“Everybody knows the dice are loaded.” – Leonard Cohen
As a journalism student in university in Montreal I used to wonder how Leslie Roberts got on television. There was nothing to indicate that he had a college degree or had studied journalism. Likeable guy if nothing else, it wouldn’t be unfair to say he got his entrée into media through his family connections. Roberts came from a family with a long history of involvement in journalism. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
Roberts has resigned as Global Television’s senior news anchor and Executive Editor of Global Toronto, following a Toronto Star story alleging that he was the co-owner of a PR firm, Buzz PR, a public relations agency. Worse was the allegation that Roberts had regularly mentioned or invited as guests on his show, clients of Buzz PR.
“I regret the circumstances, specifically a failure to disclose information, which led to this outcome,” he said.
I borrowed the title for this post from a New York Times story about a hedge fund manager who was shot and killed by his thirty year-old son after the father lowered his monthly allowance. There is no violence in the Leslie Roberts story except that regarding a man shooting himself in the foot.
I was looking at my university transcript and one of the compulsory courses I had to do was “Ethics and Responsibility in Journalism.” But you need not have done that or any other course to have found something wrong in interviewing someone from an outfit that you owned. It was a clear conflict of interest.
After the Toronto Star story broke, Roberts, agreeing that “it didn’t look good,” said he had resigned from Buzz PR. He should have immediately resigned from Global Television, which a few days later said they had ended their association with him following an investigation “conducted with Global News Journalistic Principle and Practices and business conduct standards.”
This represented an epic failure on the part of Global Television: it should not have taken the Toronto Star to learn of these conflicts of interest. Had Roberts’s failure been limited to the non-disclosure of his ownership stake in Buzz PR it would have been bad enough. But he doubled down and had guests on his program who were clients of his PR company.
Jamaicans have a saying, “de higher the monkey climb, de more he expose,” which means the higher your ascent in life, the greater your responsibility and the higher your risk as well. But Leslie Roberts’s self-inflicted wounds could have been avoided. Any first year journalism student could have counseled him against his disastrous actions.