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The Toronto Star’s public editor says “Cyclists Should Be Shot” article is a joke, and free speech

The Toronto Star’s public editor, Kathy English, has published a retort to people upset that their “opinion columnist” Rosie DiManno wrote that cyclists are sanctimonious and “should be shot”, saying that people are over-reacting to a joke and that DiManno has a right to write down those opinions, and that the Star has a right to publish them.

So… what do you think?  To me this sounds like the Star (and especially English) was not doing their job.  Sure, DiManno is a horrible columnist and plays to the segment of Star readership who probably also read the Toronto Sun, but shouldn’t the Star aim higher than the crap in the Sun?

If this column advocated violence against a visible minority, or gay people, or followers of a certain religion, would it have been published.  No.

A column that contained the phrase “Muslims should be shot”, or “Asian people should be shot” or “same sex couples should be shot” would not have seen the light of day, and if it had both English and DiManno would be out of a job.

Quote below.  If you get the Star’s paywall pop-up, just re-load the page and hit the stop button after the article loads and before the pop-up appears.  It appears the Star pays as much attention to their paywall technology as it does their opinion columnists’ hate speech.

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.”

“We don’t share the concern that readers who dislike cyclists will believe as a result of reading this column that shooting or otherwise deliberately harming cyclists is OK and act on this belief, or that cyclists are comparable to criminals who molest children,” Davenport said.

“Our view is that the ironic tone and context of the column as a whole and of this line in particular are enough to make clear that this reference is not meant in any way to be read literally.”

That makes sense to me. The phrase that any individual or group “should be shot” is a common figure of speech, not an incitement to violence. The Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines it as being used “when you think that someone’s actions are extremely unreasonable.”

Full article: Columnists free to express outrageous opinions: Public Editor | Toronto Star.

  • TorontoisforLovers

    If I said ‘Rosie DiManno has risen to No. 1 on my list to be shot’ I could be arrested. Somehow her opinion counts as journalism and not a threat. I also find it interesting that the Star’s community code of includes the following:

    – Comments that gratuitously attack or demean individuals or organizations are not acceptable.

    – Show respect for the beliefs of others by treating them as you would want them to treat you.

    – Racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise discriminatory and offensive language will not be tolerated.

    – Swearing, name-calling, and otherwise abusive language is unacceptable.

    I guess The Star’s columnists aren’t required to respect the community they write for and follow the same code of conduct.

  • JT

    Well, I can no longer support a newspaper that creates tension between different groups of the community they address, so I doing the one thing immediately available to me and am canceling my paywall subscription. I can only hope that other subscribers will do the same. I don’t need Toronto Star but they surely need subscribers.

  • Crowie

    I might be somewhat more likely to accept this line of reasoning, if not for the fact that DiManno detailed how she assaulted a cyclist in her column.

  • I was far more offended by the public editor’s response (I expected better) than I was by Rosie Dimanno’s column (I expected nothing better). I didn’t mean to write a long post about it but did: http://www.treehugger.com/bikes/demonization-cyclists-and-anti-bike-culture-war-toronto-reaches-new-low-rosie-dimanno-column.html