Politics

Fifth Estate co-host Bob McKeown appointed to the Order of Canada

CBC's Bob McKeown, co-host of the Fifth Estate, has become a member of the Order of Canada "for his excellence in investigative journalism for television."

The CBC journalist can add the honour to a long list of accomplishments in broadcasting and sports

The Fifth Estate co-host Bob McKeown has reported from dozens of countries and from war zones. He has been appointed to the Order of Canada "for his excellence in investigative journalism for television." (Joe Passaretti/CBC)

Fifth Estate co-host Bob McKeown's list of accomplishments is already long and varied. The awards alone include two Emmys, three Geminis — and even a Grey Cup championship.

Now the longtime CBC investigative journalist has received one of Canada's highest civilian honours: he's been named a member of the Order of Canada.

The office of the Governor General has appointed McKeown as a member of the national order "for his excellence in investigative journalism for television," Rideau Hall announced Wednesday in a news release.

"It's humbling," McKeown said of the honour. "The more I've realized what it stands for and the kinds of people … the breadth of the company — it's humbling.  It's a very nice thing to have happened at this point."

The 71 year-old is one of 135 appointees to Canada's national order.

A life of adventure

McKeown was born and raised in Ottawa. His father was a journalist who covered Parliament Hill and also frequently travelled internationally on assignment.

His dad's career made an impression on young Bob, who became a publisher at age five and started knocking on doors to hand out his own homemade newspaper.

"It just seemed like both the most romantic and adventuresome life to lead, and from the very beginning I wanted to do that," McKeown said. "But first I wanted to be an Ottawa Rough Rider."

Provided sports commentary at $35 a pop

McKeown played football at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., and fulfilled his dream when the Rough Rider's signed him. But Ottawa's Canadian Football League (CFL) team wasn't the only one who came calling for the new graduate. The CBC did, too.

Three times a week, for $35 a pop, he'd provide sports commentary for the local CBC Radio station in Ottawa.

"So 105 bucks a week, and I thought I was rich, rich, rich," he said. 

"But it was perfect because in that one summer — which was 50 years ago — I started both of the careers which I'd been aspiring to since I was five."

McKeown would go on to play five seasons with the Rough Riders at the position of centre. He won a Grey Cup with them in 1973. 

McKeown played in the CFL for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1970s. He was an all-star centre and won a Grey Cup with the team in 1973. (Scott Grant Photography)

McKeown first joined The Fifth Estate in 1981 as co-host. The day he interviewed for the job, he met his wife, Sheilagh D'Arcy McGee, who was working as a researcher at the time. They've been married for 40 years and have four sons.

"The Fifth Estate has given me a lot in my professional and personal life. But that, of it all, was by far the most important," he said, referring to his marriage.

It's not just intense investigative programs that gained him recognition. The Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television gave him two Gemini Awards for The Boys on the Bus, a 1987 documentary on the Edmonton Oilers team that won multiple Stanely Cups. 

He won another Gemini for his writing on a 2004 Fifth Estate segment about Hondurans who were trying to flee the country.

His CBC colleague Diana Swain, now the show's executive producer, says McKeown embodies the qualities of a good investigative journalist.

"He is unfailingly polite. He's more soft spoken in person than I expected, and yet to know him as a journalist is to know that he is dogged," she said.

"When he believes you have a question that must be answered, he is unrelenting."

Wars and lawsuits

McKeown has been back with The Fifth since 2003 after stints with American news organizations such NBC and CBS.

It was with the latter that he did his most memorable — and perhaps dangerous — journalism work when he and his crew arrived in Kuwait City during the Gulf War ahead of coalition forces.

"More by good luck than by good management, we ended up getting into Kuwait City about 24 hours before the liberation," McKeown said. "So we were there, the Iraqis were there, and we got to cover first hand the biggest story in the world at that point."

His Gulf War coverage won him an Emmy. And he won another one for his work on NBC's Dateline.

McKeown (middle) reporting from Kuwait City during the Gulf War for CBS News. (Submitted by Bob McKeown)

But when asked the most notable story he's covered for CBC, one name came to McKeown's mind: "Peter Nygard."

The 80-year-old clothing mogul is facing charges in both Canada and the United States after dozens of women accused him of sexual assault spanning decades.

"We told that story first," McKeown said. "It was almost a dozen years ago when we told it, and no one had touched him at that point, in large part because he was very litigious and if you set an apostrophe wrong in your story, he was going to have you in court."

Nygard filed a number of lawsuits against CBC and the specific journalists investigating him — including one that saw McKeown charged with criminal libel.

"In this case, if we were convicted, we would have been open to up to five years in prison," McKeown said.

Still asking tough questions

At 71, McKeown is still working with The Fifth

These may be tough economic times for the media industry, but he's optimistic about the future of investigative journalism.

"Never in my lifetime and career has there been more material, and has there been more ways to get at it and to tell it," he said. "I find this a very exciting time to be a journalist to be honest."

McKeown's push for justice extends beyond journalism. He's called on the CFL to do more to protect players from head trauma and has committed to donating his own brain to concussion research.

The former CFL player, has called on the league to address the effects of concussions on athletes. (CBC)

"He's enthusiastic about things that he values and that are important to him, but he's not afraid to ask tough questions about anything," said Swain.

So what's the secret to success for the new Member of the Order of Canada?

McKeown admitted it may sound cliche, but said it has worked for him.

"Find out what you're good at, find out what you love, and hope that the two are one in the same," he said. "That's the way it has been with me. I have never, literally from the time I was five years-old, wondered about what I wanted to do.

"God bless the fates. Here I am that much later, and I'm still doing it."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Raycraft

Web writer and producer

Richard is a web writer with CBC Politics and an associate producer with CBC Radio. He's worked at CBC in London, Ont., Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo and Ottawa.

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