Let’s reflect on three things that happened in the past week that saw some incredible reaction when each was judged in the court of public opinion. Three instances when the social media pile-on proved very apropos of the Halloween season as folks took to cyber streets with their pitchforks and torches.
Nationally, we witnessed the very public disintegration of the one time CBC radio god Jian Ghomeshi to alleged predator. To listening admirers of his morning show of interviews, shock was the first reaction to news that Ghomeshi had been fired from his hosting job on Q. He retaliated with a $50 million lawsuit and subsequently went to Facebook to explain he was being dismissed for his kinky sexual behaviour involving BDSM. That spawned a huge public defence along the lines of what goes on in the bedroom is nobody’s business. Some even claimed a Christian-right conspiracy led by Stephen Harper himself! As the week went on a number of women went public with their own creepy experiences with Ghomeshi that alleged harassment and non-consensual physical abuse. Navigator, a PR firm specializing in crisis management was hired to help before it quickly gave up. As of late, Toronto police have begun an investigation after three women filed complaints. As developments occurred the Toronto centred media axis exploded with endless commentary and updates. It was an extraordinary turn of public opinion fraught with ugly double standards that left egg on the faces of many whose fingers on their send buttons were disconnected from their thinking caps.
Closer to home, my Hamilton Spectator colleague Andrew Dreschel wrote a provocative column that challenged the popular notion of heroism in Corp. Nathan Cirillo, the Argyll & Sutherland reservist who was killed while guarding the National War Memorial in Ottawa. While some registered their agreement to the argument in Dreschel’s column, backlash was expected by editors and readers chimed in with their own definitions of what a hero is, and appropriately questioned the timing of the piece so soon after the funeral. The thoughtful reactions of support and protest were very quickly overshadowed by the mob of torchbearers who demanded Dreschel be fired for expressing an opinion they did not like. Roped in was the Hamilton Spectator itself condemned by many accusing editors of intentionally firing up the community for increased sales. The pile-on revealed profane-filled personal attacks from people who had obviously never read beyond the headline, and swaths of others who had no concept of commentary and the liberties each of us enjoy in the freedom of speech.
Closer to what I do for a living, this week witnessed a similar over-the-top public reaction to fellow editorial cartoonist Andy Donato and his Toronto mayoral candidate Olivia Chow cartoon. NDP leader Tom Mulcair ripped up a copy of the cartoon before an audience and publisher emeritus John Honderich felt compelled to fill a chunk of the Star’s opinion page to express his disgust under a headline asking “Where’s the Outrage…?” Andy Donato has legions of subscribing admirers to the Toronto Sun. The views expressed in his cartoons align comfortably to the right of centre on the political spectrum, just as they do with Sun Media, and as they do for the faithful readers of the Toronto Sun. Unlike most Canadian editorial cartoonists who straddle the fence with their commentary, readers should know which side Donato comes from. When the racism and sexism cards are thrown about as the have been in this case it diminishes the moments when there is truly identifiable racism and sexism. Donato’s cartoon has neither. It shows Olivia Chow, who’s a woman in public life, with Asian features, because she’s Asian, wearing a Mao suit, because she has leftist leanings and the Mao suit is an on going schtick used by Donato. The Layton suit is there to denote the riding coattails metaphor. It’s not a particularly subtle pleasing to the eye complementary piece, but it’s not racist nor sexist. It’s anti Olivia Chow and should not have been apologized for as Sun Media bowed to demands from the pitch fork brandishing public.
So three varieties of media personalities were the focus of various degrees of scrutiny in the court of public opinion this week. The Ghomeshi drama will play on and be the focus of social media. Thankfully, the Dreschel and Donato provocations will burn out quickly and be replaced by the next so and so who dares to challenge the status quo. I’ll leave final comment to Paul Godfrey, the long reigning editor of the Toronto Sun answering to the cartoon controversy, “people who enter all forms of public life may from time to time not like what a cartoonist produces . . . I have learned from personal experience to smile and move on.”