna effort – from 1983. That production, titled “Who Killed JFK?” revived several well-debunked conspiracy theories including: Lee Harvey Oswald was a poor marksman; there were only 5.6 seconds between the shots fired; no single gunman could achieve such a feat; the bullet found to have struck both Kennedy and Texas Governor John Connally traversed an impossible trajectory; and the fatal head shot came from the front.
None of these claims were true then, or now. Oswald had qualified as a sharpshooter in the U.S. Marines. He might have had up to eleven seconds to fire his three shorts – well within his capability. Kennedy and Connally were aligned perfectly for one bullet to hit them both. The autopsy X-rays and photographs are clear – Kennedy’s head shot could only have come from the rear.
Probably the most outrageous claim in McKenna’s latest fiction was that Kennedy’s body was tampered with before the autopsy to cover up evidence that more than one gunman was involved. This elaborate coverup scenario is most closely associated with conspiracy theorist David Lifton, author of the widely-rebutted 1981 bestseller Best Evidence and a favourite source for earlier McKenna documentaries. Lifton claims the autopsy evidence is “fraudulent,” and thus evidence of a “coup.”
But the Fifth Estate conveniently leaves out that the fact that four of the Dallas doctors involved in treating Kennedy have gone on record to confirm there is no discrepancy between what they saw and the autopsy X-rays and photographs taken at the time. Further, the forensic pathology panel working for the House Select Committee authenticated the photographs and X-rays from Kennedy’s autopsy. The evidence is irrefutable. Kennedy’s body was not altered to hide evidence of anything.
McKenna foreshadows his next Fifth Estate Kennedy expose by suggesting the JFK files that were held back contain the “crown jewels – there’s something explosive there.” Don’t hold your breath. In Reclaiming History, Vince Bugliosi’s exhaustively-researched 2007 account of the assassination, Judge John Tunheim, Chairman of the Assassinations Record and Review Board, said he had examined all the material and found “nothing in any of the documents that was central to the assassination. There’s no smoking gun, and no substantive material was protected and not released by way of redactions.”
Bugliosi also quoted Robert Blakey, former Chief Counsel for the HSCA, who said: “I personally looked at everything that was classified by the FBI and the CIA, and therefore not made public, and I found nothing in them to indicate a conspiracy.”
None of this matters a whit to McKenna because he had a source none of these other investigators had – Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. He got a chance to quiz Castro on the Kennedy story as a reporter during a 1992 trip to Cuba with former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Castro told McKenna that Oswald was a CIA agent hooked up with anti-Castro Cubans. McKenna bought the story and reported it to his national CBC audience on November 17 as gospel: “They [the CIA] were running him, they were controlling him.”
The need not to know
It might be tempting to shrug off McKenna and the Fifth Estate’s obsession with Kennedy fantasies as just the eccentricities of a rogue operation within the giant CBC bureaucracy. But somebody higher up the food chain approves their budgets and their programs. Maybe it’s the same person – or more likely a management group – that decided this month to cancel the scheduled showing of another documentary, this one titled Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?
This BBC production looks at the increasing incidence of medical intervention to enable the chemical and surgical gender transformation of ever-younger children exhibiting signs of “gender dysphoria”. The film offers a well-balanced perspective on the transgender phenomenon and the issue of “gender affirmation”. It fairly represents those who contend that medical intervention should be available to children who evince a desire to change their gender, while also giving air time to Toronto sexologist Kenneth Zucker who prescribes patience based on evidence that most children outgrow gender dysphoria.
At the last moment the CBC decided to cancel Transgender Kids. In a Twitter announcement, it said: “In light of our own further review of the doc, coupled with audience reaction, we have decided not to air Transgender Kids. We think there are other docs that better offer insight into the realities of the transgender community and we look forward to airing those in the future.”
Since the documentary never actually aired, it’s probable that “audience reaction” refers to pre-emptive complaints from trans activists. One of them, Florence Ashley, was given a platform on the CBC’s online Opinion pages to condemn Zucker and the documentary and praise the decision to cancel it.
The decisions to run McKenna and spike Zucker speaks volumes about the political orientation and priorities of the CBC, and raises questions about whether those priorities are shared by taxpayers and viewers. An IPSOS/Reid poll from September 2010 indicated that while Canadian consumers “envisage themselves as being essentially balanced in terms of ideology,” they see the CBC as ideologically well to the “left” of themselves and almost every other news source. The survey looked at public perceptions of the CBC, BBC, Global, MSNBC, CTV, The Globe and Mail, CNN, the National Post, and Fox News. The CBC was viewed as the farthest to the left, with the BBC ranked second.
The corporation ventured even further out on the political fringe this month with a documentary series called Keep Calm and Decolonize. The five-part series, ostensibly part of CBC’s coverage of Canada’s 150th birthday, explores “what a ‘decolonized’ country might look like.” In one episode, called Flood, “a young woman, guided by Spider-Woman, must overcome colonial history and education to find herself.” A mélange of indigenous and LGBTQ grievance and entitlement narratives, the series fails utterly as news or art and amounts to progressive identity politics on steroids.
Is this really what Canadians want for news and entertainment from the state-owned broadcaster? At a cost of a billion or a billion and a half tax dollars a year? We ought to be concerned about Canadian voices drowning in a global sea of news and dreck produced elsewhere. But if the alternative is more conspiracy theories, less balanced coverage of the gender wars, and amateur progressive agitprop, I’d just as soon keep up with the Kardashians.