Why I'm leaving the National Post

In a Canadian media industry that regularly lauds itself for courageous truth-telling, the goal is now to hide one’s true opinion rather than declare it.

Barbara Kay Montreal QC

It’s been two decades since my first byline appeared in the National Post. For a woman who already was well into middle age when her career began, the experience has been a thrill and a privilege. Perhaps more importantly, it’s been lively, energizing and fun. The National Post was conceived in 1998 as a safe haven from the stale pieties that dominated (and still dominate) the legacy Canadian media. Unfortunately, the spirit now has gone out of the place. And I’ve decided to step away from my regular column, at least for now. I’ve been noticing for a while that much of the best writing about Canada is increasingly taking place on platforms that didn’t exist until recently (and in some cases aren’t even Canadian). Numerous international writers whom I admire have decided to find new ways to reach their audience. I will now join their ranks.

There’s nothing the Canadian media loves more than stories about bitter infighting within its own ranks. And I wish I had a shocking tale of censorship or workplace bullying to supply to those media critics who trade on schadenfreude. Alas, I don’t. In fact, I continue to respect and appreciate the Post editors who’ve worked with me over the years. But the severe pressures they now experience no longer can be compartmentalized within their managerial sphere. They have spilled out into their relationship with their columnists, spoiling the weekly rites of editorial collaboration that once were one of the great joys of this job.

Thanks to the excommunication of James Bennet and (effectively) Bari Weiss from The New York Times, the vicious hounding of Margaret Wente at Massey College, and the CBC’s sadistic shaming of veteran broadcaster Wendy Mesley, the poisonous phenomenon I am describing here is by now well-known. Every editor feels like he is one Tweet away from getting mobbed and fired. And so the range of permissible opinion shrinks daily. Many columns now read as if they were stitched together from the same few dozen bromides that one is still allowed to say. In a Canadian media industry that regularly lauds itself for courageous truth-telling, the goal is now to hide one’s true opinion rather than declare it.

National Post editors Matt Gurney and Rob Roberts did their best to support me in recent months, even when my columns on charged topics were delayed or spiked. Days would pass between submission and publication, during which time the column shuffled from one editor to another for review.

As recently as today, my editor assured me that my job was not at risk. But every week seems to deliver new restrictions and anxieties. And a writer shouldn’t have to feel like she is imposing on her editor, or asking him to exert himself as a special favour, merely so she can give voice to mainstream principles that most Canadians believe. Even when my columns appear in the National Post without any kind of delay or objection, I feel a lingering worry that some stray word or phrase will cause an editor to suffer blowback. If I were a less experienced writer who needed the money or the exposure, these are concerns that I would accommodate. But I’m fortunate enough to not be in that position.

Since the early 2000s, journalists have anticipated the demise of their own industry. But we wrongly assumed that this decline would be driven exclusively by economic and technological factors. In recent months especially, it’s become clear that ideological purges have turned a gradual retreat into what now feels like a full-on rout. This is not a case of a lack of demand: The rise of popular new online sites shows that Canadians are eager for fresh voices and good reporting. Rather, legacy outlets are collapsing from within because they’ve outsourced editorial direction to a vocal internal minority that systematically weaponizes social media to destroy internal workplace hierarchies, and which presents its demands in Manichean terms. During the various iterations of political correctness that appeared since the 1990s, National Post editors fought against this trend. But as the public shaming of Rex Murphy shows, some now feel they have no choice but to throw down their weapons and sue for peace.

The last column I submitted to the National Post was a dispassionate review of Debra Soh’s new book, "The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths about Sex and Identity," which will be published next month by an imprint of Simon & Schuster. In outward respects, Soh is exactly the kind of writer whom progressives have lionized in recent years: a young woman of colour (and neuroscience PhD) who opines courageously about issues of sex and identity. Like me, she also happens to believe in concepts such as biology, sexual dimorphism, evidence-based clinical treatments, and the importance of peer-reviewed science. In a normal world, it wouldn’t matter that these concepts run afoul of ideological movements that venerate the revealed truths communicated by inwardly experienced sensations of gender.

But even many progressives (including those who signed the Harper’s “Letter on Justice and Open Debate” this month) now publicly acknowledge that these are not normal times. And if as famous and powerful a writer as J.K. Rowling can get smeared for stating that biology is a thing, it shouldn’t surprise readers to know that the submission below provided yet another occasion for Post editors to drag their feet.

We are experiencing a dark period for free thought in Canada. But extremist movements always work in cycles. And one already can hear the gears of counterrevolution grinding into motion. If my editors are amenable to it, I may choose to reappear in the pages of the Post when this movement is suitably advanced. Or not. Either way, I will find other means to get my opinions out into the world. And however I choose to do so, I’ve promised myself that the experience will be, at the very least, lively, energizing and fun.

Note: This statement first appeared on Barbara Kay's Facebook page.


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