The Inside Agenda Blog

Why We Booked Michael Bryant on The Agenda

by Steve Paikin Thursday September 13, 2012

I can't recall the last time I've read so many negative comments about why we booked a guest on The Agenda.

Two nights ago, Ontario's former attorney-general, Michael Bryant, was our guest. He talked about the events of August 31, 2009, and those 28 seconds that changed his life, and resulted in the death of Darcy Sheppard. But he talked about much more than that as well.

Let's acknowledge off the top that people who are angry about something tend to be more motivated to respond than those who are content. Let's also acknowledge that the vast majority of the complaints have come from people who are too chicken to put their names to those complaints, and tweet under pseudonyms.  Such is life in the twitterverse.

Having said that, I've received a torrent of borderline vicious notes, emails, messages, and tweets excoriating our decision to have Bryant on the program. Here's a sample:

* Ask some real questions. Grow some balls.

* The only thing insulting and silly is the wool you and your pal Bryant think you can pull over peoples eyes.

* Why do you defend the murderer Michael Bryant? Do you have stock in his new book? Did he promise you a position if he gets elected?

* I guess when Navigator calls, you air whoever’s retaining them.

* So you think that acknowledging that Bryant is purely on a book-selling/image-rebuilding tour is stupid?

I may find the sentiments behind these comments silly or repugnant, but as a public broadcaster, I also think our shareholders --- the taxpayers, the viewers --- are entitled to a response. So here comes...

Michael Bryant was booked to appear on The Agenda for many reasons:

1. He's a former attorney-general of Ontario. The "Bonfire of the Vanities" nature of his story is compelling and extraordinary.

2. He's an alcoholic, and went public with that fact in his book. I've known Bryant ever since he got into politics in 1999 and I had no clue he was an alcoholic. His comments about beating addiction, how he did it, and how it's made him a humbler person, were all important.

3. The circumstances around Bryant's arrest are also important to debate. Did he receive special treatment because he was a former cabinet minister? Did the police treat him worse, lest they be accused of that? These issues were worth exploring.

4. Ignored by all the other media who did interviews with Bryant were the chapters of the book dealing with politics.  Bryant's book pulled back the curtain on one of the most important relationships in cabinet, that of a premier and his attorney-general.  Former attorney-general Ian Scott once told me, "The two most important cabinet officers are the finance minister and the attorney-general.   Only the finance minister has the clout to say, 'Premier, we can't afford this.'  And only the AG has the clout to say, 'Premier, this is not legal. You can't do this.'"  So learning more about that relationship, as we did in a separate 20-minute conversation you can see here, we thought, was worthwhile.

5. Finally, I've seen the descriptions most of the critical tweeters use in describing themselves. 

* "My database does not encompass the dynamics of human pair-bonding."

* "Former bike courier."

* "Probably hungry right now."

* "Nerd dialects spoken."

* "Slacker."

With no disrespect intended, I think you're taking out your dissatisfaction with the court's decision on us. Clearly, some of you think Bryant got away with murder and as such, he's no longer entitled to a platform. The only trouble with that view is, an independent crown attorney, not from Ontario, looked at the evidence, considered the circumstances, and threw out the charges. In our society, that means, legally speaking, it's over. As far as the justice system is concerned, he is not a criminal. 

For the record, no public relations firm "shopped" a Bryant interview to us. He didn't ask to come on the program. It was our idea. We wanted to hear what he had to say, particularly since I read the book and found the themes worth discussing. How many of our critics bothered to read the book, or even the excerpts in the newspapers, and are therefore in a position to say these issues are unworthy of discussion?

I suspect none.

So that's why we booked Michael Bryant. As always, we welcome your feedback on Facebook, on Twitter, or below.