In the past weeks, the University of New Brunswick’s student newspaper, the Baron, has been in the spotlight. The controversy surrounds the editor-in-chief’s decision to run a full unedited and softball interview with the leader of the National Socialist Canadian Labour Revival Party, and prominent and unrepentant local Nazi, Michael Thurlow.
Now don’t get me confused, I know that word is thrown around a lot in this day and age, but we are talking about a full-blown, Mein Kampf loving, racial slur using, and blaming abuse in residential schools on “unruly children” type of Nazi. Many have questioned the lack of editorial oversight, and the decision itself to give a platform for white supremacy — but I think that like always, there is reasonable conclusion that can be found somewhere in the middle.
Are Nazis scum? Of course. So we’ll give that to the pompous, outraged, and zealous left. But at the same time, can we not commend former editor-in-chief Anna Slatz for her commitment to misunderstanding free speech, and her job?
Much like Ms. Slatz, I am also incredibly lazy, and if given an option, will always refuse to do basic research, or even the duties outlined in my job description. Why edit or challenge the white supremacist in her interview when she can just let him mouth off everything, and then write off her lack of challenge, context, or journalistic necessity as a principled crusade to have all views heard? In her public comments she made before she was fired, she described her role as someone who would hit publish on absolutely anything without editing a word. She claimed students are smart enough to know right from wrong, but should still be exposed to different opinions, and points of view. An “unfettered freedom of speech and expression,” she called it. Hearing both sides now includes genocide. Even if you disagree with her journalistic chops, you have to give her credit for the flexibility and training that must have gone into those gymnastics.
Right off the bat, we can question her belief that students should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to parsing information, and making critical decisions. The strongest argument against this being that while levels of education have risen, our youth are increasingly susceptible to Pepe memes, multi-level marketing schemes, and the age old pastime of signal boosting violent ideology.
I can’t speak for the role of journalists and the media, but I do think she should have thought harder about the difference between presenting point of view and endorsing it by giving it an unchallenged platform. There are, in fact, not two sides to everyday story, and not every opinion is worth putting in the spotlight. While some people may contend that bad ideas should be made public so they can be torn down, if anything, the last decade or so also demonstrates the danger of the Overton window moving to make those same beliefs more widespread and tolerated.
There is also of course, the obvious political bend to it. Anytime someone champions “free speech,” and the “exchange of ideas,” take a look at how they use the narrative. Most of ones who championed Lindsay Shepherd weren’t there in defending Masuma Khan. What this debacle has showcased is that many people are rabid, and hungry to make a name and career for themselves in the “martyred free speech warrior” role, like Jordan Peterson, to excuse being an asshole who isn’t willing to self-examine or explain themselves, and casts demeaning others as a moral and righteous crusade against the “post-modern enemy.”
This debacle has been important in showcasing just how far things have gone and how dangerous things might still be. The same university contended with a white supremacist poster before the interview (the Nazi in question saying they originated from his group). Faces have come out from the woodwork to try and latch onto the attention and activity, like professor Rick Mehta from Acadia University who took this opportunity on January 31 to tweet “I stand with Thurlow”, choosing to ignore the implications of everything Thurlow actually believes. Another in an unending line of self-victimizing reactionaries hoping to gain a following.