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Danielle Smith: I’m leaving Twitter and radio because I’ve had enough of the mob

Danielle Smith

National Post, Jan. 14, 2021

When I entered the media it was after a devastating personal failure in politics and I feared no one would ever hire me again after such a public routing.

The year was 1999 and I’d just been fired from the Calgary Board of Education when then Alberta Education Minister Lyle Oberg determined that our group of trustees had become so dysfunctional it could no longer work constructively together. So he disbanded the board.

Peter Stockland came to my rescue and offered me a job as an editorial writer (and later columnist) at the Calgary Herald. He told me it was because he thought I must be pretty on the ball if I was able to get myself elected at age 27.

Mentored under editor-in-chief Peter Menzies and publisher Dan Gaynor that experience laid the foundation for me for every day I’ve spent in the media. I still remember the speech Dan gave as he set out the vision and guiding principles for us to strive for: be fair, accurate and balanced. It’s been my personal mantra every day I’ve spent in the media, which is going on a total of 12 years now.

When I entered radio it was after a devastating personal failure in politics and I feared no one would ever hire me again after such a public routing. Who says history doesn’t repeat?

The year was 2015. I’d failed to win a nomination to be a candidate for the Progressive Conservatives after a horribly botched attempt to unilaterally merge the political party I led, the Wildrose Party, with Jim Prentice’s PCs.

John Vos came to my rescue and offered me a job as a radio host at 770 CHQR in Calgary. He must be a glutton for punishment because the internal shared text line my first month on the job contained so many texts from listeners calling me a c**t and worse, it was embarrassing to look my colleagues in the eye after I came off the air. But he stood by me and I was grateful for the chance to explore all the ideas I cared so much about. I thought I’d be there forever. Then last year, it all changed.

I used to love Twitter, which I joined in May 2009. Tweeters can be hilarious when they get going on a funny meme. Social media could be such a force for good, connecting people and allowing global conversations. Instead, it’s become a mechanism to deplatform, ridicule and punish. The last thing you want is for your name to start “trending” because it means someone has likely s**t-posted something about you that’s untrue, partially true or torqued and you have to spend the rest of the day doing reputation management and explaining to your boss why he’s getting angry emails calling for you to be fired.

Most of the time when it’s happened to me, it’s because the Twitter mob didn’t like a particular guest I had on or a perspective I took.

In the old days in print journalism, if I wrote something that was inaccurate, we issued a correction. If I wrote something that was unfair, we offered column space to the aggrieved party to write a rebuttal. At all times we sought to have a balanced range of perspectives on the comment pages, because you only learn by having ideas clash and challenged.

In the new days of mob journalism, if you make a mistake or air a challenging viewpoint or interview a controversial guest, people want you fired.

It seems to me the mob won when they succeeded in getting New York Times editor James Bennet forced out for publishing a column by US Republican Senator Tom Cotton. Sen. Cotton called on the military to restore order after antifa, rioters and looters overwhelmed and shot police and ransacked businesses following multiple peaceful gatherings to protest the unlawful killing of George Floyd. (Interesting how comforted everyone is now that the military has promised there will be a peaceful transition of power in the United States on Jan 20 after Proud Boys, rioters and looters overwhelmed and killed a police officer and ransacked the Capitol following a peaceful gathering to protest the election results.)

The fact that Bennet resigned over that column showed me that the mob has become so powerful, it can dictate editorial policy to one of the oldest and most respected “newspapers of record” on the planet.

Since then I’ve watched as the cabal of Tech Giants — Twitter, Facebook, Google and now Apple — have colluded to deprive the public of balanced coverage on a whole range of issues. If the Tech Giants ban a video or story or person, the mainstream media typically won’t touch it.

This is not fair. It’s not accurate. It’s not balanced. It’s not journalism. It’s mob rule. And it makes it impossible for me to do my job. So I’m out. The only recommendation I have for the mainstream media is to stand by your people and fight back. And to mainstream media advertisers, man up, and stop threatening to pull advertising every time the mob overreacts. Jack Dorsey, Mark Zuckerberg, Sundar Pichai and Tim Cook are not journalists. They should not be dictating what we cover.

I was going to wait until Feb. 19, when I leave my dream job at Corus Entertainment, to leave Twitter but after writing this column, I decided to leave today. If you’d like to reach me, you can now find me at daniellesmith.ca.

Danielle Smith will continue to write columns for Postmedia in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal. She can be reached at danielle@daniellesmith.ca

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