The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists collaborates with hundreds of members across the world. Each of these journalists is among the best in his or her country and many have won national and global awards. Our monthly series, Meet the Investigators, highlights the work of these tireless journalists.
Harvey Cashore is an investigative journalist and producer at The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where he has worked since 1991. He currently produces the CBC’s Fifth Estate, an investigative documentary program. Cashore has partnered with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists on several investigations over the years, including Offshore Leaks, Lux Leaks, Swiss Leaks, and The Paradise Papers.
Can you tell us how and why you first got into journalism?
It was in the seventh grade, we were doing social studies and current events and I told my teacher that I wanted to start a school paper. So I started doing this newspaper and we ended up calling it the Cape Horn Flyer, after the name of the school. This was a while ago, and we had a printing machine where you’d turn it with your hand and it would make duplicate copies of the paper. We wrote articles and we would take on the school principal in editorials. Even at that young age, it became clear that investigative journalism was the way you wanted to go if you wanted to impact the world.
Then I went to Carleton University in Ottawa. It was the only school of journalism in all of Canada. There are many now, but, back then, this was the only one. In my fourth year there I met a person who changed my life, a guy named John Sawatsky, a professor teaching a class on investigative journalism. He taught me the system: How to organize notes, how to be meticulous, how to be fair. He was actually teaching how to do it, not just why we were doing it.
Then I graduated and I couldn’t find a job in media anywhere, and he said: ‘Do you want to help me with a book?’ So I spent four years researching a biography of then-prime minister Brian Mulroney — a book called ‘The Politics of Ambition’ — and from there I went to work at The Fifth Estate.
Did working on book research before landing your first staff reporting job affect your skillset?
Absolutely and I think that was pretty lucky looking back. Because had I gone straight into TV production — had I been offered a job right out of school — I think I would have missed the fundamentals of how to dig and how to go about your work in a way that people will talk to you and tell you things. I trace back all of my investigative successes to what I learned from Sawatsky. If I hadn’t had him as a boss, I’m not sure that I’d have had half the stories I got at the end of the day.
What are some investigations you’ve worked on that you’re most proud of?
When I was a young researcher at The Fifth Estate, I received a tip that prime minister Mulroney had received money from Airbus Industries as a part of an effort that Airbus had to sell planes in North America. At the same time that this was all happening, Air Canada was a crown corporation. Airbus saw an opportunity to sell, and they set up a so-called grease money fund offshore to help pave the way for the sale of these planes. We heard allegations that Mulroney might have gotten some of that money.
We started investigating, and it took years and years. I was sued by one of the characters for 35 million Canadian dollars. It was really hard pushing toward that question: Where did that money go? In 2007, we did a story where a middleman named Karlheinz Schreiber sat down and told us that he met with Mulroney shortly after Mulroney had stepped down as prime minister in hotel rooms and handed him envelopes of cash. This was a major breakthrough. The Airbus sale had happened while Mulroney was prime minister.
This scandal forever tainted Mulroney’s legacy. That story was the longest and the hardest I’ve done. We never gave up on it, despite the lawsuits and the threats.
What are some research methods that you’ve learned over the course of your career that you’d recommend?
I’m going to answer your question in a kind of roundabout way. If you come to any story and you think you know what the answer is going to be, you’re not going to get the answer — that’s the irony. When I start on a story I abandon any kind of sense I may have had of what the story might tell me. I use the word “help” a lot. I ask people to help me instead of demanding answers to questions. I try to reverse that and say “I’d like you help me understand what’s going on.” I find that’s really effective. You don’t come off as a journalist demanding answers from a source. Who can turn down a request for help? It’s hard to do.
Also background discussions. It’s a big mistake in my opinion for journalists to start conversations by quoting people on the record — that leads to a dead end. By creating an environment where people know they’re free to talk, and tell you things that are in the public interest that perhaps they cannot be the source publicly known to have told you, time and time again see results coming in.
Have you recently read any investigative journalism, or anything else for that matter, that you recommend?
Yes in fact, what I’m currently reading and something that I highly recommend is “A Year in Provence,” about a couple that moves to France from England and spends a year experiencing French culture and its quirks in a small village. It has nothing to do with investigative journalism. They’re very relaxing stories that have nothing to do with work. I’m also reading a book called The Shortest History of Germany. It’s a great history of Germany from B.C. to present day. We get so intensely involved with our stories and research — I’m working on a project now that’s 24/7 — I think that remembering to take time and to be able to distance ourselves from our intensity that we have for our work is ultimately very important.
And correct me if I’m wrong, but you’ve been building your own cabin in the British Columbian wilderness for the past 15 or so years, right?
I decided more than 15 years ago that I wanted to build a cabin, when me and my boys were younger, and my father helped. I learned everything as we went. I didn’t know how to mix the cement for the structure’s footings. I didn’t even know what cement really was. It was a lot of hard work but it was a different kind of work than we do in our jobs and I think that was really helpful. At the end of the day to actually see the results of your work is really valuable.
The most important thing is to be driven by your concern about the world that we live in, about the power imbalances that exist.
You found your way to your current journalism job through a somewhat circuitous path of first doing book research. What advice would you give to young journalists, especially young journalists who may be freelancing or working outside the security of a full-time staff job?
That’s an important question because I would say that I struggled when I left journalism school. I couldn’t find a job. I was freelancing and it was tough. It can be defeating. The most important thing is to be driven by your concern about the world that we live in, about the power imbalances that exist. In the end, there’s no shortcuts to what we’re doing. If you’re determined and believe that what you’re doing is important, I tell people: in that case, I believe you will find a way forward.
If you’re a fan of our Meet the Investigators series, please consider making a donation to support ICIJ. Not only will your donation help support our work with journalists like Harvey, but as an ICIJ Insider, you’ll also receive sneak previews, access to exclusive chats with reporters and behind-the-scenes content like this delivered straight to your inbox. Donate today, and support independent investigative journalism.