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If you are an opinion journalist worth readers’ or listeners’ time, whether your views are left, right or centre, you will have lots of people disagreeing with you. Your more uninhibited responders, some of them downright sadistic bottom feeders, may express their contempt for you with shocking imagery on social media. They will wish you death in a grease fire, accuse you of every phobia you can think of and say crude things about your family members for the pleasure of imagining your pain. It’s an unpleasant fact of media life.
My first brush with this kind of vitriol arose 20 years ago when I started writing columns about pit bull depredations and came out in favour of breed specific legislation. The organized pit bull advocacy movement (who knew?) swung into action. I was shocked by the hate email I received – dozens of emails for every column on the subject – and even a few threats of harm. When social media became the preferred forum for hate-spewing, I was regularly attacked there too.
Since then, I’ve become accustomed to disgusting comments in response to my views on many other subjects. I’ve been accused of racism, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Indigenous bigotry, homophobia and transphobia. But, because I place a high value on freedom of speech, I managed to acquire a thick skin for punitive discourse.
But I do have my red lines, and when they are crossed – ageism, for example (“Aren’t you dead yet? I thought you were dead already”), but especially when I get antisemitic messaging following a pro-Israel column – I take full advantage of Twitter’s “mute” and “block” functions. There have been occasions, such as the time I defended the intentions behind the residential schools as benign for their era, when I got such an obviously coordinated tsunami of hate tweets from Indigenous activists, I had to spend almost an entire morning blocking the most malicious of them.
Which brings me to the interesting case of Supriya Dwivedi, a now-former radio host who resigned last month from Global News Radio 640 Toronto after four years there. She has filed a complaint against her employer’s parent company, Corus Entertainment, with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, alleging the company refused to enforce journalistic standards on talk radio that led, as a consequence, to her being subjected to racist insults and threats of violence on social media.
Dwivedi, who is a lawyer, submitted documentation—including internal privileged emails sent to and received by her, as well as legal communications in her possession from counsel to Corus Entertainment, Howard Levitt—to VICE World News, which outlined the case in a detailed feature article Dec 1.
In her resignation letter to Ward Smith, senior vice-president of Global News, Dwivedi accuses her talk radio colleagues of spreading “false narratives” about Muslims, Sikhs and “other targeted groups.” She claims that when she “fact-checked” them on her show, she would be trolled in obscene and/or racialized language. One message, for example, referenced her 17-month old daughter being raped. Horrific. There are certainly a lot of sickos out there, and Twitter is where you will find them clustered.
A Corus spokesperson said the company encourages its 39 radio stations to “comply with the stringent codes that apply to our industry.” Corus also denies any tolerance for spreading misinformation or any encouragement for the provocation of hateful language against an employee. In an email to Dwivedi, Smith pronounced himself “surprised and disappointed” by the resignation, describing her claims as “inaccurate and uncorroborated, particularly given the relationship of ongoing support and opportunity that so many on our team have provided you.”
Levitt’s letter to Dwivedi said her concerns had been handled “conscientiously and diligently,” observing that the attacks against her came from the public, for which the company cannot be held responsible. “She accepted a position in talk radio on a station with a significant conservative readership, where commentators express strong and divergent opinion and the public responds accordingly,” Levitt stated, adding, “Attacks from listeners and others on social media, as well as having other hosts with contrary opinions to her own, are a fundamental constituent of the job she accepted.”
This human rights complaint must surely be a first in Canada – or perhaps in the West – in which a media employer is held responsible for nasty feedback an employee receives for her publicly expressed opinions.
Ms Dwivedi’s complaints stand in stark contrast to an opinion journalist who probably has every right to sue her employers: Bari Weiss, former senior opinion columnist at The New York Times. As Weiss recounted in her resignation letter, Weiss, who often wrote full-throated pro-Israel columns, was subjected to continual bouts of antisemitism-themed harassment by her colleagues with the admitted knowledge of senior management, who did nothing to curtail it, fearful of roiling the waters amongst their progressive, “woke” staffers. As Weiss stated:
My own forays into Wrongthink have made me the subject of constant bullying by colleagues who disagree with my views. They have called me a Nazi and a racist; I have learned to brush off comments about how I’m “writing about the Jews again.” Several colleagues perceived to be friendly with me were badgered by coworkers. My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly “inclusive” one, while others post ax emojis next to my name. Still other New York Times employees publicly smear me as a liar and a bigot on Twitter with no fear that harassing me will be met with appropriate action. They never are.
That’s quite different from a radio host who is treated with great respect from colleagues, but who disapproves of their opinions and occasional exasperated comments about, for example, acknowledged cultural customs that present obstacles to best public health practices, and interprets it as racism. Or someone who is never harassed by colleagues for her South Asian provenance, but is racialized by morons on Twitter.
Would it be insensitive at this point, according to Ms Dwivedi’s worldview, to mention that to a Jew, antisemitism expressed on Twitter is every bit as upsetting as colour-coded baiting is to Ms Dwivedi, but that no Jew I know of, including me, would ever dream of taking that feeling of offence to a human rights commission in a claim against an employer based on the Twitter attacks we receive as a result of our own opinion pieces?
