Earlier this week, Wildrose on Campus Calgary said it fired its communications director and cancelled a film screening following uproar over an email to promote the event that said "feminism is cancer."
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Since then, the University of Calgary's campus newspaper The Gauntlet has questioned the existence of that communications director — a person named Robert McDavid.
Jason Herring, a third-year computer science student at the University of Calgary and webmaster for the campus newspaper, is the reporter behind the investigation into Robert McDavid.
Herring spoke to The Calgary Eyeopener Friday about his work. The following is a condensed version of the interview.
Q: What motivated you to look into who this person was in the first place?
A: Looking into who this person was was really just doing our due diligence as journalists. We were writing our main story about the email, and we were actually a little bit frustrated because a lot of other news sources got to it faster than us.
We asked the member of the Wildrose on Campus that we were communicating with who the communication director was, and they gave us the name Robert McDavid. And we wanted to talk to Robert McDavid, because we thought that that was an important thing to do — to give this person their side of the story, to make sure that we're not just throwing someone under the bus for something they didn't actually do.
Q: You started poking around social media. What did his Facebook profile tell you?
A: His Facebook profile, everything on it, everything that was public, seemed to be created on that same day, Tuesday, March 7, early in the morning.
Q: Were there other red flags you discovered?
A: There were a lot of other red flags. After we couldn't get ahold of him, we started talking to other former members of the Wildrose on Campus, including their former president whose name is Jenn Galandy.
Jenn told us that she had been asking around and she had not heard of anyone with that name. So at this point, it's Tuesday evening. We actually do production on Tuesday evening and we go to print. So we had to write up a little story that was more of a summary of the whole situation, the email and just a little bit about Robert McDavid.
Q: You kept digging and found yourself a solid clue. What was that?
A: We had been digging around a lot, and it took us a little bit, but we went to perhaps one of the more obvious places and we called the University of Calgary's registrar office.
I just asked the office, "Hey can you search up in your database this student, Robert McDavid? We're trying to find out if he goes to the school for a story." And within a minute we knew that there wasn't a student named Robert McDavid at the university, and then things just compounded from there. We were able to talk to the Wildrose Party, to confirm that he's not actually a member of the provincial Wildrose, as all members of the club are required to be.
We need to encourage women to be engaged in the political process, not make them feel alienated. Glad action was taken here. https://t.co/P6WM1lzAUa— @BrianJeanWRP
Q: What is the club on campus saying about this revelation?
A: The club on campus, near the beginning, they were denying. We're still not entirely sure. We still can't say with certainty that Robert McDavid is or isn't a real person. That's something that we found evidence for, and we're letting our readers decide for themselves what they think of that. But the members of the Wildrose on Campus have been elusive, is what I'll say about that.
Q: You went to police on this too. Why is that?
A: We went to police because one of the things that the Wildrose on Campus said was ... they weren't revealing any personal information about Robert McDavid because there's death threats leveled against him for the "feminism is cancer" email, so they said they didn't want to put him at any more risk. So we talked to the CPS [Calgary Police Service] and we asked about any filed reports, and they told us as far as they knew there is nothing they can see.
Q: What do you think is going on here?
A: I think that someone's trying to pull the wool over someone's eyes — whether that's Robert McDavid or whether that's a member of the Wildrose on Campus, I can't say.
One thing that I heard mentioned from a comment from one of our readers was that it was an example of what's called the Streisand effect, where by virtue of trying to cover something up, you actually just make it more explosive and apparent, and you get more coverage for the thing you're trying to conceal. I think that's what happened.
Q: Did you ever expect you'd be doing some sort of investigative work that would land you on the The Calgary Eyeopener?
A: It's not my first time doing the CBC. I had an opinion piece on here about a year and half ago. I wasn't planning on doing this even this week. Our news guy who would normally do a story like this came down real sick on Tuesday night and I just took over the story. But when I originally started at The Gauntlet, I just came to write album reviews.
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener