The National Post failed to disclose in two articles that its theatre critic was writing about a play his son worked on.
After being called out, first on Twitter and later by iMediaEthics, the Post has added the needed transparency
First, the Post added a disclosure to an article by longtime theatre critic Robert Cushman that was titled, “Top 2,014 Things of 2014: The best theatre of the year.” The critic’s article featured 11 items including, at spot number nine, an item about The Beaux Stratagem, for which Cushman’s son Mitchell Cushman was assistant director.
Toronto Now staff writer Jonathan Goldsbie tweeted the National Post Arts to comment on the lack of disclosure. “If you *must* name a show your son worked on as one of the top 10 plays of the year, at least disclose it,” Goldsbie tweeted.
Dude. If you *must* name a show your son worked on as one of the top 10 plays of the year, at least disclose it: http://t.co/tMKn7Am0yy (#9)
— Jonathan Goldsbie (@goldsbie) December 29, 2014
In response, the National Post Arts account tweeted, “Thank you for pointing this out. We’ve added a note.” That note, added to the article in the section concerning Mitchell Cushman’s play, reads: “Editor’s note: Robert Cushman’s son, Mitchell Cushman, was this play’s assistant director.”
iMediaEthics asked the National Post why there was no disclosure previously and what its policy concerning conflicts stated.
Barry Hertz, the National Post‘s Executive Producer, Features, told iMediaEthics:
“There should have been a disclosure to begin with — it’s our policy that writers always disclose any conflict of interest that they may encounter when reviewing any cultural work. Our theatre critic, Robert Cushman, neglected to do so when originally filing, and it was not caught by editors, including myself.”
Hertz added that the Post “immediately fixed” the lack of disclosure once it was discovered. “I have been in communication with Mr. Cushman regarding future disclosures, and the matter is being handled internally,” Hertz commented.
iMediaEthics also asked Hertz about an August article by Cushman that focused solely on Beaux Stratagem, the same play on which his son was assistant director. That article carried no disclosure of Cushman’s relationship to the play.
Hertz told iMediaEthics that the newspaper will be adding a disclosure.
Goldsbie, the Toronto Now staffer who discovered the missing disclosure in the recent year-end theatre roundup, had tweeted previously about the missing disclosure in the August article.
Goldsbie noted to iMediaEthics that he has been a weekly contributor to the National Post for several years.
“I don’t envy the situation that Robert Cushman is in (though his son’s success is surely gratifying), but I would hope for — at the very least — some measure of principled consistency when navigating these issues.,” adding that he is “passionate about theatre and want it to be written about with the same ethical standards as news reporting.”
In 2013, the Post allowed Cushman to write about a play involving his son, but in the text, there is a disclosure stating “Full disclosure: my son is the assistant director.”
After that incident, Canada’s J-Source questioned if it was OK for Cushman to have critiqued that play. Cushman told J-Source, at the time in 2013, there “would have been [a conflict] if he’d been the director” but since he wasn’t, there wasn’t.
Post managing editor of features Benjamin Errett pointed out that the newspaper didn’t allow Cushman to cover Terminus, which Cushman’s son directed.
“For The Merchant of Venice, though, we believe the elder Cushman’s encyclopedic knowledge of Stratford and the younger Cushman’s more peripheral involvement with the production warranted the best review we could give our readers, one complete with full disclosure in the traditional cast-and-crew paragraphs.”
Or, in at least two cases, Cushman was allowed to cover his son’s work with disclosure. In 2012, Cushman disclosed a “confession of interest” in reviewing Seeds, writing “Confession of interest: The assistant director of Seeds is my son.”
iMediaEthics has written to Cushman for comment.