No joking matter

Top media figures should face consequences for mocking Indigenous writers

Shameful online behaviour reveals true face of Canada’s cozy media elite
Photo: Joseph Morris

They did it on Twitter.

Usually, the smug, cocky, hermetically-sealed-in-their-own-greatness crew of reactionary writers share their smug, cocky jokes over drinks in a bar or in each other’s cribs — figuratively speaking.

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This time, their grating sense of impunity and privilege made them dangerously giddy. After the National Post’s former publisher and editor, and Liberal government–appointed expert advisor, Ken Whyte, took to Twitter to lasso his close friends into donating to his snide cultural “appropriation prize,” they obliged him instantly — like dutiful lemmings.

These so-called Canadian media industry leaders and marquee journalists enthusiastically showed their fawning fraternity not only with their powerful pal and intellectual leader, but also with his cheap, derisive endeavour and the motives behind it.

To injure and dismiss

The idea of an “appropriation prize” came from a piece in Write magazine by editor Hal Niedzviecki, who has since resigned from his position amid the resultant controversy.

Pledging support for the “prize” was no glib joke, as the usual apologists are trying, unconvincingly, to insist. It was an expression of who these journalists are at their core and what they truly think about anyone who doesn’t look, think or write like them.

It was an expression of their condescending sense of white, Toronto/Ottawa-centric entitlement, which binds them together geographically as well as philosophically. They’re loath to entertain, let alone publish, the work and perspectives of others outside their neat, self-absorbed bubble.

It was an expression of their swaggering confidence — a product of position and prestige — which permits them to say and do whatever they want to the less powerful, knowing they will escape any serious or lasting measure of accountability for their wretched conduct.

It was an expression of the latent bully in each and every one of them.

This kind of patently egregious, arguably racist behaviour will be sloughed off as an innocent, misguided prank.

That they shared their unbridled glee for Papa Whyte’s privately financed “prize” so brazenly online is also a product of how comfortable they are with denigrating writers who, again, don’t think, look or write like them — particularly the millions of Indigenous and minority individuals their cynical fundraising scheme was designed and intended to denigrate.

The aim of that “prize” was as unmistakable as it was familiar: to dismiss, injure and remind Indigenous peoples who remains firmly in charge of this country’s moribund mainstream media — mostly white men and a handful of white women. The message: You don’t count; we do.

It was yet another transparent, unambiguous signal that Indigenous people and people of colour need not apply.

A miscalculation

It was not, as Maclean’s editor Alison Uncles suggested in a flimsy, exculpatory tweet, a “sloppy … idea.”

The claim that she and the other “appropriation prize” celebrants were pursuing an idea is an insult to the word and betrays just how deeply Uncles regrets her “hurtful” actions. How nice.

It was an orchestrated stunt, Ms. Uncles, that you and your little chums reveled in like pampered kids taking turns whacking at a piñata. Only this time the piñata was filled with Indigenous and minority writers. (It may have made you and the other partygoers feel, no doubt, ever so special, and reaffirmed your roles as the gatekeepers of the ever-shrinking journalistic real estate you tentatively control as ad revenue quickly disappears. )

Whyte and company are lost causes. They’re irredeemable. Their blindness, biases and ways are too deeply ingrained. They won’t change because they’re incapable of changing.

Still, I suppose we should thank Whyte et al. for going public with their “prize” since it not only confirmed their defining natures and put them on permanent display, but also elicited a glorious response on social media that, I’m sure, the happy gang didn’t think would ultimately amount to much.

Clearly, they miscalculated badly. The delicious fallout: a long-overdue and wonderfully satisfying comeuppance for the prize’s self-aggrandizing architects. Thank you again, Mr. Whyte.

Led by brave, eloquent, pistol-hot, tweet-packing Indigenous writers such as@redindiangirl, Whyte’s puffy contributors faced sustained and withering challenge on and off Twitter.

Mea culpas

One by one, like high-flying balloons losing hot air and altitude quickly, the once smarmy bunch went grudgingly on Twitter to issue what amounted to one grovelling mea culpa after another.

At the time of this writing, at least five editors and writers had posted their apologies, or non-apology apologies, on Twitter. (Steve Maich's Twitter account has since gone down.) Walrus editor Jonathan Kay delivered his on CBC TV on Saturday, when he essentially argued that since he hadn’t actually contributed money to the prize, he wasn’t responsible. My goodness. Kay’s departure from The Walrus was announced the next morning.

Taken together, the domino of non-apology apologies read like an anxious pack of suddenly frightened schoolmates who’ve been caught being naughty and want to avoid a potentially prickly visit to the principal’s office.

The embarrassing non-apology apologies are replete with human-resource-friendly gibberish like “listening,” “learning” and “understanding” — language for which corporate media outlets have a faux fondness.

Apparently, all this listening, learning and understanding occurred only after these writers and editors had spent decades in an industry that is supposed to encourage listening, learning and understanding.

It’s vacuous Damage Control 101 and, regrettably, it will likely work. As a result, nothing will change because this kind of patently egregious, arguably racist behaviour will be sloughed off as an innocent, misguided prank not only by the corporate masters who employ these charlatans, but by many other establishment journalists who don’t want to see their brethren get “hurt.”

Whyte and company are lost causes. They’re irredeemable. Their blindness, biases and ways are too deeply ingrained. They won’t change because they’re incapable of changing.

Betrayal of CBC’s mission

The senior CBC journalist implicated in this disgrace, the managing editor of The National, Steve Ladurantaye, should resign or be fired. Not surprisingly, CBC management is standing by its tarnished man.

CBC News has defended Ladurantaye. “Steve fully acknowledges he exercised poor judgement and has apologized on Twitter and to his colleagues,” CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson wrote in an email to Ricochet.

Until the top tier of CBC News begins to reflect all of Canada, the inexcusable status quo will persist.

Here’s the billboard-sized point Thompson’s bosses are forgiving: Ladurantaye’s fatal betrayal of the trust of his many Indigenous and minority colleagues at CBC News and our public broadcaster’s seminal mission to reflect, encourage and showcase the faces and voices of every shareholder of CBC News, including our Indigenous and minority brothers and sisters.

In pledging to donate $100 to Whyte’s brainchild, Ladurantaye, in effect, besmirched their work, reputations and cultural heritage, and made it plain to future generations of Indigenous and minority journalists where his allegiance lies. This cannot stand.

The National, as I have written before, has become a bastion of largely white, male centrist voices. Until the top tier of CBC News begins to reflect all of Canada, the inexcusable status quo will persist.

Peter Mansbridge plans to retire on July 2. Mr. Ladurantaye should precede him out the door.

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