Dispatch From the Front Line: Read this, or the staffers at Teen Vogue win

On RyeHigh purity spirals, the dooming of Sajjan, and the statute of limitations on culture war crimes against Twitter

We know how much you all enjoy getting the latest media-dumpster-fire recaps ladled into your inboxes while still piping hot, and we were planning on offering some substantive comments on the bizarre Teen Vogue controversy. (We think we’ve typed the term “Teen Vogue” more this week than at any time in our life prior, and we are ringing one of those little desk bells at each additional instance.) Anywho, the meltdown is of a kind you’ll all find very familiar: a new editor, Alexi McCammond, herself a woman of colour, was appointed editor of Teen Vogue (ding!) and then Bad Tweets from her past surfaced. Various intersecting shitstorms and moral panics ensued, and McCammond apologized. Teen Vogue (ding!) staffers remained unimpressed, and McCammond quit — not just Teen Vogue (ding!) but parent company Condé Nast. Live by cancel culture, die by cancel culture.

So we were all fired up to write about this, but then we read Robyn Urback’s column from a few days ago in the Globe and Mail and deflated. Because she nailed it, and we aren’t going to say it better than she did. So we’re just gonna rip her off. Urback first noted an awfully key point we deliberately avoided mentioning until now — McCammond sent the Bad Tweets when she was 17-fucking-years-old.

Robyn continues:

In the state of Illinois, where Ms. McCammond was a student at the time, aggravated assault is considered a Class 4 felony if a firearm is used. A Class 4 felony comes with a prison sentence of one to three years, and may include a fine of up to US$25,000 and up to 30 months of probation. … Had she been tried as an adult, however, criminal reform advocates and progressive activists could have used her case as just one example of the injustice of trying children as adults, perhaps leaning on the reasoning of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote in Roper v. Simmons about the sociological and scientific factors that distinguish juveniles from adult offenders. They might have championed a restorative or rehabilitation-focused approach to her punishment, after which — and certainly a decade later, in 2021 — many would have welcomed her reintegration in society.

No shit. Imagine a woman of colour being appointed to edit Teen Vogue (ding!) a decade after she’d literally shot at a guy. The entire progressive U.S. media ecosystem would have been celebrating a smashing moment of progress.

Robyn concludes her column with:

The progressive opinion toward criminal justice is toward limited punishment, leniency for young offenders and a focus on rehabilitation and reintegration. Why should our collective attitude toward social offences really be that different?

That’s a damn good question. Urback reached for a criminal justice example to make her point, we’d offer another: we need to bring the same kind of rules to culture wars that we apply to real wars — including giving quarter and merciful treatment to those who surrender. Not because it’s nice, but rather because accepting the surrender of your opponents incentivizes further surrenders. The opposite is also true: any scared-shitless private sitting in a pillbox is more likely to fight to the last round if he believes surrender means he’ll be tortured and shot by a merciless enemy. Mercy is strategically wise because it improves the odds of victory and reduces casualties by disincentivizing futile fights to the death.

The same is true of our culture-war battles. Many of us have said and done bad things we were teenagers. It should be possible to admit those failings and expect mercy. A lack of mercy does nothing to prevent the next round of offences; no 17-year-old today has learned the value of caution by McCammond’s ruination. But a whole bunch of grownups who have said and done dumb things sure as hell noticed, and good luck coaxing any of them out of their bunkers without a fight.

Teen Vogue. (Ding!)

Speaking of military affairs — pun not intended, because such a pun would be a fireable offence at Teen Vogue (ding) — the sexual misconduct scandals continue to rock the senior leadership of the Canadian Armed Forces. We noted with interest Steve Saideman, who holds the Paterson Chair in International Affairs at Carleton, has called for National Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan’s resignation — and Saideman is no partisan alarmist.

We agree with Saideman. Sajjan should quit or be sacked, frankly, pour encourager les autres. He should be epically sacked for birthing one of the stupidest possible excuses for inaction that we’ve ever heard from a minister of the Crown. Sajjan, under sharp questioning at committee, said — he really said this, we shit you not — that it wasn’t his place to get involved when allegations of sexual misconduct by retired army general Jonathan Vance were brought to his attention because, since Sajjan is an elected official, his involvement would politicize the matter.

Think about that for a minute. The entire goddamned basis of our system of government is ministerial accountability. Once upon a time, before it became awkward and inconvenient for him personally, Prime Minister Trudeau used to even boast about how he was bringing back government by cabinet, in contrast to that nasty, evil, centralizing Harper fellow. But according to Minister Sajjan, ministers are actually the wrong people to get involved in these serious issues … because they’re politicians. This completely inverts the way our government is supposed to work, though it might actually be a depressingly accurate summary of how Trudeau’s cabinet ministers interpret their roles.

But think about the message it sends to to our women (and men!) in uniform who’ve been the victim of abuse and harassment, sexual or otherwise: sorry, guys, I’d love to help and all, but I’m too busy being a fucking Liberal politician to step in as minister of National Defence.

