Let's Support Conservative Journalism

March 16th, 2018  | G. Gordon
conservative journalism

Right-wing Canadians like to bellyache over the lousy state of journalism in this country ad nauseum, but how many actually do anything about it? Instead of doing something productive to disrupt and expose the status quo, the total collective hours of whinging from Canadian conservatives over biased media is many lifetimes wasted.

Sure, Ezra Levant comes to mind as an intrepid figure who has, three times, attempted to build a conservative media organization to counter the onslaught of left-wing media in this country. There was the Western Standard, a magazine focusing on Western Canada and Canadian Conservatism, which lasted from 2002 to 2007, until he sold the digital copy and moved on from the money-losing endeavour. A few years later he would return with the Sun News Network alongside a bunch of other conservative commentators. Sure, there were some good spots of journalism there, like exposing David Suzuki and Peter Mansbridge for the charlatans they are, but by and large it was more right-wing commentary yammering about the mainstream media. There was also an uncomfortable closeness to the Conservative Party of Canada that tended to torque SNN’s coverage and taint the objectivity. Once the Sun set a few years ago, Levant founded The Rebel almost over night. The Rebel was again primarily commentary, except a couple Alberta contributors and Brian Lilley, before he departed, doing some real digging via Freedom of Information (FOI) requests. In my view, the main problem The Rebel faced from day one was what appeared to be an insatiable hunger for clicks and video content. This led Rebel commentators to repeatedly pull stunts to make themselves part of the story in order to get sensationalistic footage and stories. It also appeared that most stories needed to be about stories outside of Canada in order to attract a much larger audience than just Canadians.

The Rebel also found a need to trump up stories and whip up anger in order to convince viewers to sign petitions and donate money (despite The Rebel usually not transparently disclosing the amounts raised as many crowdfunding websites do). All of these factors, combined, eventually led to the outlet’s meltdown last summer—which I covered for Canadaland, a digital news startup covering Canadian media—that led to an exodus of many of its contributors.

Other than The Rebel, there’s not much other right-of-centre media on offer in this country. Sure, there’s debt-riddled Postmedia (National Post, Toronto Sun, etc) that continues to lay off its staff and downsize. Other than that, and a smattering of conservative bloggers and talk radio hosts, that’s really it for right-wing media in this country.

Meanwhile, the left-wing media in Canada is the country’s Leviathan. First off, there is the Globe & Mail, a slightly left-of-centre national newspaper that still does some vital investigative journalism, but is becoming increasingly left-wing editorially, as the country becomes more socialist incrementally. The Toronto Star is a left-wing daily newspaper (with the biggest circulation in the country) that aggressively goes after Conservatives and is hostile to the free market and other conservative principles. Then there is the charity-status Walrus magazine that is literally littered with people connected to the Liberal Party of Canada and receives hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from the federal government. Most of the critical journalism it does involves attacking Conservative politicians like Andrew Scheer (or the LPC’s other enemy, NDPers) and conservative thinkers like Jordan Peterson.

Maclean’s, another left-wing magazine, is still receiving $1.5M from Trudeau’s government, despite quartering its print production and has a nearly identical editorial stance as that of The Walrus.

Maclean’s just recently had a front cover story propagating the lies of the government about the gender wage gap, instead of debunking the government spin. Add in the Literary Review of Canada, and you have the troika of left-wing magazines directing political thought in this country for the so-called intellectual class of Canada. Despite many conservatives dismissing these magazines’ influence on Canadian thought, they are read by the chattering class that then regurgitate and cite the same ideas in other media outlets and in governments.

But that’s only the half of it when it comes to the Canadian left-wing media smorgasbord. Beyond magazines, there are several left-wing digital startups like The Tyee, iPolitics, Rabble, National Observer, and Press Progress that pump out stories daily, pushing left-wing agendas. And of course, last but not least, the news networks. CTV and Global are both large corporate entities that have no interest in rocking the boat with the government and anti-competitive status quo.  

Last, and most importantly, is the special case of the CBC. A state-funded broadcaster that every Canadian conservative knows is incredibly biased in its reporting—although there are a few respectable journalists within the overwhelmingly socialist organization like Natasha Fatah, Mike Crawley and Terry Milewski—because the Trudeau government has bought and paid for the state broadcaster’s largely favourable coverage through a cash injection of an additional $150M annually to its well over $1B federal subsidy. Even more troubling is that as the rest of the media in Canada shrink, CBC remains robust from its guaranteed annual cash boon, meaning more and more Canadians rely on it for news consumption, consolidating more power within the state broadcaster so it has even more influence over what Canadians read, see, hear and think.

(Adding to this dire state of affairs, the Trudeau government recently pledged another $50 million for local journalism and has also given social media companies like Facebook an ultimatum to do better in weeding out “fake news” i.e. content the Trudeau government deems inconvenient and undesirable.)

