ATTA ALMASI — The Gateway (University of Alberta)
EDMONTON (CUP) — Playwright George Bernard Shaw once mused that he “learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”
For some of the delegates attending the annual national conference of the Canadian University Press, a non-profit co-operative made up of student newspaper organizations from across the country, heeding Shaw’s words might have spared them the embarrassment of having some figurative mud on their face after arguing with keynote speaker Ezra Levant this January.
By his own admission, the Sun News contributor and popular conservative pundit enjoys provoking people. He loves challenging conventional thought and wisdom, which — despite having landed him in legal trouble in the past — has also produced some journalistic gems.
One of his most well-known stories involved exposing prominent and popular Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki for his alleged $30,000 speaker fee and alleged request for an exclusively female security detail drawn from the school’s student body while giving a speech at Montreal’s John Abbott College.
Levant sees himself as a self-proclaimed “freedom fighter,” looking for stories that go relatively uncovered and unnoticed by the rest of the mainstream media and helping to somewhat solidify the notion of what he calls “the media party.”
So it was no surprise that during his keynote speech at the conference in the ballroom of the Chateau Lacombe hotel on Jan. 11, Levant expressed his belief in this notion of a liberal consensus media by saying that he doesn’t pretend to be an “objective journalist.”
According to Levant, it’s the rest of the mainstream media — which he accused of being “stenographers” for left-wing causes and politicians — who make false claims of objectivity.
He pointed out the indisputable fact that as university students who had almost no experience working an eight hour day on the floor of a factory, every single person listening to his talk — regardless of gender, race or sexuality — was a member of a very privileged, exclusive and elite group. This declaration caused many to shift uncomfortably in their seats and others to angrily confront Levant’s own self-proclaimed status as a “rich, white conservative pundit.”
While the rest of Levant’s speech wasn’t a huge difference from what the he usually talks about on his TV show The Source, the University of Alberta alumnus seemed to derive pleasure from the numerous random outbursts vilifying him throughout his speech.
The loud comments from the crowd included implications that he was homophobic, racist and misogynistic even after he explicitly stated that he thought women, African-Americans and gay people were equal to men, white people and heterosexuals, and referenced women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement and the fight for LGBTQ rights as reasons for the necessity of “offensive speech.”
While the shouting came from an extremely vocal minority, that small number of outraged delegates only served to undermine the professionalism that, up until that point, had been maintained and was extremely well displayed throughout the conference. If anything, it’s their opposition to Levant that looks ridiculous.
The difference in treatment between the other keynote speakers and Levant makes one wonder, for instance, what would’ve happened if an adamant and hardcore supporter of Ford Nation had angrily interrupted Wednesday night’s keynote speaker and Toronto Star reporter Robyn Doolittle, who rose to fame during 2013 as one of the two journalists to break the Mayor Rob Ford crack story.
If a delegate had shouted while Doolittle was talking and loudly accused her of being a liar who used her newfound publicity to further her own journalistic ambitions rather than pursue the truth, they would have likely received a negative reaction from their fellow delegates.
The anger and lack of respect reserved for Levant on that evening may have been borne out of an incorrect belief that being a conservative or holding right-wing principles or values is equitable to being ignorant, since the prevailing political pulse at most universities is overwhelmingly left of centre. People like Levant are seen to be unintelligent, ill-informed and in need of a good educational lecture by those supposedly in the know.
The underlying irony, of course, is that while many in the room who shouted down Levant will no doubt struggle to gain employment in the field of journalism, Levant is walking proof — albeit not one that many of his detractors would care to admit to — that gaining a stable and relevant foothold in this industry is indeed both plausible and possible even if you are a fire-breathing conservative.
Photo: University of Saskatchewan