The Inside Agenda Blog

A Father's Dilemma

by Steve Paikin Monday February 24, 2014

After he retired as the Super Bowl-winning quarterback of the Miami Dolphins, Bob Griese became a TV colour commentator, broadcasting US college football games.

In one game he had to work, the starting quarterback for one of the teams was his son.

Griese had a problem. He was supposed to be a balanced commentator. But could he ever been seen as such, when his son was on the field?

Candidly, I'm facing a similar issue these days. My oldest son Zach has announced that he wants to seek a Liberal nomination for the next federal election in 2015.
 
Ever since my kids were toddlers, I've dragged them to political events so they can see "democracy in action." I've never cared whether they got involved in politics, but I did want them to understand it and be engaged citizens.
 
As it happens, three of them have gotten involved. Zach, 22, joined the Liberals when he was 14. Henry, 20, has told NDP MP Olivia Chow that once he returns from outside the province where he's currently attending university, he'll work on her mayoralty campaign. Teddy, now 16, worked on PC MPP Christine Elliott's leadership bid against Tim Hudak in 2009 --- he even sold about 25 memberships for the cause.
 
My 10-year-old Giulia is still, I think, too young to participate. But she knows the names of all the federal and provincial leaders (the Greens too), and I like that.
 
I'm proud of all my kids, all the time, but I confess I'm pleased that they've all taken an interest in politics.
 
But things are now more complicated.  Zach's running for federal office puts him in a higher profile position than my kids' previous occasional volunteer involvement. It also means when I cover Liberal Party of Canada political conventions for TVO, as I did in Montreal this past weekend, I deal with "The Zach Issue" a lot. People constantly talk to me about him, which as his father delights me, but as a journalist trying to do his job, occasionally puts me in a tricky spot. 
 
Last Friday, Zach and I decided to wear our "lucky" Team Canada jerseys as we watched the Olympic men's hockey semi-final against the United States, at the convention.
 
With a few minutes left in the game and Canada clinging to a 1-0 lead, I suddenly noticed more than a dozen cameras descend on the area where we were watching the game. What was going on, I wondered?
 
Suddenly it became apparent as I looked over my shoulder. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau had dropped by to watch the end of the game. As the seconds ticked down, we all started to cheer wildly at Canada's victory.  I hugged Zach and was completely oblivious to the fact that media photographers were snapping pictures of all of us by the hundreds --- oblivious, that is, until I saw the picture below in La Presse the next morning. 

What I thought was a nice moment shared with my son suddenly looked like Mr. Trudeau's posse celebrating altogether. I probably contributed to this impression because I was wearing my "lucky" hockey jersey rather than a suit.  I even got a few emails from friends asking if I was thinking of joining the federal Liberal Party. 
 
In my business, this is known as a problem. 
 
(The good news was, I learned from my mistake. When the same circumstances were at hand during the gold medal men's hockey game against Sweden, I quickly ran away from the couch as the clock counted down, thereby avoiding repeating my mistake).
 
So I'm writing this for two reasons:
 
1. I want to leave no doubt that while I love and am interested in politics, it has always been strictly as a neutral observer. I never have been a member or supporter of any party. It's just not in my DNA which is why I feel I'm ideally suited to journalism.
 
2. I would be delighted if those reading this had any advice. How does one cover federal Liberal political events when one's son hopes to be elected under that party's banner? I know in my head, my heart, and my gut that I'm 100 per cent neutral when it comes to 337 of Canada's riding results. I also know that as Zach's father, and should he win the nomination in Hamilton-West-Ancaster-Dundas,  I couldn't be neutral on the result there.  
 
But more generally, is it now impossible for me to be seen as neutral, and therefore do I need to do something about it? Should I avoid Liberal Party of Canada events going forward? Am I exaggerating the concern here? After all, of the hundreds of thousands of people who saw the picture or know of my perceived conflict, I received only four emails over the weekend. Is that indicative that this isn't that big a deal? Or is there more concern simmering under the surface?
 
I don't know the answers to any of these questions. I know that TVO as an organization has a Journalistic Programming and Outside Communications Content Standards guidebook covering this and other similar situations. I also realize the fact that this exists may do nothing to allay the concerns of some members of the public. 
 
It's interesting: I've been in journalism for more than 30 years, but have never faced this "father's dilemma" before. I'm genuinely conflicted as to what to do.

I'd appreciate any thoughtful advice you might have.