As It Happens

Why Scott Gilmore regrets Maclean's column linking Trump impeachment to Iran crash

"I knew that that column would go viral," says Scott Gilmore. "And that made me question what my motivation was for writing it."

'I knew that that column would go viral ... and that made me question what my motivation was for writing it'

A Maclean's columnist drew a line from U.S. President Donald Trump's impeachment to the deadly air disaster in Tehran. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Listen6:16

Scott Gilmore says he's not happy his column is going viral.

The Maclean's columnist penned an opinion piece Thursday tracing a line from the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump to the Tehran airliner disaster that killed 176 people.

It's called "Donald Trump gets impeached — 63 Canadians die." Canada's foreign affairs minister on Friday adjusted the Canadian death toll from 63 to 57.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday that Canadian intelligence indicates the jet was shot down by an Iranian missile, adding that it may have been unintentional. Iran denies it had anything to do with the crash.

Shortly after his column went live, Gilmore posted a thread on Twitter explaining why he regrets what he wrote, even as he stands by his assertion. 

Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

It was a very provocative headline on your article. What is the argument? What did you want to get across in this column?

What I wanted to do was talk about the unintended consequences of the Trump presidency.

He's a black swan moment, an unexpected player on the stage, who seems to have changed so much, whether it's the role of the presidency, separation of powers in the United States, [or] the role of the United States in the world.

And I thought this plane crash was a very good way of demonstrating what these unintended consequences have been.

Iran rejects claims from Canada and the U.S. that Flight PS752 was likely shot down by an Iranian anti-aircraft missile. Officials say an investigation into the crash could take up to 2 years. 5:34

There are others who have connected or are drawing this line between the ... the crash, and attaching it to ... the American assassination of [Iranian] Gen. [Qassem] Soleimani. You take it back further. You take it back before Christmas for your timeline. What's the point you're making there?

I wanted to look at the direct line between the impeachment and what has happened with the president's behaviour since then, and what that has meant to us, unfortunately, as Canadians.

I did see a direct line between the impeachment and the president afterwards during the Christmas holidays repeatedly publicly being outraged at how unfairly treated he saw himself, and continually trying to change the topic to the economy or to the strength of the U.S. military.

So when there was that attack against an Iraqi military base that killed an American contractor, and the president then approved ... retaliatory attacks that killed 25 of these militia members, it seemed to draw the line from there to the militia reacting by swarming the U.S. embassy, and then from there [to] the president deciding to respond with the assassination of Soleimani, and then the Iranians responding to that.

And then caught in the middle is, unfortunately, the Ukrainian Airlines flight.

We heard ... Donald Trump yesterday for the first time reacting to news of the crash ... saying that, well, it's nothing to do with the United States, and people were flying out of a "rough neighborhood," [by] which I presume he means Iran. What's your response to Mr. Trump?

If you throw a lit match onto a pile of oily rags, you can't be surprised if it starts a fire. And when you, you know, assassinate somebody as important to the Iranian people as Soleimani, you have to expect that there's going to be a response. And you're going to have to expect that civilians, in one way or another, are quite probably going to be caught up in that. And we saw how it happened.

Mourners attend an outdoor vigil in Toronto on Jan. 9, for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 crash. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)

Of course, the argument back others are giving is that, I mean, it's Iran that we understand fired this missile. And it was ... Iranian proxies that fired the rockets at the base in Kirkuk, Iraq, and killing a U.S. contractor. That's the act that started all this in motion. So isn't it just as possible to create a timeline that shows this is directly tied to Iran's actions?

And then you can draw a timeline from there that goes directly back to the Americans' role in the coup that ... placed the Shah on the throne in Iran.

It's something of a fool's errand to try to find exactly who is responsible for all of this. But, undeniably, if President Trump had not ordered that assassination, those [176 people] would still be alive today.

You're convinced of that?

I think it's undeniable.

What kind of response have you had to your column?

I've actually had a tremendous amount of positive response. You know, I think people were looking for some explanation to make sense of the tragedy, you know, which is a natural human instinct any time we're faced with unexpected loss like that. We want to know why.

I also think, particularly in Canada, there are a lot of people that are energized by their dislike of Trump. He riles people up. And if they can find a new reason to be angry at him, they seize at him.

My column was actually so widely welcomed, it actually made me feel uneasy, and I've regretted it to a certain extent.

Well, not to certain extent. You wrote a string of tweets talking about how much you regretted writing the column. Why is that?

I have absolutely no doubt that President Trump was a pivotal reason for that plane crash. If he hadn't ordered that assassination, those people would still be alive.

But I also think that sometimes we just need to mourn, and that there are moments when it doesn't do any of us any good to be trying to drag politics into a tragedy.

And then the second reason why I was uncomfortable with it was I knew that that column would go viral probably. And the reason is because it hit all the right buttons. And that made me question what my motivation was for writing it.

The media industry has really changed and we are driven by traffic and clicks. And as a result, a lot of the more reasoned and reasonable conversations that we should be having are being drowned out by the more explosive columns, the type of columns I frequently write. And so that left me with some unease as well.

So you felt it was button-pushing.

I felt it was button-pushing.

The moment that I wrote the column, I think it was sincere. But I also think that I am a cog in a wheel here, that I am part of an industry that is continually pushing conflict forward because they're the ones that pay the bills, they're the ones that get the traffic. And that doesn't necessarily mean that they're they're healthy for us as a society. And sometimes we just need to sit back and think slower as opposed to reacting faster.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Chris Harbord. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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