Far-right Sun TV invited me to debate "whether or not Canada's main stream media has a left-leaning bias."
Apparently I'm a "key commentator on the left side of the spectrum."
I'm flattered. Who doesn't want to be named a "key commentator" on something?
Then, warning flags went up. What if they want to tar and feather me for some of the nasty things I've written about them? Or for being soft on the CBC? Or less-than-reverent to the Queen?
What if this was their fiendishly cunning way of getting revenge?
After all, this is the very same Sun TV that in this space back in April I called:
"A conscious conspiracy to destroy traditional ethical journalism in our democracy and replace it with reality TV based entirely on far right-wing fantasy."
Back then, I meant the statement as over-the-top hyperbole. After watching some of its programs since then, I'm not so sure.
But wait, there was more. It got worse. The invitation was to debate Michael Coren, host of The Arena.
This is the same Michael Coren reputed to be the meanest sonofabitch in the Sun valley. The same Michael Coren I ridiculed back in that column for dissing the new NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair, when he said: "Never trust a man with a beard like that. Those glisteny eyes. Don't trust him."
If I accepted, I'd be walking into Sun TV's very own lion's den. So I did.
While my makeup was being done, I worked on possible answers to possible questions. That's what you do when you're about to be interviewed on national TV and you're scared.
What if Coren ranted and blustered about godless soft-on-crime-terrorist-loving-socialist-commie-pinkos conspiring to destroy this blessed Christian nation? What if he used that patented Fox TV-style interview technique he and the other Sun TV hosts have perfected -- never let the interviewee finish a sentence unless, of course, you agree with what's being said?
I've done innumerable TV interviews myself and trained thousands of experienced working journalists in hundreds of workshops in a dozen countries on how to do them.
So I know the dangers. It's Coren's camera, his microphone, his editing suite. He could manipulate the interview any way he wanted. He could make me look like an idiot, which I can do perfectly well all by myself. I certainly didn't need his help.
Ominously, Coren started with my time as executive producer and lead trainer for T.V. journalism at CBC. He asked incredulously, as if I'd announced that pigs can fly, "they have journalism training at the CBC?"
Not a good start.
I worried when he agreed with me that there's no journalistic conspiracy that decides which stories will be covered and which won't. His explanation: "People are too dumb and too talkative for any conspiracy to work."
I was certain he was a conspiracy theorist. What was he setting me up for?
We agreed that most young people going into journalism in Canada are on the left and have strong social consciences. And a real interest in freedom.
We agreed that CBC is in "particular trouble" because it's publicly funded. I make the point: "There is a theme of getting as close as possible to objectivity that still runs through the CBC. I don't think it's as strong as it was but it sets the tone for most of the other newsrooms in this country."
He replied: "I think public service is at the very centre of everything we do if we have any sort of public role."
It was around the eight-minute mark. Time was running out. He was being polite, agreeable and moderate. We were two journalists discussing their beloved profession together. He had baited the trap. Now, without a doubt, he was coming in for the kill.
Coren sumed up: "I wish you were still there [training at CBC news), because you seem a terrific guy ... but I can't agree with you that there's still a commitment to objectivity and public service [in CBC]. On that we can agree to disagree. You're a tribute to the Corporation. I wish there were more of you."
And it was all over.
This could well be the interview that ends Coren's stellar career as a righteous, right-wing, damn the torpedoes, take-no-prisoners bulldog sonofabitch at Sun News.
If it does, my apologies, sir.
I can't let the host of Connect with Mark Kelley fade into the CBC sunset without a few words.
The Spring of the Savage CBC Cuts has killed his show. But he's going out in splendid style. Kelley went back to high school for a week to shoot BullyPROOF, a thoughtful, significant, emotional and sometimes heart-breaking one-hour special aired earlier this month.
It's all about bullying. Seems one out of every four kids in our schools reports being bullied. In BullyPROOF, 150 of them talk to Kelley or tell their stores to camera in a private "Bully Booth." They talked of being called "fag," and "slut" and "ugly." They talked of being beaten up. They talked of the hurt, the pain, and crying themselves to sleep.
Mark Kelley's great and rare skill is that he's everyman. Yes, he's intelligent, good-looking, and has a good voice. But he doesn't posture, doesn't shout, and speaks in a normal voice at normal speed. He communicates on camera better than damn near anyone else in Canadian TV news.
In this hour, instead of everyman, Mark Kelley becomes every kid. He doesn't just sympathize, he empathizes. Joins them. Which is how he gets the kids to talk about bullying as bravely, as openly and as honestly, as they do.
The National should have such a host.