Controversy over Heather Mallick's Sarah Palin remarks shows media bias

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      While Mark Steyn gets away with attacking Muslims, Heather Mallick incites furor in the U.S. and Canada by dissing white Republicans.

      Do Canadian commercial media operate on a double standard? It seems okay to trash Muslims because that’s in the Canadian tradition of free speech. But watch out if you go after Sarah Palin and old, white, male Republicans, because that’s just left-wing vitriol.

      For evidence, you could look to the legion of Canadian media commentators who sprang to the defence of Mark Steyn when he baselessly and consistently attacked Muslims in the pages of Maclean’s. You could then compare Steyn’s adulatory treatment with the vicious attacks the same media commentators directed at former Globe and Mail columnist Heather Mallick for a piece she wrote for the CBC’s Web site.

      Very different reactions to very similar words.

      In a Maclean’s excerpt from his anti-Islamic screed America Alone, Steyn claimed that the Muslim world is plotting to take over the West and will accomplish this through jihad and sheer population growth as the number of Muslims expands “like mosquitoes”.

      Steyn seems to be able to suggest racist ideas without actually uttering them. For instance, in one column he quotes the right-wing blog Dead Reckoning: “This is so Muslim. If you want to accuse somebody in an Islamic country of offending Islam, you go to an Imam and get him to issue a fatwa against the offender.” “There’s something in that,” Steyn offers. He makes his point, but the words are not his.

      Mallick is not so subtle. In her offending column she writes that “it is possible that Republican men, sexual inadequates that they are, really believe that women will vote for a woman just because she’s a woman.”

      And what kind of a woman is Palin? She “has a toned-down version of the porn actress look”¦the overtreated hair, puffy lips and permanently alarmed expression”.

      And as for Palin’s family values, “what normal father would want Levi ”˜I’m a fuckin’ redneck’ Johnson prodding his daughter?” she asks.

      The double standard is illustrated by the Globe’s Margaret Wente. In Wente's view, Steyn “has probably offended 99 percent of the readers at one time or another. That’s the kind of guy he is. The offending piece is vintage Steyn: provocative, highly coloured and wildly overdrawn.”

      Sounds like a description of Mallick’s work, but Wente has different words for her: she is a “sour, narrow-minded writer” who produces simple “vitriolic drivel”. Mallick is a “racist”, presumably for dissing white Republicans. Steyn is not a racist even though he demonizes Muslims. Go figure! (as Wente herself exclaimed in another context).

      The Globe’s editorial board continued the double standard. Steyn: “a brilliant writer who sometimes pushes the boundaries of mainstream opinion”; Mallick: a “grotesque attack” and “offensive left-wing drivel”.

      And over at the National Post, comment-pages editor Jonathan Kay called Mallick’s work “over the top, hateful, anti-American speech” filled with “childish vulgarity” and “hypocrisy”. Steyn’s work, on the other hand, is simply “brilliant”.

      Why the difference in treatment?

      Commercial media in Canada are owned by a handful of very wealthy families who have shaped their media properties to reflect their conservative ideologies. When Conrad Black took over the Southam papers in the mid-’90s, he quickly swung the chain to the right by importing a host of libertarian and social-conservative commentators into his newsrooms. He launched the National Post—where Jonathan Kay writes—as a vanity conservative daily, with little regard for fairness, balance, and diversity. The Aspers continued this tradition. It’s also reflected at the nation’s second-largest chain, CTVglobemedia—Margaret Wente’s boss—where the largest ownership stake is held by the world’s 10th-wealthiest family, the Thomsons. Then there’s Ted Rogers and Maclean’s, which gave Mark Steyn a prominent podium. You get the idea.

      The CBC, in contrast, is owned by the government of Canada and serves purposes other than returning the largest possible profits to the shareholders or expressing the owner’s views. Most important, it is supposed to reflect the “diversity” of Canada. So one would expect, given the fact that most Canadians vote for liberal-left parties, that the CBC would reflect this critical factor in the selection of opinions it posts on its Web site. The CBC needs to express the views of the majority because the commercial media rarely do.

      But watch out if the CBC does the job it is mandated to do, because it makes the commercial media looked flawed by comparison. To mask their right-wing bias, commercial media consistently accuse the CBC of left-wing bias. As Kay wrote in his anti-Mallick screed: the CBC is guilty of “a subtle, pervasive left-wing tilt in news coverage”.

      And, as the Globe and Mail explains: “Privately-run newspapers and broadcasters are free to run whatever points of view they wish, with or without balance. But the CBC has a privileged position in this country that it must not abuse with biased commentary.”

