Krista Erickson interviews Margie Gillis on June 1, 2011.
Credits: Sun News Network
TORONTO - The startling thing about the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council ruling that an "aggressive" interview of dancer Margie Gillis by Sun News Network's Krista Erickson was legitimate journalism is that a record 6,676 people complained it was too tough.
That's more than three times the number of complaints filed in a whole year.
Rather than reflect on Erickson, that number says a hell of a lot about the pathetic state of journalism in this country, where hard questions are deemed mean and unwarranted.
Gillis seems a nice person and comes across on TV as warm and friendly. But she had difficulty justifying why she and her dance foundation should be getting government grants. And she fought back to defend her turf. Even nastily.
A lot of people are uneasy about the amount of taxpayers' dollars funnelled into culture - not necessarily Gillis' Dance Foundation, but to book publishers, artists whose paintings don't sell, the whole culture establishment.
The thing about the Erickson interview last year is that it was ineffably courteous, albeit it blunt and direct. Erickson did not belittle or mock Gillis, but acknowledged that she's something of an icon in this country and internationally, being awarded the Order of Canada, Order of Quebec, a Governor Generals Performing Arts award. A dancer and choreographer of considerable stature.
There was no name calling - just questions which made Gillis uncomfortable.
In fact, last June, off camera, Gillis fought back - fought back kind of dirty, if you ask me. She urged on Facebook, that those who disapproved of Erickson's questions might consider boycotting Sun News; might want to write advertisers urging they not use Sun News; might complain to the Broadcast Standards Council; might write their MP.
Gillis called Erickson's interview "biased, unprofessional, contemptuous ‘journalism,'" and that the Sun News TV network was disseminating "hate propaganda."
It could be argued that Gillis' reaction to Erickson's questions was far more intemperate and extreme than anything Erickson said. Gillis kind of floundered in the interview.
Many argue that the amount of taxpayers' money given to the Gillis Dance Foundation, spread over some 13 years, is not that much ($1.5 million?) and that the acclaim achieved by the dancing is worth the cost and enhances Canada's reputation.
That's not my view, but it's a valid justification for arts grants.
I'm inclined to the view that if an arts or cultural enterprise can't sustain itself among the public, then what we are doing with government grants is financing hobbies.
On reflection, many of the 6,676 complaints filed with the CBSC - surpassing the yearly average of 2,000 - seem the result of Gillis lobbying fans to respond on her behalf. One wonders how many who complained even saw the TV interview in question.
There's a difference between a tough interview and a rude interview.
Mike Wallace was a tough but courteous interviewer in the U.S., as was David Frost in Britain. In Canada, we had Gordon Sinclair and maybe Morty Shulman and Jack Webster in Vancouver. But they're long gone.
No one comes to mind today who fills their shoes.
Now that Krista Erickson has been vindicated, can we expect more no-nonsense interviews? Not mere polemics, but tough, well-researched questions delivered with authority, confidence and courtesy? One hopes so. There's no shortage of issues waiting to be exposed. Go get 'em Krista.