Considering all of the above left-wing news outlets (and there are many omitted from this article for the sake of brevity) make up 99% of the media landscape in Canada, it’s easy for one to feel helpless. Yet, all hope is not lost.

The internet is the great equalizer. The late Andrew Breitbart showed that all one needs to disrupt the media establishment is a laser-like focus, dogged determination, and a website in order to wield incredible influence over the news cycles and in exposing corruption at the highest levels. Breitbart went through an apprenticeship in new digital media through his work with two of the most influential media moguls that came out of the burgeoning digital age that took off in 2007 with the advent of high speed internet: Matt Drudge—leaker of the Monica Lewinsky affair and the king of the U.S. aggregate news website The Drudge Report, which wields incredible influence by selecting the must-read stories of the day that millions of Americans rely on as their go-to news source—and Arianna Huffington, who Breitbart helped create The Huffington Post.

Breitbart then took what he learned from these two media moguls to build his own media outlet. Before Breitbart’s death in 2012, his namesake news outlet had had an inordinate amount of influence on American news cycles by breaking stories on the Obama administration, left-wing figures and Democrat-affiliated institutions. Breitbart used to do a lot of investigative journalism before Andrew passed away and it became more focused on conservative commentary and being the propaganda arm for the Trump presidency. (If any readers are interested in learning more about Breitbart harnessing the power of the internet to do devastatingly effective investigative journalism they should read his autobiography, Righteous Indignation.) Breitbart, in turn, mentored right-wing activist and investigative journalist James O’Keefe, who is now terrorizing Democrats and the American left-wing media through his undercover sting operations through his organization Project Veritas. Breitbart and O’Keefe are just two of many examples of entrepreneurial right-wing journalistic enterprises that have risen in America from the digital age.

So I ask: where are Canada’s Andrew Breitbarts and James O’Keefes? Since we lack a First Amendment in this country, the Canadian versions would have to be less aggressive, and less ego wouldn’t hurt as well, but God knows in a country chock full of left-wing institutions there are endless low-lying rotten fruit just waiting to be picked off one by one (although they won’t be so easy to fully grasp and pluck, mind you).

Jesse Brown, the founder of Canadaland (the aforementioned publication I contribute to) does come to mind. Although Brown is not in any way a conservative, he has allowed me to write for the publication and has exposed some of Canada’s sacred cows. Brown was the journalist to break the Jian Ghomeshi story. He also exposed Peter Mansbridge’s excessive salary and pension plan. Brown, through entrepreneurial spirit in the past few years, has built Canadaland from his lone blog into a successful Toronto-based boutique digital news outlet that has over 4,300 patrons on crowdfunding website Patreon, voluntarily funding the news outlet, contributing more than $27,420 (CAN) every month. The news outlets also has several full-time staff and buys freelancers’ work. Canadaland is mostly a left-wing progressive publication (although they do allow voices from a right-of-centre perspective to contribute as well, so kudos to them for that). Despite there already being a feast on offer for left-wing Canadians, Canadaland still manages to find thousands of them willing to voluntarily contribute out of pocket for media criticism and investigative journalism they thought was missing from the anemic mainstream.

I realize conservatives are typically more frugal with their money. But if they want to see a change in the conversation in this country and for their perspectives to have a fighting chance in the battle of ideas they will have to be willing to fund alternative media.      

I know the contributors at Poletical are attempting to serve up some conservative commentary and investigative journalism, but they’re patriotic Canadians, with full-time jobs, contributing in their spare time. I, a freelance journalist, am eking out a living contributing to several publications with columns and the odd investigative exposé (e.g. The Cushy Connections Between The Walrus And The Liberal Party Of Canada, The Curious Case Of Maclean’s Government Grants and The Mystery Of The Missing Canada 150 Project).

Right-wing news commentary like The Rebel will not change anything in this country. It’s mostly an echo chamber producing torqued commentary on the national and international headlines of the day. Real journalism is painstaking in the time it takes to track down and verify facts. It costs a lot more money than someone giving their two cents worth—but its value is immeasurably higher in the long run.  

I could write an article or do a video telling you how biased The Walrus is in favour of the Trudeau government by commenting on some of its wacky articles. But, what’s far more devastating is pointing out how the Trudeau government gave the magazine nearly $1M last year through a Canadian Periodical Fund and Canada 150 grants. Furthermore, pointing out that Trudeau’s close friend and then-Liberal candidate, Seamus O’Regan, was put on the magazine’s editorial review committee as the chair, the committee tasked with overseeing the journalism being worked on at the magazine, during the last federal election -- the same time period attack articles on Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair and puff pieces on Trudeau were published by The Walrus. Adding to the absurdity, Justin Trudeau’s ghostwriter of his “autobiography” was hired as the new editor-in-chief of The Walrus at the end of 2014.