I should here disclose that I had the opportunity on several occasions to exchange views with Ms Dwivedi on a Montreal radio talk show a number of years ago. I enjoyed these mini-debates, which were conducted with civility and humour on both sides, even when our perspectives diverged significantly, as they usually did – and do.
That said, Ms Dwivedi is a young woman of very firm progressive views. Although bright and capable of mental growth, she is not a deep thinker. Like so many other young men and women of her cohort, who rarely encountered any but progressive views during their formative educational years, she seems to me quite content to assume that progressive values and beliefs constitute the only opinions worthy of more than superficial respect.
So if I have any complaint to make about her, it is that she struck me as rather incurious for a journalist getting her feet wet, and - however politely - unreceptive to bona fide evidence that might mitigate certain of her politically correct views. Intellectually complacent, I would say, not a wonderful trait in a journalist with ambitions for distinction in our competitive market.
Thus, my spidey sense was set a-tingle when I read that Ms Dwivedi had developed a habit of “correcting” colleagues who advanced views she took issue with. For example, she “corrected” evening host Alex Pierson’s claim that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is a globalist. Now, Ms Dwivedi may have her reasons for believing Trudeau is not a globalist, and she should be free to express that belief, along with her marshalled evidence to support it. But there is also considerable evidence to back up the opinion that he is a globalist. As a journalist, Ms Dwivedi should be aware that the opinion that Justin Trudeau is a globalist is not the same as an opinion that the earth is flat.
Therefore, to claim recourse against her employer for failing to “correct” Ms Pierson’s opinion, let alone claiming that such a failure on their part to do so was grounds for a human rights complaint application, simply boggles the reasonable mind. Speaking of reasonable minds, Ms Dwivedi’s impulse to “correct” rather than question does, I am afraid, set me to wondering how widely Ms Dwivedi casts her information-gathering net before exuding such assurance – publicly - that there is only one right opinion in this matter.
Not very far, it seems, or even at all. For illustration, there was Ms Dwivedi’s comment about seasoned alpha journalist and brilliantly outspoken Mark Steyn, an erstwhile regular on the John Oakley radio show (he cancelled himself from further appearances when his friend Conrad Black was cancelled for politically incorrect statements on air). Ms Dwivedi stated that on Oakley’s show, Steyn “regularly peddles blatant Islamophobia with comments such as ‘young Muslims do not like Jews. That is a simple fact.’”
Here is where Ms Dwivedi’s reflexive incuriosity – and as a result, an unfortunate tendency to hutzpah (she is correcting Mark Steyn???) - kicks in. Why assume Mark Steyn’s statement was based in Islamophobia? Why not first assume it is based in evidence? A simple Google search might have brought Ms Dwivedi to this 2019 Pew Research Centre poll on Muslim views of Jews, with its finding that Muslims hold “unfavorable” views of Jews in the following percentages in these Islamic countries:
- Jordan - 100 percent
- Lebanon - 99 percent
- Egypt - 98 percent
- Morocco - 88 percent
- Indonesia - 76 percent
- Pakistan - 74 percent
Even without the poll, anyone who has followed European news that features the gruesome history of antisemitic violence over the last two decades, especially in France, executed by young Muslim males bruiting their virulent Judeophobia with pride – doubtless the trends Steyn was referencing – would have known that Steyn’s comment, “it’s a simple fact,” was evidence-based. How many other “corrections” was Ms Dwivedi flat-out wrong and hubristic besides to make?
The crux of her complaint, Ms Dwivedi asserts, is that Global News radio division created and cultivated an audience that makes it untenable for any racialized person to be a host at the station. She believes, indeed claims, they are “gaslighting” her, giving her prominence at the station as a form of tokenism. (The other 640 Toronto radio hosts – eight in all – are white.)
I don’t believe that is true. Ms Dwivedi is bright, personable, glib (in the good, radio sense of being able to carry on smoothly, even with thin news gruel to sustain her), fluent in three languages (English, French, Hindi), and besides all that she is – yes, certainly a trump card in this era – “diverse.” What’s not to like?
I wish I could have had access to all the documents Ms Dwivedi shared with VICE, but they were, alas, declined, through her lawyer, to share with The Post Millennial. I would have loved to have a fuller gamut of clues to either dispel or support my growing suspicion that Ms Dwivedi’s problem is not a rebarbative employer at all. My suspicion, based on the information available, is that she is actually annoyed at the lack of tokenism she found at Global News radio.
That is to say, I get the impression Ms Dwivedi expected special deference to her views, a token entitlement on the grounds of her “racialized” status, to a platform uniquely free of the slings and arrows hurled by troglodytes that everyone else in this biz takes for granted as an annoying but acceptable price to pay for the great privilege of having a platform to speak our minds at all.
It would appear that Ms Dwivedi’s relationship with right-of-centre radio is over for good. But given her evident pleasure in opinionating, I daresay we will soon see her ensconced in a media kitchen where the thermostat is better aligned with her comfort zone: where she can feel relaxed (even sleepy!) much of the time, knowing her employer’s silo of followers will post social media comments trending in her support.
Or she might decide to go the full monty and join the ranks of those who pontificate for hours a day, but in a social bell jar where criticism of one’s opinions is proscribed altogether: Academia.