A reply to my critics at the Toronto Sun

A couple weeks ago I published an article at the Ryerson Review of Journalism (RRJ) examining the unbearable whiteness of Canadian columnists.

Most articles critically discussing race attract hate and irrational defensiveness, so I was surprised when my article mostly received praise. Yesterday, however, the expected finally arrived, with a slew of inflammatory remarks from some Toronto Sun staff members.

The barrage started with this tweet from the acting comment editor at the Sun, Lorrie Goldstein.

Goldstein’s tweet is entirely inaccurate. Adrienne Batra, Tarek Fatah and Farzana Hassan were not mentioned in my article. They did appear in a GIF within the article, but the GIF simply displayed a range of Canadian columnists, including people of colour. The GIF did not in any way suggest all the columnists displayed were white, and it’s very difficult to see how it could have been interpreted this way as the GIF contained columnists, like Royson James, who are impossible to mistake as white.

I figured perhaps Goldstein didn’t manage to sit through a 15 second GIF, and see all the columnists in it, so I explained the GIF to him with a few tweets. Goldstein ignored the clarification and my request for him to correct his tweet, and continued to tweet about the article in a misleading fashion.

As such, it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that Goldstein purposely misrepresented the article to his Twitter followers, especially as he didn’t include a link to the article, and said “Don’t ask” in the tweet. Why rely on facts when you can score cheap political points?

The result of Goldstein’s misleading tweet has been an expected barrage of hate from anonymous accounts on Twitter, although the tweet was also retweeted by some notable figures, including Sun staffers, and the member of parliament for Thornhill, Peter Kent.

Fatah took Goldstein’s misleading tweet to a new irresponsible level by calling the RRJ a “cesspool of Sharia Bolshevism.”

This meaningless smattering of words was followed up by this horrifying tweet.

I’m completely baffled by this unhinged message. To start, my fellow blog editor, Fatima Syed, had nothing to do with the article I wrote, so I’m not sure why Fatah has picked on her instead of me (I brought this to his attention, but he ignored my tweet.) Beyond that, what is he implying by calling her a fake Saudi? What does her Pakistani background have to do with anything? It simply appears as though he is implicating Syed in some part of his ludicrous theory about a “Sharia Bolshevist” plot at the RRJ (by the way, does anyone know where I can get a Sharia Bolshevist sticker for my computer?)

I’d laugh this bizarre tweet off if it wasn’t coming from such a well connected member of the Canadian journalism landscape (and it says a lot about Canadian journalism that Fatah has attained that status in the first place.) To recap, Syed is a Muslim woman of colour, and she has just had her identity assailed, and motives suspected, as the result of doing absolutely nothing. This highlights why a more diverse and tolerant journalism landscape is needed.

Goldstein’s tweets about my article throughout the day also highlight this point quite well, and demonstrate what is wrong with many reactions to calls for a more diverse media landscape.

Here we see Goldstein deflecting the point of the article by taking it personally instead of as a systemic critique of the journalism landscape as a whole. This is the equivalent of white people taking critiques of white privilege personally, and throwing a hissy fit instead of listening.

Goldstein is right. The RRJ has written about the lack of diversity in Canadian journalism several times over the years. That’s because very little has changed. Reactions to these articles, like Goldstein’s, are partially to blame, as they put excuses over action. Also important to note: Goldstein, and editor in chief, Adrienne Batra, were emailed with an interview request regarding the article in question on September 29, so any claim about shutting out their voices is also misleading.

Some other Sun staff members got in on Goldstein’s party as well. Here’s an example from Sun columnist, Sue-Ann Levy.

Sorry, Levy, but I don’t think being gay, Jewish or married (?) are in any way relevant to the article at hand, which is about the lack of people of colour in the Canadian journalism landscape. This is just more deflection, but it’s typical when race is brought up.

This snapshot of responses to my article exemplifies the issue: figures in Canadian journalism would rather make up excuses for the lack of diversity, or shoot at the messengers, than address it head on.

Just to be clear, though, this problem is not confined to the Sun staffers mentioned throughout. Nowhere close. Most journalists will vigorously nod in agreement with those calling for more diversity, but when the time comes for them to act, the smiles are gone. The problem remains, however, and I hope the RRJ will continue pressing Canadian journalists with stories on diversity until something changes.