On top of that, Trudeau’s best friend and principal secretary in the PMO, Gerald Butts’ wife, is now on the board along with other LPC friends. The story about the LPC’s connections to The Walrus involved FOIs and hours and hours of research. Yet the result is a far more compelling argument than simply yapping about one of its opinion pieces. Methodically showing the reader irrefutable proof is far more effective than pontificating in front of a camera and telling viewers what to think. Through my investigation I was able to show how compromised and one-sided The Walrus’s journalism is because of the organization’s personal and financial connections to the Trudeau government.

Now, let’s look at a more recent example. The Hijab Hoax that took place back in mid-January in Toronto and went viral internationally received torqued coverage by The Rebel. Levant said that “obviously” the mother was involved in the hoax. The right-wing news/commentary outlet also asked its audience to sign a petition demanding the Toronto Police criminally charge the mother for being behind filing a false report to police. Instead, on my own website, Raving Canuck, I questioned whether or not the mother or others were involved in cooking up this hoax. Despite my suspicions, I didn’t have irrefutable proof the mother was involved so I didn’t affirmatively state that the mother was “obviously” involved. In journalism you only state something is definitively true if you have proof to back it up. Instead of outright accusing the mother, I interviewed Toronto Police Service Commander Mark Pugash, who told me that their investigation turned up “nothing that justified further action.” So perhaps the police didn’t have enough evidence to prove the mother was involved or the police believe it was just the daughter and brother that independently came up with the elaborate story and cut the hijab by themselves. I have my suspicions, but I won’t publish a story on them unless I’ve had them confirmed or denied by corroborating or contradictory sources and documents.

Nevertheless, there are other ways to get some answers about what happened that day through good ol’ shoe-leather reporting. The Toronto District School Board denies it held the press conference a few hours after the alleged attack took place. The board claims it was just providing shelter from the bad weather for the family and reporters. Yet the TDSB had a spokesperson there. So, at Raving Canuck we decided to file a FOI with the TDSB to get all of its communications from the day of the incident and the subsequent days afterwards, when it turned out to be a hoax, in order to get to the bottom of what happened, at least where the TDSB is involved. Since filing our request, the TDSB has responded by asking for nearly $1,000 to process our request and hand over the 906 pages of communications.

I decided to have Raving Canuck put out its first test project in crowdfunding our journalism by setting up a crowdfunding page to raise $2,000 (again, investigative journalism costs money and it takes time to do). In the first two weeks, we’ve already had 27 donors, mostly complete strangers, contribute to our fundraiser and help raise $1,075 despite very little promotion. We’re also appealing the cost estimate with the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario so we can hopefully minimize the money we’re spending on bureaucrats, that way we can reallocate any savings to our next investigative journalism project. I’ve also spoken with Ontario PC leader Doug Ford, a week before he was chosen as the new leader, to see if he would reform FOI legislation in the province, and he was receptive. I’m also going to reach out to the Ontario Liberals and NDP to see what they’d do to rectify the outrageous processing costs associated with provincial and municipal FOIs in Ontario (Alberta’s FOI system is similarly atrocious, but at the federal level most requests only end up costing $5). The appeal process for the TDSB FOI cost will take at least a couple of weeks, and in the meantime we believe we’ll reach our fundraising goal. Sure, this is a modest beginning, but if we can scale up we could eventually be looking into many government institutions like universities, government departments, and the CBC, as well as lobbyists.

At Raving Canuck we intend to launch other crowdfunders in the coming days to raise capital to investigate the Ontario government’s ministries and departments, to look into things like hospital bed shortages and wait times, government ad spending, abuse at public nursing homes, and the effects on small businesses from the minimum wage hike. I also intend to crowdfund the definitive investigative piece laying out what the situation is with migrants illegally crossing the border into Canada, and how the immigration and refugee backlog has grown dramatically in the last couple of years.

Although investigative journalism might not be as interesting as colourful commentary, it’s far more powerful in invoking change. Many conservatives would argue they don’t want to fund journalism when their tax dollars already go to funding so many media outlets. Yet, if those taxpayer-funded outlets are only producing left-wing commentary and anti-business, anti-conservative journalism, is not funding alternative journalism really an option for conservative Canadians wanting left-wing institutions and figures also held to account for wrongdoing?

So you can bellyache on Twitter and Facebook to your heart’s content or you can try something new. I’d ask readers to carefully consider funding and supporting alternative journalism—like Raving Canuck and Poletical—or starting your own venture. Otherwise, I think it would be fair to diagnose Canadian conservatives with something close to insanity as they continue to rant and rave over how biased state-funded media is while doing nothing substantive to counter it. If Canadaland can raise over $27,000 a month from a largely progressive audience (with donors contributing as little as a dollar a month) for its journalism, but conservatives can’t put together similar numbers from grassroot donations—other than for Rebel Media’s hyper-partisan activism and commentary—then I think it will be safe to say that Canadian conservatives are comprised primarily of cheap, hypocritical, bitter losers reaping the nothingness that they sow.