Calgary

Calgary Herald column defending Brett Kavanaugh slammed by city councillors, advertiser

An opinion column in a Calgary newspaper appearing to defend a U.S. Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault has sparked some public outcry, prompting threats of interview bans and backlash from at least one advertiser.

But should politicians block certain news outlets? That’s another story

Druh Farrell has threatened to block the Calgary Herald after the paper published a column that appears to justify alleged sexual assault by a U.S. Supreme Court nominee. (Genevieve Normand/Radio-Canada/calgaryherald.com)

An opinion column in the Calgary Herald that appeared to defend a U.S. Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault has sparked some public outcry, prompting threats of interview bans and backlash from at least one advertiser.

Nominee Brett Kavanaugh has been testifying before the Senate judiciary committee on Capitol Hill after Christine Blasey Ford accused him of sexual assault in 1982.

Ford — a psychology professor at Palo Alto University in California — said a drunken Kavanaugh attacked her and tried to remove her clothing at a gathering in Maryland when he was 17 years old and she was 15.

In the Herald column, "What happened in high school should stay there," author Naomi Lakritz concludes: "Three decades after leaving high school, what anyone did there, what he scribbled in his yearbook, or how hot he thought some teacher was, is totally irrelevant to who he is now."

'Couldn't believe what I was reading'

The column — for at least two Calgary city councillors — was a step too far.

"I couldn't believe what I was reading," Druh Farrell told CBC News on Thursday.

She tweeted earlier in the day she wouldn't be "taking interview requests until they retract and apologize," in response to another councillor's online comments.

"So my colleague Jyoti Gondek tweeted that she would no longer be doing interviews with the Herald until there was some sort of an apology or they addressed this," Farrell said.

"I thought I would follow her lead. It's important that we stand together. The world has to change. Surely we shouldn't have to justify that any longer, not from a premier newspaper in the city."

Car dealership pulls ads

A car dealership north of Calgary, Cam Clark Ford, wasn't happy with the placement of their ad next to the column.

"We have contacted Postmedia to express our concerns and to request that our ads be pulled from the column, as the views expressed do not align with our values and we do not endorse them in any way," the dealership tweeted.

A car dealership north of Calgary was unhappy with the placement of their ad next to the column. (@Cam_Clark_Ford/Twitter)

'Sexual assault is not something dumb'

An associate journalism professor at Carleton University says it's incredible the column passed the muster of an editor.

"It seems to suggest at one point that nothing happened, at another point that something happened and we should forget about it, and in between it says 'something dumb you did in high school,'" Paul Adams told The Homestretch.

"To me, that is the offending line that an editor should have caught because if the allegations against Kavanaugh are true, an attempted rape is not something dumb you did in high school. A sexual assault is not something dumb."

Paul Adams is an associate professor of journalism at Carleton University. (Sophia Adams)

But does that justify blocking a media outlet, he asks?

"Coverage of city hall has shrunk to the detriment of our civic life and I think it would be a tragedy if politicians started to cut off particular media outlets," Adams said.

"This is something Donald Trump did at certain points. He excluded certain outlets because he wasn't happy with their coverage. I think it is destructive of the dialogue we have to have in our society. The readers of the Calgary Herald should not be deprived of news coverage about city hall because somebody doesn't like an op-ed."

Readers lose out, not the paper

Political columnist Jen Gerson agrees on that point.

"To try and abuse the reporters for the opinions of a columnist is, I think, misguided, and it's not the right way to go about it," Gerson said.

"Ultimately, a politician can choose to absolve herself of her responsibility to the public by avoiding speaking with journalists if they want, they are citizens, too … but I think that it should result in a public backlash."

Perhaps nobody wins in those situations, she said.

Jen Gerson is a Calgary-based political columnist. (Jen Gerson)

"It's not the journalists who the politicians are ultimately snubbing, it is the audience and the readers who those journalists are trying to serve that the politicians are snubbing."

Gondek asked in a Facebook post following her tweet how she should handle the situation.

"To the journalists at the Herald who are now cut off from reporting the news in a fulsome manner because I am refusing to engage, I realize I have saddled you with a heavy load," Gondek wrote.

"You had no role in what was published and penalizing you is not a fair form of retribution. I accept that. Tell me how I can do this differently so that your editorial board understands the gravity of their actions. I'll speak with you about how we move forward, just not in a manner that allows your employer to benefit from my words, at this point in time."

Farrell, meanwhile, is undeterred, addressing a follow-up editorial by the Herald titled "Free speech for all, including victims of sexual misconduct."

"The retraction was almost worse. It wasn't a retraction, it was a justification. But I'd like them to apologize but truly think about their role in Calgary society and the responsibility they have as a news media."

Paper says it's freedom of speech

The editor in chief at the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun provided an emailed statement Thursday evening, saying it's a matter of opinion.

"Freedom of speech is one of the most important principles of our society, and the columnist's role at a newspaper is to express an opinion," Lorne Motley wrote.

"We have heard loud and clear that people disagree with the Wednesday column from Naomi Lakritz ... The editorial pages are designed to be a hub of community opinion and debate, and sometimes they involve unpopular views. [Friday] we will be carrying views from others who also oppose Lakritz's position."


With files from Radio-Canada's Genevieve Normand, CBC's Drew Anderson and The Homestretch

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Bell

Web Journalist

David Bell has been a professional, platform-agnostic journalist since he was the first graduate of Mount Royal University’s bachelor of communications in journalism program in 2009. His work regularly receives national exposure.

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