Ezra Levant and the CBC

Ezra Levant is an intelligent if contrarian thinker with the potential to contribute some great insights into Canadian politics, the state of the media and international events. In particular, his work on free speech in Canada and his long-standing feud with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) has revealed some of the challenges facing what might be our most important human right.  However, his work is muddled by what seems to be a venomous hatred of the CBC and “the left,” a vague term I’m still not sure I understand. A perusal of his last few editorials for Sun Media aptly demonstrate this unfortunate bias that clouds what might otherwise be quality insight into some of the aforementioned topics.

For instance, as the world comes to grips with the henious acts of Anders Behring Breivik, Levant wrote a column blasting the CBC’s attempts to:

“Associate being concerned about radical Islam with this mass murderer. They want to delegitimize peaceful, liberal discussions of these matters, by tainting them with murder.

That’s why the CBC is lusting after the story with such unseemly jubilation: It’s their answer to 9/11, proof of Christianity’s evil and conservatism’s evil.”

This is a very narrow interpretation of the CBC’s intentions. It completely misses the fact that the CBC was only one of many news agencies pushing this angle.

More importantly, it misses the real point to be taken from the atrocity, even though it is alluded to in the title of the editorial, “Breivik no Christian nut, just nuts”: Assuming that Breivik is Christian (and as Levant argues this might not even be accurate), this does not indict Christianity as a whole as a violent religion. However, this principle is true of other religions too, most importantly, Islam. Time and time again, Islam is portrayed as inherently violent despite the existence of millions and millions of peaceful Muslims. If Levant was more willing to consider the big picture as opposed to pursuing his petty vengeance, he might better conclude that the actions of a few should never be read as an indictment of the whole, regardless of the religious persuasion of the individuals. Unfortunately he is more interested in criticizing when it is convenient to his narrative and ignoring it when it is not.

Just as he CBC stretches the case to suggest a link between Christianity and the West with Breivik, so to does much North American and European media when they suggest violence inherent to Islam. It would seem that Levant and the CBC have more in common than either might light like to admit.

He makes a similar mistake in another recent article, in which he warps the facts to fit the narrative. In an editorial titled “Hacking not why Rupert Murdoch’s under fire” and with the byline “Leftists can’t stand press baron’s success — often coming at their expense,” Levant claims the CBC are hypocrites for, among other reasons, its “beatification of WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange, and the demonization of Rupert Murdoch” (beatication is the Catholic Church’s recgnition of a dead person’s entry into heaven and part of the process of canonization).

For Levant the News of the World hacking scandal and Wikileaks are alike. He writes that:

“Just like the News of the World scoops, the WikiLeaks files were illegally obtained.

WikiLeaks published the names and locations of human rights activists in Afghanistan who had helped NATO, after which a Taliban spokesman named Zabihullah Mujahid declared, “we know how to punish them.”

And yet, according to Levant:

“The CBC positively cheered when WikiLeaks stole those hacked memos.

“Information wants to be free,” is what they said — when it was merely soldiers’ lives on the line, not news about celebrity affairs.”

Unless you assume everyone at the CBC are dogmatic hyporcites, which Levant seems to do, you might first want to ask why some who work there can hold these two seemingly contradicting opinions. Instead, Levant mischaracterizes both Wikileaks and the News of the World scandal in order to fit his rather narrow, and boring anti-CBC narrative, again to the detriment of what may have otherwise been interesting observations.

First of  all, ironically and unfortunately also tragically, the News of the World scandal was about a lot more than celebrity affairs. Also hacked were the loved ones of soldier killled in Afghanistan as well as the family of a murdered girl. In a terrific BBC interview with Hugh Grant and one of the former editors of the News of the World, the editor Paul McMullan, Grant answers this very same misleading reduction to the scandal for which Paul McMullan has no response (most likely because a good one does not exist).

Second, Levant’s mischaracterization of Wikileaks is also an attempt to make a circle fit a square. Wikileaks did not steal the documents. They were allegedly submitted to the organization by Bradley Manning. And, though Levant’s criticism that the released documents endangered the lives of informants is a good one, Levant’s inability to recognize how Wikileaks worked to avoid similar mistakes in the future allows him to claim that this mistake is the same as the News of the World’s  systematic phone hacking. Wikileaks made a mistake and tried to correct it. News of the World made a living flagrantly violating the privacy of individuals, often at a time of great vulnerability. These are not the same thing.

Finally, a third editorial, Accountable each day: Sun Media quits OPC, but ultimate decision-maker is you,” is similarly bent against the CBC and contains some seeds for understanding why Levant’s occassional relevance is muddied by his bias.

The article is about Sun Media’s decision to quit the Ontario Press Club, “a group of journalists and public members who operate as some sort of pretend court, to hear complaints from people who don’t like what they’ve read in a newspaper.”

Levant might have a valid point, one he continues to make in print and in public: assuming it is true, we should be able to say it, print it, and otherwise publicize it regardless of whether or not someone might be offended by it.

He writes:

“Here in the real world — not the subsidized, artificial world of the CBC or a university — we are accountable every single day.

If we get something wrong, if we offend someone, we pay a price for it — we could lose a subscriber, or an advertiser, we could lose our reputation, we could lose our jobs, we could lose our whole company.

We have to earn our reputation every single day. There is no business more accountable in the media than the Sun, where so many of our readers have to make the choice, every day, to buy the newspaper out of the newspaper box.

We know what accountability is. And if we don’t, people lose their jobs.”

In the article cited, Levant mocks the Ontario Press Club for presuming to confer accountability on news organizations. He is right, at least in his criticism. But, and this is what his work often seems reducable to in the end, his rather blustery self-opinion often amounts to nothing more than pandering. What he chooses not to mention is that the impetus to sell is its own form of censorship — not accountability.

What Levant often lacks, as these three articles demonstrate, is an unwillingness to understand or present credible representations of those arguing against him, or other arguments that might challenge his own positions. Instead, he’s happy to reduce them to vague caricatures that  appeal to the already converted. As such, by relying on innaccurate representations of his opponents and the biases of his readers, he panders and little more.

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