I have a generally low opinion of most major news media. They’ve devolved to be more about “entertainment” than “news” or – one could only dream – “journalism”. CBC News is not one of the worst, but their record is not great. But if there is a single blight on that network that brings the whole thing to shame, it has to be “commentator” Kevin O’Leary.
Kevin O’Leary is not a journalist. He’s a businessman whose main skill seems to be estimating the value of businesses. Or at least, that’s what he pretends it is.
What Kevin O’Leary really is, is an entertainer. He is a television personality. He is a character. Being interviewed by Kevin O’Leary is no different from being interviewed by Stephen Colbert or Marg Delahunty, except that the latter two are funny.
His real skill is self-promotion – that is really why he has a job on CBC. What boggles my mind is: how in the hell can CBC even pretend pretend to be a legitimate news network with him on the payroll.
It’s one thing for an entertainer with an over-the-top persona to have one of the spots on Dragon’s Den. That show is entertainment (or at least, that is what it is intended for), so it makes perfect sense to have a self-aggrandizing asshole on the cast. If his persona is grating and offensive, so much the better – Anne Robinson and Simon Cowell showed that big dicks mean big popularity is as true in prime time as it is in porn.
But how in the hell did this guy manage to weasel his way onto a news network – a news network that is, to my eye at least, trying not to be farcical? His main role is as the second half of the team on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, where he is bafflingly paired with real journalist Amanda Lang. Now Lang is a good journalist. Yes, she probably got to where she is thanks to O’Leary, but she does actually deserve to be there. She knows her shit, and she always makes a positive impact when she’s on one of Peter Mansbridge’s panels with other business and economics analysts. And when O’Leary doesn’t show up and she’s paired with Rudyard Griffiths, or David Kauffman, or… you know… just about anyone else (except Bruce Sellery, who, really, is just O’Leary Lite)… it’s a really good business news show. I don’t always agree with Lang’s politics, but at least I can respect her as a journalist.
But the moment O’Leary opens his mouth, you’d think you switched to the Comedy Network by accident. It’s not just that he’s abrasive – he’s outright offensive. And it’s not just that he’s offensive – he’s fucking stupid. He’ll sit there with a straight face and brush off measures to prevent the deaths of factory workers in impoverished countries by repeating his stock lines like “money, money, money” or “it’s always about money” or “money is all that matters”. Nor is there any kind of rational argument behind that position – it’s just what his persona is supposed to do: he always says everything is about making money… always… everything. Lang could do the show with one of O’Leary’s cutouts and a recording loop that repeats: “It doesn’t matter! All I care about is: how am I going to make money?”
And if O’Leary’s position on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange is bizarrely out of place, even more so are the random appearances he makes when summoned for comment by other anchors during the course of the news. For reasons I can’t fathom – other than that O’Leary is probably dumping money into CBC – O’Leary appears to be the go-to guy for comment on any news involving cell phones or the cell phone industry, or indeed any kind of communications or media industry comment. He has no knowledge about any of these things, mind you, other than that he uses cell phones and watches media (or, as he often comments, he doesn’t watch the media so much as his kids do). But he’s the correspondent they call.
How are the program managers at CBC News not realizing how they’re failing in the effort to look respectable when they can – with a straight face – cut from O’Leary’s deranged and uninformed ranting about cell phones while travelling in his limo right to a piece about the Syrian War refugee crisis?
As abrasive and ignorant as O’Leary’s persona is, it’s no surprise that he’s been involved in some controversies. My first experience with O’Leary – before I even knew who he was – came from such a case. During the Occupy Wall Street protests, Pulitzer-winning journalist Chris Hedges was a guest on The Lang and O’Leary Exchange, discussing Occupy Wall Street, when O’Leary started calling him a “nutbar” and making absurd straw man comments about how Hedges was trying to shut every corporation down (i.e., not just the financial sector). Hedges tried to answer calmly and rationally, patiently explaining exactly what his point was while O’Leary tried to talk over him, and finally when Dianne Buckner – who was sitting in for Lang – comments that it looked like he and O’Leary could have a huge argument over the issue, Hedges said that he wasn’t interested in those kinds of antics and that “this sounds like Fox News”. It actually got worse from there when O’Leary cut back in. Hedges soldiered on right to the end, staying on point and keeping it to the issues – while O’Leary continued to accuse him of nonsense – until finally at the end when Buckner signed him off and thanked him for coming, Hedges – clearly disgusted – said “it’ll be the last time”.
That interview went viral, which is how I heard about it, though I knew nothing of O’Leary or The Lang and O’Leary Exchange. Eventually the CBC ombudsperson stepped in, and ruled that O’Leary was out of line. What puzzles me now, though – knowing what I know now – is… what about this specific incident was so bad that it attracted a slap on the wrist from the ombudsperson? I don’t see anything in that exchange out of the ordinary for O’Leary. That’s “normal”, for him. Hedges does a remarkable job of not rising to it – maybe that made O’Leary’s idiocy that much more stark in this case. Or maybe hearing CBC News compared to Fox News hit a little too close to home.
There’s no shortage of examples of O’Leary acting like a tool and soiling the supposed reputation of CBC News. I wish I could find one amusing example of Amanda Lang straight up lecturing on air to stop calling unions
a cancer. (I don’t think he ever did after that, either.) But CBC just lets most of these incidents slide.
The most recent example is going viral now. You may have heard of the Oxfam report that points out that the 85 richest people are worth as much as the poorest half of all humanity. Well, when O’Leary heard it, his response was: “This is fantastic news!”
The fallout from this latest turd has prompted a petition to get O’Leary off the air, which, at the time I’m writing this, is pretty much complete.
I honestly don’t expect the petition to have much effect – there is simply no way CBC is going to fire O’Leary from Dragon’s Den, and he was specifically imported by Shark Tank because he’s the ideal asshole for the job. But I hold out hope that someone at CBC News will wake up and remember what the word “journalism” means, stop giving this clown a platform, and become a news platform worth looking to for news.