There’s been a bit of a dust-up between Canadian journalists Ezra Levant and Catherine Porter this month over Porter’s Toronto Star column about Levant and a climate change rally.
Porter apologized this week for her column, a few days after the Toronto Star public editor Kathy English addressed the matter in her own article.
English summarized the controversy: “social justice activist/columnist” Porter and “conservative commentator” Levant both attended a climate change event and ended up in a debate. Porter then wrote about the matter with her July 7 Toronto Star column, “My daughter’s run-in with a right-wing bully,” saying that Levant was mean to her 9-year-old daughter who challenged him on his position on climate change. The next day, Levant complained in a letter to the editor about the accuracy of the column. He also posted video from the protest on his website showing much of the interaction between the two. In addition, the Star has received more than 100 complaints from readers “questioning the column’s accuracy and fairness,” English reported.
Levant identifies himself as a “human rights activist, lawyer, author, TV host and dad.” He worked for Canada’s Sun News Network until it shut down earlier this year.
Porter’s column was unfair, English decided, and Porter agreed. Acknowledging that two people have different impressions of events, English pointed out there was video footage that provided some evidence for what happened between Porter, her daughter and Levant.
“What is not in question here is that Porter’s column fell short of the Star’s journalistic standards regarding accuracy and fairness,” English wrote. “It misled readers in omitting key facts captured on the video, portraying Levant as having been mean to her daughter when the video evidence makes clear that was just not so.”
“This controversy also raises significant questions about Star standards regarding the need for journalists to clearly identify themselves to those they write about and newsroom policies regarding columnists, advocacy and journalists involving their children in their work,” she added.
Porter admitted to English “I made some mistakes” and the Star‘s editor Michael Cooke apologized “on behalf of the paper.”
Some of those mistakes were laid out by English.
For example, “Porter is adamant she told Levant she was a Star journalist,” English wrote, noting there was no video footage of this. “He is just as adamant she did not.” Regardless, English concluded that Porter should have been more clear in identifying herself as a journalist. “Bottom line: I believe — and so do Porter’s editors — that it was her responsibility to make certain Levant clearly understood she was a Star journalist,” English wrote.
Porter also didn’t take notes for her column, and wrongly said her daughter told Levant “you’re being mean to my mom” but video evidence proves her daughter said, “You’re talking to my mommy, you know that, right?”
There were other issues, including Porter not telling readers that Levant was “kind and gentle” and “played nice with her daughter” and not mentioning that Levant didn’t want to talk with her daughter, since it was on camera, until Porter encouraged it. Porter also shouldn’t have suggested Levant had a “fight” with her daughter.
Read English’s full column analyzing Porter’s column here.
Four days after English’s column, Porter apologized in her own column. “I have some things to explain, some mistakes to acknowledge, and some apologies to make,” she wrote. First of all, she shouldn’t have OKed her daughter going to speak with Levant because it was “guaranteed to clash” given their opposite positions on the matter.
Porter noted that there were issues that still are in dispute because there is no video footage of them and she and Levant differ — namely whether she identified herself as a journalist — and she countered Levant’s claim that her daughter didn’t go up and wait to speak with him, which video footage proves was inaccurate.
“On reflection, the tape shows I portrayed Levant in a harsher light in my column than his conduct warranted,” Porter wrote. “I should have written that he was polite to my daughter and that the fight — by which I meant a heated argument — I mentioned was not with her but with me. For that, I apologize.”
She added, “It was not my best work. And in journalism, unlike many other lines of work, our bad days occur in public.” She also admitted she misquoted her daughter speaking to Levant but maintained that her daughter did say those words just not to Levant.
Moving forward, Porter said she plans to “think more about” the overlap between her personal and professional life but stands by her role as an activist given that is in her purview as a columnist.
Levant called the apology a “non-apology apology” in a video responding to Porter’s column, which he called “more mealy-mouthed.”
Porter declined to comment further to iMediaEthics. Levant confirmed to iMediaEthics he hasn’t heard from Porter directly regarding the matter and noted he’s covered the issue thoroughly on the website www.ProtestVideo.ca.
Last year, Levant was ordered to pay $80,000 to a lawyer over his libelous blogposts about the lawyer, as iMediaEthics reported.