Lots of readers complained to the Toronto Star public editor Kathy English after columnist Rosie DiManno wrote in an Oct. 9 column that bicyclists “have risen to No. 1 on my list of People Who Should Be Shot.”
DiManno’s column, “Foot soldier declares war on sanctimonious cyclists,” complained about problems she faces as a Toronto pedestrian dealing with cars and bicyclists on the roads.
“Frankly, those who drive and those who pedal can wipe each other off the face of the city’s streets in this mutual roadkill rush to attrition and Toronto would be better off for it, leaving behind an urban Shangri-La for ambulatory bipeds,” DiManno wrote. She also complained bicyclists are “arguably the most sanctimonious breed on the planet: I cycle therefore I am divine.” DiManno went on to list problems she sees caused by bicyclists including “the removal of bus shelters,” tight sidewalks and dangerous bicycling in not following road laws such as stopping at lights.
English responded to readers in her Oct. 11 column, saying that “It is not the Star’s view that cyclists should be shot” and that columnists have “wide latitude to express their opinions.”
“Columnists express their own views, not the views of the Star, which are expressed on its editorial pages,” English wrote. “They can and often do express opinions the Star does not agree with”
English noted that Star columnists can’t “make racist remarks, advocate violence, use profranity or defame,” but said DiManno’s column was OK since her call for cyclists to “be shot” wasn’t serious. English wrote:
“The newsroom simply did not expect most readers would believe DiManno was actually inciting violence or hatred by referring to cyclists as the top of her personal list of ‘People Who Should Be Shot’ or using clever word play to label cyclists ‘ped-aphiles.'”
Star managing editor Jane Davenport told English readers would understand that because if the “ironic tone and context of the column,” and English said she understands “The phrase that any individual or group ‘should be shot’ is a common figure of speech, not an incitement to violence.”
DiManno has a history of of provocative columns.
She is the same columnist who, earlier this year, drew criticism for her column on a sexual assault trial which said a victim “lost a womb but gained a penis.” When iMediaEthics reached out to DiManno about the criticism, she said she wouldn’t answer our questions because, as a news site, we weren’t “real.” She wrote:
“Media news ethics website? Seriously?
“If it’s not in print – newsprint – it’s not real. That’s my view.”
We brought DiManno’s response to the attention of Star public editor English asking if there are any standards for how Star staff respond to inquiries but English likewise declined to comment.
In April, readers complained about DiManno’s April 9 column about a sexual assault case. That column addressed the alleged sexual assault of a “young man” by four women in their 30s in “typical clubbing attire.”
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DiManno described the women accused of assault as “definitely on the chubby side” given their height and weight. DiManno wrote, of the assault: “Sexual assault, you say? Lucky guy others say, nudge-nudge, a fivesome and didn’t even have to pay for it.”
She went on,
“Enquiring minds are eager to know what the heck befell this young man at the hands of his tormentors — one of whom, according to a newspaper report, apparently spoke with a British accent and had a tattoo on her neck. Already I’m jumping to certain conjectures about this doll crew: fat and butchy, maybe self-designated vigilantistas, depending on what had transpired with their target earlier, at the bar.”
However, DiManno acknowledged that “sexual assault is no laughing matter,” and said that this case is “a bizarre anomaly.”
“We do instinctively think of sexual assault as something done to women by men because the stats bear that out: 90 per cent of victims are female and 99 per cent of the offenders are male,” she commented.
In response to the column, a New Yorker named Augusta Christensen started a Change.org petition calling for DiManno’s firing. As of Oct. 15, the petition has about 2,600 signatures.
The Toronto Star published a selection of reader letters in response to DiManno’s column. Readers complained that her column was inappropriate and would cause other victims of assault to not want to go to the police. “Rosie DiManno has made it sound like the victim was at fault, or should have enjoyed it given that ‘one man’s sexual assault is another man’s sexual fantasy come true,'” reader Kim Gamble wrote.
Reader David Zalokar added that the Star “adds to the stigmatization by printing a piece that questions the validity of the crime,” questioning if the column would have read the same way if the genders were flipped.
“It is so repugnant, sexist and cruel I am shocked it was written and shocked you let it go through,” reader Melissa Brouwers complained. (To read all of the published complaints, check out the letters on the Star‘s website.)
Blogger “Lady Snarks a Lot” wrote that she reached out to the Star public editor English about the column. English sent her a “form letter” response that was sent to other readers, which “Lady Snarks a Lot” re-posted. (Blogger “Damsel in de Tech” commented on the post to say she received the same letter from English in response to her complaint.)
English’s e-mail defended DiManno’s freedom and “wide latitude” in writing a column and added:
“As public editor of the Star, it is outside the scope of my role to weigh in on whether the views of any opinion columnist are “fair” “appropriate” or “in good taste” While I as an individual, and the Star as institution, do not agree with every opinion expressed by columnists, in the Star and sometimes vehemently disagree with some columnist’s views on some subjects, I will always defend any opinion columnist’s freedom to express views some readers might find offensive or even repugnant.”
English also said that both the Star “senior newsroom editors” and she found “the column is in line with the Star‘s policies and is indeed fair comment.”