Toronto’s municipal election is behind us. Mayor John Tory was easily re-elected to a second term with 63.5 per cent of the vote, while his main rival Jennifer Keesmaat pulled in 23.6 per cent. But it was The Varsity’s coverage of third-place contender Faith Goldy — who won just 3.4 per cent of the popular vote — that caused the most concern for readers.
Goldy is a far-right media personality with ties to white nationalist views. Prior to being fired from The Rebel Media for appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast, Goldy hosted a segment on whether Canadian immigration is leading to a “white genocide.” In other words, Goldy espouses views that are morally repugnant to the vast majority of the University of Toronto community.
The Varsity was faced with the difficult task of acknowledging Goldy’s candidacy, while delineating her fringe views and low levels of popular support. At times, The Varsity’s election coverage fell short of this responsibility. The Varsity failed in two main areas: its imprecise coverage of the protest that broke out during the mayoral transit debate co-hosted by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, and its imbalanced coverage of Goldy’s candidacy.
Precision is important
According to one reader, “there has been a pattern of coverage of Faith Goldy that has quite honestly left me confused. While I understand mistakes happen, I have come to expect better.” This “pattern” refers to two moments of editorial oversight.
The first was The Varsity’s October 1 cover, which featured a photograph of UTSC students and pro-Goldy protesters at the transit debate. As Rachel Chen noted in her Letter to the Editor, the cover offered no context about who Goldy is or why she was excluded from the debate. It also failed to explicitly distinguish which debate attendees were bystanders and which were protesters.
The second incident was The Varsity’s publication of a Facebook video with the title “Protests erupt at mayoral transit debate.” Like the October 1 cover, the title of this video offered no context about Goldy’s controversial politics. According to Editor-in-Chief Jack Denton, it was an accident — The Varsity did not intend to publish the video with that title. Denton informed me that when “it was brought to our attention (within minutes), we immediately renamed the title of the video and ensured that the caption on Facebook clarified beyond doubt who the protesters were supporting and what Faith Goldy represents.”
Neither incident was intentional. However, Chen was correct when she wrote that “in a situation involving something as heavy as white supremacy… it is the responsibility of the newspaper to make sure they provide enough context.” The Varsity should be held to a heightened standard of conscientiousness when reporting about Goldy because her views are so antithetical to those of our community.
Journalists always have a responsibility to be accurate when affiliating any person, or group of persons, with offensive and extreme political viewpoints. This is of particular importance in campus journalism, where readers often know the individuals being featured.
The Varsity isn’t just a conveyor of news; it is also a conveyor of community. What might appear as an impersonal photo in National Post or The Globe and Mail has more immediate repercussions on a university campus. Given these stakes, The Varsity should have aspired to the highest degree of clarity when reporting on the pro-Goldy protest at the mayoral transit debate.
Legitimizing Goldy’s candidacy
The Varsity was also criticized for giving Goldy’s campaign too much coverage. Last week’s edition included a full-page feature on Goldy, titled “The Faith Goldy effect.” The author, Anastasia Pitcher, was careful to contextualize Goldy’s politics in relation to their white nationalist origins and condemn the politician’s views as “unambiguously hateful.”
Nonetheless, the question remains: should we be giving a politician who espouses such views a full-page feature in The Varsity? Pitcher’s article anticipates this question and argues that “a forbidden message has power and allure. [Goldy] has said, ‘the more they try to silence us, the more people are starting to pay attention.’ For once, I have to say that I agree with her.” However, the reality is that this article gave Goldy greater exposure — more people know Goldy’s name now than before.
The danger of giving Goldy a voice in The Varsity is the risk of legitimizing her xenophobic views. Even if the newspaper’s coverage is largely critical, it grants Goldy ostensible legitimacy as a political figure. As Lucas Granger argued in a Letter to the Editor, “giving [Goldy] a platform to spew her hatred in order to debate her and try to take her down civilly is a false dream and can only win her more support.”
This brings me back to the refrain that context matters deeply when covering controversial political candidates. Context matters in specific circumstances, as in the mayoral transit debate, but also in a broader, institutional sense. We as readers, writers, and editors of The Varsity must be aware of the legitimizing power that this newspaper holds, as we seek to wield it wisely.
Morag McGreevey is The Varsity’s Public Editor and can be reached at [email protected].