Last week, an article written by an “underemployed millennial from Mississauga” named Jessica Goddard passed through my various social media feeds. Goddard took the underdog position that asking men to do more to fight everyday sexism is bad. She used more sophisticated words than bad, but over all, that was the message. She distorted #metoo, she obscured what most calls for action and solidarity are really asking. She effervescently employed hyperbole to hide a thesis that actually said nothing. She elicited a lot of rage from good people.
The article appeared at CBC Opinions: a pale version of HuffPost Blogs.
This week is CBC Opinions’ one-year anniversary. Back when it launched, I wrote this in reaction to a very poor start: Are You Fucking Kidding Me, CBC Opinions? [not my headline]. I figured featuring a The Rebel “journalist” [sic] among their first paid contributors would be a bad omen.
Retrospectives are fun, especially when you get to think back to the year that was for The Rebel. The national public broadcaster’s decision (or, former National Poster and producer of CBC Opinions Robyn Urback’s decision, whichever) to feature Sheila Gunn Reid begging for the world to take The Rebel seriously would likely generate a lot more anger today. Over the past year, The Rebel has gone full Nazi. For example, in response to the Sutherland Springs church shooting, one of their hosts tweeted this:
Anyone with a critical eye to seeing where The Rebel would go in 2017 knew this would happen so hindsight being 20/20 isn’t an excuse. It was an embarrassing call to make back then and now, it’s damning.
The promise, unfulfilled
When the platform launched, here’s how CBC’s Jennifer McGuire promised things would go down:
Have they delivered?
Haha no, not even close.
I looked at every CBC Opinions piece posted from Thursday, Nov. 2 back to June 30. Despite my attempts, their site wouldn’t load any articles earlier than that. I removed articles written by Urback (because I assume posting there is part of her job) and articles written by Neil MacDonald (for the same reason), which makes this analysis even more left-wing than it otherwise would be. Urback and MacDonald write the most for the site. Recall: last week, Urback championed the side of the tiny religious fringe of people who believe that the earth was formed 5000 years ago, despite the fact that we can unequivocally date things older than that.
[Side note: Urback is apparently above basic fact checking, as her article on Payette still contains the claim that the entire population of Canada have “job titles” when, in fact, the labour force population is about 20 million people fewer than her claim of 36 million:
There were 64 articles written by 48 writers. 18 of these writers are women: representing 38 per cent (though, when spread out across authors who wrote more than once, this percentage drops, as only two women had repeat articles).
Ten authors made repeat appearances, with 12/64 articles written by Jonathan Kay, Marni Soupcoff and Andrew MacDougall. Jonathan Kay is a former National Poster, CBC regular, ex-Walrus EIC and a conservative. Andrew MacDougall is a former communications director of Stephen Harper’s office.
Marni Soupcoff is the former executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, a charity registered in Canada and the United States that launches court challenges to protect Canadians’ freedom. They’re non-partisan, though they intervened in R vs. Saskatchewan because they didn’t think that the freedom of association extended to people who are on strike. So, non-partisanly Conservative.
Soupcoff is interesting though for another reason: she’s edit: erroneously listed as the deputy comment editor for the National Post and member of their editorial board. She previously held these positions. In the same period as having written for CBC Opinions four times (most recently Oct. 30), she’s written 17 articles for the National Post (Kay wrote 7 articles for the National Post). — Is the CBC subsidizing the National Post’s comment section here? edit: Soupcoff is a only a NP columnist these days , no longer an editor. Her two bios are both out of date — Or merely creating a hall of mirrors to amplify right-wing analysis on the taxpayer’s dime? Her CBC bio neglects to mention her National Post roles:
The number of National Post contributors who are at home at CBC Opinions is cause for concern. If the current brou-ha-ha about Julie Payette is any indication, CBC Opinions is apparently a location where the rage industry can trigger responses from every white guy writer at the National Post who sees the Rat Signal. (I literally just came up with that. It’s yours now.)
Among the repeat writers, there are: five conservatives, one reformed conservative (Michael Coren), one Liberal, two vaguely progressive men and one Indigenous writer who is a former CBC journalist. Aside: the quality of analysis from current or former journalists regardless of topic is, I found, noticeably better.
