Chapter Twenty-seven

In an earlier chapter I described finding a script for a language program on CKUA that included a rant against Jews. The best that can be said for that smear was that it wasn’t part of a national effort: that form of anti-Semitism first came to my attention about a year later at CKRC, Winnipeg. The CKRC newsroom began to receive regular ‘newsletters’ from a bigot in Flesherton, Ontario. He called his organization “The Christian Action Movement.”
I brought the newsletters to the attention of the RCMP and was asked to ignore them rather than “draw attention to a few nuts.” Those “few nuts” turned up on my doorstep not long after I found a job as a broadcast journalist at CBC Edmonton.
I remember the circumstances clearly. As a Catholic, I subscribed to the diocesan newspaper, a rather bleak little weekly. I don’t know what I was looking for in its ‘community announcements’ when those three words ‘Christian Action Movement’ came into focus. They appeared in a plea to Catholic churches to lend their facilities to representatives about to tour the province.
Catholics working in communications in Edmonton had just formed an association to take advantage of an offer of free airtime on CFRN-TV and I had been elected to its executive. I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the diocesan newspaper revealing the true nature of the Christian Action Movement and asking Catholics to give them short shrift. To add some clout to the letter, I signed it:
“Patrick McDougall, Vice-President, Catholic Communications Committee, Edmonton.”
By the time the ‘Movement’ brought its traveling circus to Edmonton, I had forgotten about the Letter to the Editor. But the fact that the invaders were using their ‘Christian’ label to peddle anti-Semitism was news. We followed the CAM people wherever they made an appearance, dogging them to come clean about their true intentions. It all came to a head in one of our TV studios with the CAM’s chief spokesman on the other side of my microphone.
My first question to him was:
“Is it true that you are distributing copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?”
“That’s correct,” he confirmed.
“And are you aware of how the Protocols are described in Webster’s Dictionary?”
“I can’t say I am.”
I read the description to him:
“A forgery prepared for the use of the Czarist police to justify the pogroms of the 19th Century in Russia”.
He shrugged. “Oh, well,” he told me with a confident smile. “Webster’s.”

I must confess that – to this day – I haven’t the faintest notion what he meant. But it taught me a lesson: don’t try logic on anyone who has obviously set the process aside. Still, I owe a debt to the Christian Action Movement. When its people got back to Flesherton, Ontario, they lodged a formal complaint against me with the President of the CBC charging I had displayed my prejudice with that Letter to the Editor and then used my CBC job to persecute them. I only heard about the complaint and how it was dealt with years later, as they say “from a reliable source.” I was told the President called them into his office, commended my actions, and then ordered them out of the building.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Being fired from CKUA in 1961 had been traumatic and costly. It wasn’t easy to do what the situation clearly called for: to set the whole episode aside and move on. Four years later, the injustice of it still festered, but my CBC job presented enough challenges and pressures to push it all to the back of my mind most of the time.

It all caught up to me one morning in 1964 when the strict rotation we followed in the CBC newsroom had me working as the sole TV reporter available to Joe Taylor, that week’s Lineup Editor.
We were still scratching for news at CBC Edmonton. Though it was nine hours distant that early in the morning, we went right to work trying to find local stories suitable for the station’s voracious suppertime newscast.
After about an hour of digging, it became obvious that there was very little happening in the city that day – and certainly nothing we could use as a lead story. There was only one development that came close: an item buried in a thick document sent to us by the provincial treasury: the financial ‘estimates’ of the various government departments.
I recognized a prospective item for our suppertime news yarn in the estimates set out for Alberta Government Telephones, my employer when I worked for CKUA: what it would cost to run CKUA for a year. 150-thousand dollars didn’t strike me as an exorbitant sum, but Alberta Government Telephones was at that time claiming to be strapped for cash, and had asked the government for permission to raise the rates it charged its subscribers. The request had been met with outrage – especially outside Edmonton.
Both Joe and I saw a news story there: not a very exciting one, but at least something. We would have to peg our report to two nagging embarrassments CKUA continued to cause the government:
– that the station’s license to broadcast was still owned by the University of Alberta (where the ‘UA’ in CKUA came from) and not, as required by law, by the people operating the station – Alberta Government Telephones, or, more accurately, the government of Alberta. And –
– though the new transmitter installed in 1960 had appreciably improved CKUA’s signal in Edmonton and northern Alberta, the station still couldn’t be heard consistently or clearly in southern cities like Medicine Hat and Lethbridge.
Our developing story even had an ironic twist: Edmonton had its own telephone system, independent of AGT, so the people who could hear CKUA best didn’t contribute to its upkeep with their ‘phone bills, while those who couldn’t did.
We added them up:
– a basis in a newly released government document.
– a link to an already established embarrassment, and
– a twist.
Joe and I were satisfied we had found our lead story for the suppertime news. All that remained was a very personal dilemma for me: There was by then an established CBC style to be followed in presenting the news. It’s the same one in effect today: a studio announcer ‘sets up’ a story, and then brings a CBC newsman into the picture, literally, to fill in the details. It’s thought to lend the report more authority.
My question to Joe was: who’s that newsman going to be? I had worked for CKUA and been dismissed because of a disagreement with the government; I didn’t think I should be the one to suggest that CKUA was an unnecessary expense; it would look too much like revenge. Joe agreed – up to a point. But I was all he had that day, and time was running out.
Accordingly, I found myself later that afternoon standing on Jasper avenue, microphone in hand, with – as a backdrop – the CKUA mural I had designed, doing a stand-up report described this way in Marylu Walters’ 2002 book “CKUA, Radio Worth Fighting For”:

“An editorial read over CBXT by one Pat McDougall brought attention to the fact that AGT’s budget “could be pared by a 150-thousand dollars or more every year by simply selling a radio station it isn’t licensed to operate.” The editorial called the money spent on CKUA “the least explainable item on AGT’s budget” and pointed out that the station was heard best in Edmonton, “and worst, not at all, practically speaking, in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat.”

Of course, what I was reading was not an ‘editorial.’ The CBC doesn’t permit editorials on its newscasts, and even where a close equivalent makes an appearance elsewhere on CBC TV, it isn’t a newsman who is seen reading it. Rex Murphy, yes, but Don Newman, never. At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. But even at the mighty CBC, things aren’t always as they are supposed to be.

One Response to “Chapter Twenty-seven”

  1. Alec Bollini Says:

    I wish you had expanded more on the Christian Action Movement. Are they still around? Were you criticized, praised for your report?
    Hell, now I’m sounding like an editor!

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