It's not often an opinion columnist has the opportunity for a "scoop"—that is, the opportunity to break a story to the public that has not been covered by other media outlets. It's a gratifying experience when it happens—and also, to judge by the feedback—an instructive one.
In December, my editor at the National Post invited me to write a feature article based on material that had come to his attention, which had the potential to completely overturn former media accounts of a scandal in Canada's fashion world last June. The universally accepted narrative at the time was that, motivated by racism, famous Toronto stylist Jessica Mulroney had gratuitously threatened to damage the career of Black influencer Sasha Exeter.
The narrative rose to a crescendo following a 12-minute video Exeter published on Instagram, in which Mulroney was presented as a bully and overtly labelled a racist. Exeter portrayed herself as a vulnerable innocent, a single Black mother afflicted by fear of the powerful Jessica, and desiring only to ensure that her little girl was not subject to the kind of racism that—implicitly—her mother was enduring.
The background to the video and a link to the video itself can be found in the long article that resulted from my in-depth research, underpinned by evidence—pages of Direct Messages and text messages exchanged between Mulroney and Exeter, which I reproduced in the article - that served to exonerate Mulroney completely from any iota of racism or bullying—and moreover to demonstrate that it was Exeter who was the bully.
The messages, by the way, were not uncovered by a stellar feat of investigative reporting. Mulroney would have been happy to share them with any journalist who approached her in good faith. Only none did before I contacted her. I am not saying there are no journalists in Canada of good faith. All I am saying is that Mulroney's cancellation did not attract their attention at the time.
It did not attract my own attention in June as fodder for writing material, because fashion and entertainment are not part of my normal wheelhouse. I was aware of the kerfuffle, of course—it was a major news item—but I read it passively. In retrospect, I remember thinking that the story was rather confusing, because there were so few actual details. There seemed to be more heat than light in it, but since I wasn't intending to pursue it, I let it go.
The journalists who were most attracted happened to be one of two kinds: those for whom gossip in the world of fashion and entertainment celebrities is their jam (and this was very juicy jam indeed), and those who are mad keen to signal their social-justice virtue by demonstrating alliance with any and all allegedly victimized black people. As a result, not a single journalist challenged Exeter's context-free accusations.
The Mulroney story is a good cancel-culture case history, because it incorporates so many of the features that define the phenomenon. The target was a tall poppy—a high-achieving woman in a domain where social status is an obsession; the accusation was vague and insubstantial (so vague and insubstantial that it still baffles many observers trying to understand the narrative); the rhetoric of the accusers was melodramatic; there was a complete lack of due process with no explanation; and the target was immediately isolated. Colleagues that Mulroney believed were also her friends distanced themselves from her in order to avoid similar accusations and ruination, followed by ritual performances of the same colleagues, on their blogs and on-air discussions, eager to admit their own privilege and declare allyship with the presumed victim and the movement.
Jessica's career collapsed inside of a few days. Her brands dropped her. Bell/CTV cut her loose publicly and brutally, without contacting her first. Terrible things were said about her throughout the mainstream media and on social media. Already psychologically fragile, she was plunged into a spiral of depression and anxiety, including suicidal ideation, that had her husband Ben fearful of leaving her alone (Ben was also forced to resign from his main CTV gig of 18 years tenure, eTalk.). Although some friends stayed faithful to her in private, they dared not to stand up for her publicly, for fear of being cancelled themselves. A realistic fear. Isolation of the victim is a key component of cancel culture, a means of ratcheting up the psychological torture.
My mail on this story was voluminous and passionate. An overwhelming percentage was positive and appreciative. Of those who were critical, the only reason given was that it didn't matter if Sasha lied, she is a racialized victim and Jessica is a white woman of privilege. Case closed. It was exactly the same on Twitter.
Of the 98 percent positive responses, a few motifs recurred again and again, and often in the exact same words. One was "I knew there was 'something off' about this story when it first broke," often followed by an apology that they didn't push for more facts, but explaining that they accepted it as true because all the media took the same credulous line. The second was, "You are courageous" for telling the whole story. And the third was "Why did Jessica keep apologizing? She should have stayed silent, or pushed back."
As a journalist, I can say that if there is "something off" about a story, the last thing you do is accept it as fact without investigating. I found it remarkable and rather horrifying that until I called Jessica, not a single journalist had asked for her side of the story. What does that tell you about most of the mainstream media today? It tells us they are in complete thrall to Woke ideology. If a black woman claims she is a victim of racism, you don't ask questions. You only want to prove what a great ally you are to anti-racism. It tells us that doing their actual job comes second to using their platform for political activism.
Next, I was saddened, not flattered, when readers told me I was courageous. What courage is there in correcting a huge, but misleading story? I had a national newspaper backing me up, for heaven's sake. They wanted me to do it. What was the worst I could fear? Some hostile remarks on Twitter? The word "courage" should be reserved for journalists in China or Russia or other places where you can literally be imprisoned or even killed for reporting accurately on events. Accurate reportage in a free society is not an act of courage. So the fact that so many people think it was tells you a lot—and nothing good—about the state of mainstream journalism in our society.
As for Jessica's piteous torrent of apologies. Well, she knew instinctively what she was up against once it dawned on her that Sasha's first angry DMs did not stem from anything she had done to provoke such a reaction. But by the time she realized that, she was already sucked into the exchange. Hindsight is 20/20. Her mistake—and I am sure many of us who are in the habit of operating in good faith would have made the same one—was to be a bit slow in recognizing that Exeter's relentless attack was almost certainly a calculated strategy to elicit a weapon she could use against Mulroney.
Jessica is not the only victim of entrapment to fall back on fulsome apologies. She recognized it was her only hope to save herself from perdition. Occasionally such self-abasement works. In this case not.
Speaking of apologies, my article appeared Jan 21. Up to now, Jessica has not received a single apology from anyone who participated in her cancellation. They are all hoping the waters will close over it. Eventually they will, I suppose. But before they do, I want to be on the record in calling upon Lainey Lui, Melissa Grelo (another "friend" of Jessica), Marci Ien (Sasha Exeter's aunt, one of Jessica's most vocal detractors and now a Liberal MP) and Jess Allen, all hosts on CTV's daytime talk show, The Social, who took obvious pleasure in trashing Jessica on air and in blogs, and then kept shtumm when the other side of the story was published.
Also Tracy Moore, host of Cityline, who considered herself a good friend of Jessica's, and said so, but quite brazenly announced on Instagram that a Black woman's accusation was enough for her to throw that friend under the bus without giving her friend an opportunity to defend herself. I call upon all these women to do the right thing. If they are reluctant to, I call upon CTV to insist that they do it, or fire them if they refuse. Which is unlikely because—wait for it—CTV had the evidence of all the messages in their hands as early as October, and simply sat on them. Shame on all of them.