Indigenous perspectives are the only stories where CBC Opinions veers away from the status quo, but it’s not as simple as lumping these stories into left vs. right. The most common theme featured at CBC Opinions could broadly be characterized as having to do with Indigenous issues in some way, but are a mix of Indigenous perspective, and settler perspective on Indigenous issues (13/64 articles). Second place? The military or war (9/64 articles).
The Indigenous articles are where CBC Opinions allows for more radical confrontations to the status quo. Four articles focus on renaming institutions or schools: two in favour and two against. Two articles written by Tim Fontaine criticize the direction of the current government, Steve Bonspiel reminds readers that the Oka Crisis was supposed to have been “a wake-up call” though little has changed, Robert Jago argues that Canada isn’t ready for an Indigenous Governor General, Andrea Landry calls out the practice of forced sterilization of Indigenous women and Charnel Anderson argues that the status quo is hurting Indigenous people.
There’s no question: the right is way over-represented at CPC Opinions: 8/64 articles are what I would consider to be really right wing/libertarian: like, it’s time to ban abortion or why it would be wrong to ban Trump from Twitter, for example. 6/64 are a variation on the theme that the left and right are both wrong.
And the Left?
It’s barely there. Most of the very few articles that aren’t in the catchment area of centre-right to libertarian are more about basic human decency than they are left-wing. Paul Sawka argues that police who don’t respect people with Down syndrome should be fired, Emmett Macfarlane argues that Quebec’s Bill 62 isn’t neutral and is likely unconstitutional, Brittany Andrew-Amofah argues that politicians shouldn’t block people on Twitter, and there are a few similar examples.
There are only a couple of other pieces that offer a clear “left wing” analysis, the most left of which comes from Michael Coren, whose story about his father fighting fascists is a rarity on the site. There is no left-wing tax analysis, there’s nothing at all about education. The military pieces don’t have among them a plea for less or no war. The one piece about health care starts with how Bernie Sanders is wrong to think that Canada’s health care system is great. The only piece about the environment argues that activists and Indigenous groups were, in part, responsible for killing Energy East (which is basic observation, not progressive analysis). The only piece about housing is opposed to “slapping new regulations” on AirBnB from the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation. There is nothing about the labour market or the future of work. There is nothing about transitioning from an economy based in extractive industries, public transit or new mass transportation projects, modernizing public infrastructure, better regulating federal industries, banking etc. The only thing about food is from Soupcoff who wrote a piece about a school board’s decision to limit how much pizza kids could have on pizza days. I mean — sure, ok. But FFS there are real food crises in communities all across Canada. But don’t worry — there are two pieces about that dude from Google getting fired for hating women: one for and one against.
Of course, radical left-wing thought is in another universe, to borrow a recent Urbackism. There’s nothing at all like: radically change or abolish the constitution, disarm or abolish police, institute new democratic structures, open boarders to all refugees, nationalization, radical responses to the opioid crisis or climate-related catastrophe, etc. The absence of leftist ideas of change serves to marginalize these ideas as silly, utopian or impossible.
Useful opinions of any political orientation require expert-level thinking and writing, and most importantly, good editing. They need to be written about issues that make us think, challenge the status quo or upset orthodoxy. Instead, what we have here is a dog’s breakfast of the narrowest understanding of politics. Is CBC Opinions actively rejecting progressive analyses? Or are they relying on a network of right-wingers to produce whatever it is will bring the clicks to the yard on a given day? I have no idea. I know one progressive writer didn’t hear back after submitting a piece on M103, but I’m not prepared to draw a conclusion, yet. If you’ve submitted and were rejected, I’d love to hear from you.
Last year, I offered a list of ideas for how to make CBC Opinions not be predictably boring, and the list remains relevant. But one year later, it’s clear that what they really need is something more basic than that: they have to stop chasing the Internet rage machine and do actual journalism, but with a political orientation. Leave the National Post to fend for itself.
Or not, and instead argue that “Indigenous spirituality” is equivalent to the few individuals who believe that placebos cure cancer. Oh yeah, that was also part of Urback’s anti-Payette screed too.