U.S. diplomats in Ottawa wrote to Washington that the CBC pushes "insidious negative popular stereotyping" with "anti-American melodrama" in its entertainment TV programs, according to documents released by the website WikiLeaks.
In a cable dated Jan. 1, 2008, an unnamed U.S. diplomat writes that the CBC has "long gone to great pains to highlight the distinction between Canadians and Americans in its programming, generally at our expense."
The cable then warns that an increasing number of CBC television programs such as The Border, Intelligence and even Little Mosque on the Prairie "offer Canadian viewers their fill of nefarious American officials carrying out equally nefarious deeds in Canada while Canadian officials either oppose them or fall trying."
The diplomat goes on: "While this situation hardly constitutes a public diplomacy crisis per se, the degree of comfort with which Canadian broadcast entities, including those financed by Canadian tax dollars, twist current events to feed long-standing negative images of the U.S. — and the extent to which the Canadian public seems willing to indulge in the feast — is noteworthy as an indication of the kind of insidious negative popular stereotyping we are increasingly up against in Canada."
The cable was among several documents first published by the National Post and obtained by CBC News ahead of its anticipated release by WikiLeaks, which has created a firestorm of controversy with its online publication of hundreds of thousands of secret U.S. diplomatic communications that have strained its relations with dozens of countries with embarrassing revelations.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley did not comment directly on the television shows when asked about the documents Wednesday in a media briefing in Washington.
Instead, he emphasized his country's close ties with Canada.
"Canada and the United States are friends, we are neighbours. I doubt there is a country that understands us as well as Canada does," Crowley said.
"The commerce between our two countries is very significant, so I don't think that the fundamentals change through whatever might be in these cables."
David Jacobson, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, said that while he's never seen any of the TV shows referred to, "I do not, plain and simple, think CBC is anti-American.
"I think one of the things that I would take away from this is that we actually care what Canadians think about us, that it’s important to us what Canadians think about us.
'Alice in Wonderland'
The revelation is the latest in the WikiLeaks documents dealing with Canada after previous cables showed Canada's former spy chief complained to U.S. officials that Canadians and their courts had an "Alice in Wonderland" world view and the country's laws tied his agency "in knots."
Responding for the CBC, Jeff Keay, head of CBC media relations, English services, said the broadcaster "would respectfully disagree that we're being unfair to the U.S. in our programming."
"While it's true that we have always taken 'great pains to highlight the distinction between Americans and Canadians in (our) programming,' this is not always at the expense of our closest neighbour," Keay said in a statement Tuesday.
"Plotlines from The Border were drawn from real life, but the U.S. was not singled out, as there were lots of villains to go around, including Canadian ones. There were also American 'good guys' represented."
Keay said Little Mosque "has always been a gentle comedy which specifically makes fun of all kinds of stereotypes. Americans are not singled out. I would add that both programs have experienced strong sales in the United States."