      If anything, though, the commentators on’s Analysis and Viewpoints page, where Mallick’s column was posted, are middle-of-the-road, mostly current and former CBC producers. A few, like Mallick, have no CBC connection. Others with no CBC connection include Russell Storring, a sergeant with the Canadian army, whose columns put a human face on the Harper government’s Afghanistan adventure. And there is Patricia Pearson, a commentator for USA Today, the New York Times, the Guardian, and Maclean’s, who writes a column called A Little Good News because she is fed up with “reports of calamity and doom” from the “hand-wrenching [environmental] alarmists”.

      At first, the CBC backed the column. Mallick is “an opinion columnist. She expresses her opinion,” CBC management declared.

      But then the National Post’s Kay and, in the U.S., Fox News commentators exhorted the dittoheads in their audiences to take action: contact the CBC and raise hell. (The term dittohead was coined by talk-radio demagogue Rush Limbaugh to describe his legions of faithful listeners who mindlessly agree with his political views without any independent thought. They phone in to his show and say “Ditto, Rush.”)

      Fox On the Record host Greta Van Susteren was particularly incensed by Mallick’s attack on Gov. Palin. “She sounds like a pig to me,” Van Susteren offered. And Fox anchor Brit Hume called the CBC “notoriously liberal”.

      Van Susteren’s information on the Canadian situation was provided by the Ottawa Citizen’s social-conservative columnist David Warren, one of the people placed in newsrooms by Conrad Black and, bizarrely, kept there by the Aspers. Warren claimed that Mallick was saying what many in the Canadian mainstream media “are just thinking”, indicating a heretofore undisclosed ability to read thought waves. Meanwhile, Warren continued, almost all the conservative journalists “have been hauled before human-rights commissions”¦merely for discussing subjects like Islam”.

      Warren provided not one fact to support his claims, but it was enough for Van Susteren. She urged her viewers to complain to the CBC about “pig” Mallick.

      After the CBC’s ombudsman received 300 e-mails, management caved. CBC News publisher John Cruickshank weighed in with the judgment that Mallick’s column was “viciously personal, grossly hyperbolic, and intensely partisan” and announced that it had been pulled from the site. Moreover, Cruickshank offered, “displays a very narrow range on its pages”¦” and he assured readers that this problem “is being immediately addressed”. He promised his organization “will soon expand the diversity of voices and opinions and be home to a diverse group of writers with many perspectives”.

      Cruickshank’s promise of greater diversity (bring in more right-wing writers) lends credence to the view he is a Trojan horse placed inside the Mother Corp’s walls by Stephen Harper to assist in undermining and marginalizing public broadcasting. Libertarians and social conservatives across the continent loathe the CBC. They want it gone. So do commercial-media owners. CanWest Global founder Izzy Asper made no secret of the fact he lusted after CBC Television’s $300 million in revenues.

      Yet Cruickshank’s vow to expand diversity at the CBC is ironic, given that he was responsible for narrowing diversity after Conrad Black appointed him editor in chief of the Vancouver Sun 13 years ago. A 1998 study by Simon Fraser University’s NewsWatch Canada found that under Cruickshank’s watch, the leaky-condo crisis was censored from the Sun’s pages, perhaps in deference to the paper’s developer advertisers; advocacy and grassroots sources were provided less access to the paper; the amount and favourability of business coverage was greatly increased in comparison to labour coverage; stories about poverty declined in the paper even as poverty increased in the province; and Conrad Black and his company, Hollinger, were both covered less critically in the paper than before Black and Cruickshank took over.

      With the CBC on the defensive, the enemy inside the gates, and the commercial media waging relentless warfare, it won’t be too long before the call goes out from the CBC’s Toronto bunker: “Mark Steyn, where are you?”




      Oct 30, 2008 at 12:14pm

      Well, the obvious difference is that Steyn (and Macleans) was dragged before a government agency for his writing, while I have yet to see Heather Mallick hauled before one of our horribly misnamed 'Human Rights' Commissions. Or as Steyn puts it: "Ms Mallick is published by a government agency. I have spent a lot of money fending off government agencies."

      Ms. Mallick (like Steyn) should be free to spout whatever nonsense enters her head (short of violating incitement to violence, libel, slander or hate speech laws), just as the CBC (and Macleans) should be free to carry her articles, or not, without having to be concerned about being hauled before one of these thought police tribunals.

      There is a world of difference between your supposed 'double standard'.