Sajjan’s gotta go. Now. If he doesn’t quit he should be fired. And as we’ve been saying for weeks now, this is only getting worse — the sexual misconduct scandal that was frantically ignored by Canada’s self-styled feminist government has now made The New York Times, which means, if you’re an Ottawa Liberal, this is about as real as it gets. All that media attention was nice when it was fawning, with nice photo spreads, but … this? This isn’t fun for the Liberals at all.

A quick update from the l'Affaire du RyeHigh. You may recall from last week's dispatch that Canada's top journalism school — for whatever that title is worth in 2021 — is in the midst of a moral panic that began with the revelation that one of its students is a conservative Catholic who believes homosexuality is a sin. Said student, Jonathan Bradley, was booted from Ryerson’s independent newspaper because his presence reportedly represented a threat to its staff. Somehow this then escalated into a J-Skool revolt, replete with an open letter that demanded Ryerson address institutional racism and discrimination. In the midst of this roiling controversy, the chair and associate chair stepped down to make way for for the coming glorious revolution. 

On Wednesday, Ryerson announced five new initiatives to address the demands in the letter. As per the Toronto Star: 

"The school will provide equity training to staff, faculty, and instructors, hire at least two faculty members from diverse backgrounds, and re-examine the curriculum through the lens of equity. It will also create a permanent student equity task force, the announcement said."

All we can say is, good luck riding that purity spiral, friends. 

Also of note from that Star story, one of "core" organizers of the open letter declined to talk to media about the latest drama citing: "final exams and 'avoiding further harrasment' for this." We can only presume what qualifies as harassment to these kids, but we do note that one notorious Toronto-area troll has posted the letter with its signatories' names in full in order to allow potential employees to steer clear. And while we at The Line admit that holding young journalism students to account for the things they sign is a bit harsh, we also have to wonder how many of the signers of these "open letters" understand what an "open letter" is.

Open letters derive their power from the act of placing one's name next to a statement that might get one, uh, fired or never-hired by those who disagree with that statement. There are no points granted for standing on principle if you play taksie backsie the moment those principles engender consequences. Playing shy after the fact defeats the purpose of the exercise. So, class of 20-whatever, y'all best own the wave you've chosen to ride. 

Which brings us to what is fast becoming one of The Line's ironclad laws of Navigating Institutional Meltdown: don't sign an open letter unless you agree with everything that is written in it. 

*Correction: The chair and associate chair resigned their positions before the open letter was published. The text above has been updated to reflect the correction.

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Speaking of blacklists, we at The Line have been tipped that there is more tea to come from the ongoing Steven Galloway affair, which has rapidly morphed into CanLit's very own Dreyfus Affair. We've been sent this new Substack by writer Brad Cran, who alleges that all of his work has been removed from a magazine: "In relation (retaliation?) to an argument over my involvement in supporting the writer Steven Galloway’s right to due process and subsequently penning an expose which proves how and why his life was destroyed over a false allegation of rape."

In April, Galloway's defamation case will be going to the courts, and Cran is promising to cover it through his new Substack. So if you're keen, do subscribe

Lastly, as your lowly Line editors toiled at their weary Friday night labour, the Conservative Party of Canada began its convention under Erin O'Toole. Much chatter is a-chittering about the restive social conservatives in the Big Blue Tent. As per usual, we expect some sensational headlines about bizarre pet issues debated at the floor. If there's anything more to it, commentary will be forthcoming as always. We just keep on coming up with the stuff.


Round Up:

  • Peter Menzies, a former newspaper publisher, chimed in in agreement with what we’ve been writing about lately here at The Line — you cannot understand the challenges facing the media today if you don’t understand the economics of how journalists get paid. “The cost of distributing the paper was covered by subscriptions and single copy sales,” he explained. “Newsrooms were paid for, roughly, by classified revenue. Display ads and flyers made the owners rich and they built cost structures — pension plans, 35-hour work weeks, daycares, shift differentials, collective bargaining agreements, bonus structures, etc. — that depended on them continuing to do so. No one thought the party would ever end.”

  • Jen Gerson spoke to the Alberta MLA at the heart of a strange controversy regarding police surveillance and apparent abuses of power. Why were officers shadowing the NDP’s Shannon Phillips? She explains, as best she can, in her own words, here.

  • Your Line editors believe that the sexual misconduct scandal at the top of the Canadian Armed Forces is a bigger deal than Canadians appreciate — and that it has a real chance of blowing up in the prime minister’s face. But we felt that a lot of necessary background knowledge is simply missing from a population that does not know much about its military. To help with that, The Line spoke with Allan English, a professor of military history at Queen’s University and a man who spent 25 years in the air force. Prof. English agrees that making real change would be very hard. And he worries that the government might not even try. Check out his conversation with The Line here.

  • And, finally, you know that kids’ movie that has Alberta so riled up? Jen Gerson did the only responsible thing: she got drunk on good wine, made a pizza, and watched the film to review it. Check out her hungover thoughts here.

That’s what’s on our mind this week, Line readers. Subscribe today or the Teen Vogue (ding!) staffers win.

The Line is Canada’s last, best hope for irreverent commentary. We reject bullshit. We love lively writing. Please consider supporting us by subscribing. Follow us on Twitter @the_lineca. Fight with us on Facebook. Pitch us something: lineeditor@protonmail.com