      Incidentally, you say about Wente: "Mallick is a “racist”, presumably for dissing white Republicans. Steyn is not a racist even though he demonizes Muslims. Go figure!"

      Ummm...I have yet to meet someone of the 'Muslim race'. Or are you implying that all Muslims are ethnically Arab (which also isn't a 'race' btw)? Or that all Arabs are Muslims? Seems kind of 'racist' to make such a least according to your wildly inaccurate definition of the term 'race'.


      Oct 30, 2008 at 1:08pm

      You've made the same mistake that others have made when criticizing Steyn's book and/or Maclean's article. He did not refer to Muslims as "breading like mosquitos", rather Steyn is quoting a Norwegian Imam who was describing how Islam would dominate the west, by "breeding like mosquitos". And as hillierm said, the big difference between the two is that Steyn was persecuted by the fedul gummint, whereas Ms. Mallick had her feelings hurt by another writer expressing her opinion in a free exchange.


      Oct 30, 2008 at 6:36pm


      Mr. Gutstein did NOT make a mistake when he claimed Steyn said that the Muslims were breeding like mosquitos in order to take over the West from the inside, when that is actually a direct quote instead from a Muslim imam.

      There are really only two explanations for this::

      1) He never read the book or the article, which makes him a lousy faux "journalist" who will attack someone with a different opinion by taking as gospel something a third party who agrees with him said. You can see this type of phony "journalism" all over the media in the US, where they routinely accept smears and rumors from the Kos and HuffPo as facts.

      2) He did read the article or the book and is just a typical lying hack "journalist" who will twist, distort, quote mine, and fabricate in order to smear the opposition. We have lots of those down here as well. Some of them fit both these types and flit between them as necessary to push their agenda..

      Neither of these can be characterized as a "mistake", which all honest people make from time to time.


      Oct 31, 2008 at 9:12am

      Yes! Thank you for this article! One difference you didn't mention - the fact that Mallick is a woman, & women - even journalists - are supposed to be "nice". Had it been, for eg., Rex Murphy making the same comments, I doubt there would have been nearly as much flak - certainly not by CBC's management.
      I wrote to both the CBC ombudsman & to John Cruickshank complaining about their actions & words against Mallick. Never heard a word in response, though they were quick to respond to the sheeple writing via Fox news.
      I aboslutely agree with you that Harper has long wanted CBC gone. And, given his record on other institutions and organizations he dislikes, he'll end up doing it too. Be on guard, people - support our CBC.


      Oct 31, 2008 at 10:58am

      Hmmm, CanNurse - But you see, Rex Murphy has said much the same thing on several occasions, both in his CBC TV News Op-Ed and in the Globe and Mail. The difference is that Mr. Murphy uses prose without petty ad hominem insults, whereas Ms. Mallick just couldn't resist calling Governer Palin a whore. And not a metaphorical one either.

      I always liked the quote, attributed to Nietzsche: "When neither love nor hate are involved, a woman's game is mediocre."


      Oct 31, 2008 at 4:51pm

      So if I read this correctly, it's not ok for Mark Steyn to say rude things about Muslims, but it is ok for Heather Mallick to say rude things about Sarah Palin. What does Donald Gutstein really think about free speech? Or is he just having fun shooting rightwing fish in a barrel? There's always a reason to censor someone. In our haste to help the inarticulate, have we forgotten the value of free expression? Otherwise, why would some guy write an interminably long column about it without actually addressing it?

      John Samuel

      Nov 1, 2008 at 7:39pm

      Could the difference be that while anyone may disagree with Steyn or Mailick as vociferously as they choose, one was taken to "court" on trumped up charges while the other was not? I do not care what malick says, she is free to say it, but it is hateful and childish. As far as I am concerned she can keep on saying it; all I want is the right to say she is an ignorant and mean-spirited quasi-journalist. What those who are opposed to Steyn want is a dictatorship, a tyranny. See if you can figure out the difference.


      Nov 3, 2008 at 11:45am

      Why would Gutstein be surprised by these differential outcomes, and why would he think it relates to media ownership?

      Doesn't Gutstein remember Doug Collins? What journalist or pundit ever took Collins to task for the content of his hateful screeds? How did they react when the BC Human Rights Commission looked into his work?

      This has little to do with media ownership and everything to do with the "profession" of journalism as it's practiced in this country. Its connected to the reasons why we never get meaningful stories on the actual power politics of Ottawa or Victoria of the type that would be standard practice in the US or the UK.

      Rod Smelser