Yes, it’s a very snappy headline. Lawyers should have flashbacks to law school and the Carbolic Smoke Ball case. Journalists and other people who read this might wonder why I would risk my money.
Because there is no risk.
I’ve been following the back and fourth between Canadaland and the WE organization since last fall when Canadaland started to put out articles and podcasts about WE Charity.
The charity, which helps poor people in the developing world and raises awareness in the West about child labour and poverty, got roasted on social media by Canadaland followers – including other journalists – who quickly retweeted Canadaland’s and Jesse Brown’s posts.
It appeared that no one gave the Canadaland stories a close read. I did. I decided to give the fact-checking they should have had before they were published.
I’ve invested hundreds of hours fact-checking this. I reviewed Canadaland’s articles and podcasts, followed by reading everything WE gave Canadaland as source material (available online), and the Charity’s two Notices of Libel against Canadaland, and other relevant publicly-available information.
My conclusion: This is one of the worst examples of “journalism” I’ve ever seen. Canadaland’s reporting is reckless. The bias is clear: they went out to get a story, and when they couldn’t find one, they ran something that looks like an expose. And they said they’d keep trying to get more.
The charity’s reputation took a beating so that Jesse Brown could increase his clicks and revenue. By my calculations, the WE articles and the Thunder Bay podcasts brought in about $US 3000 a month from Patreon donors. (The amount has started to decline, and it’s hard to know how much interest was generated by the acclaimed Thunder Bay series verses the WE mess.)
If Canadaland had bothered to do the same, there wouldn’t have been much to write about. Here are the top #5 items that stood out after my review (just the tip of the iceberg):
- WE never promoted Kelloggs products: I’m so confident that Canadaland is full of shoddy “journalism” that I will pay Canadaland, or anyone else, a reward of $10,000 if they give me an actual box of the Kellogg’s cereal with the ME to WE used to illustrate their article.
Canadaland spread this image all over social media with a damning quotation from WE denying a partnership. It was supposedly the smoking gun proving a secret and s;eazy between Kellogg’s and ME to WE. One problem; the alleged partnership, just like the cereal box, never existed.
Despite WE stating this repeatedly to Canadaland (and saying the image was likely created by a third-party agency making a business pitch) Canadaland kept circulating the digitally-created image. They wouldn’t even take the word of a retired Justice from the Ontario Court of Appeal, the Honourable Stephen Goudge, who reviewed all the allegations by Canadaland and found there was no cereal box and no relationship whatsoever between any WE entity and Kellogg’s. Nevertheless, Canadaland has yet to correct the record.
- Canadaland versus Good Housekeeping? Who do you trust? In one corner, you have a Good Housekeeping with its 132-year reputation and 24 million monthly readers. In the other corner is Canadaland, a website that has been around since 2013, run by a self-described “shame wizard”.
Canadaland claims the Good Housekeeping Humanitarian Seal that Good Housekeeping gave to WE was “just advertising”, and that WE somehow unduly influenced the magazine give the charity this endorsement. Good Housekeeping, which has been issuing its Seals since 1910 – they’re probably the company’s greatest asset – explained to Canadaland how its new Humanitarian Seal was issued to WE “after a rigorous 10-step evaluation process carried out over several months-which included in-depth analysis of WE’s financial filings, tax audits, operational structure, programs and global expenses.” It went on to say “WE met and even surpassed our intense criteria.”
So, basically, Canadaland has accused Good Housekeeping of being liars, despite the evidence that its reporting is wrong. Who do you trust? I’m going with Good Housekeeping on this one.
- What’s a foundation? Get me a dictionary! In its October 15, 2018, podcast, Jesse Brown claims over and over that the U.S.-based “ME to WE Foundation” is not a charity, but a for-profit business. The WE documents posted by Canadaland show WE clearly explained how the WE Foundation is incorporated in the U.S. as a foundation, how it files financial records as a foundation, and operates as a foundation for a charitable purpose. The IRS clearly agreed because, as the record shows, it has held that foundation status since 2010.
Canadaland ignores this legal information. Jesse Brown claims the ME to WE Foundation is a fraud, saying on his podcast:
“And I know that in the States ME to WE is called the ME to WE Foundation, which sounds like a charity but it’s not, that’s a business.” – Jesse Brown, 36:51 of the Oct. 15, 2018 Canadaland podcast
The error remains in the podcast, and the podcast is still posted online with this incorrect information. (There is a small “clarification” to its website, but it did not correct the podcast itself, which is still readily available for download via Apple’s Podcast app, and on Canadaland’s website.)
And Brown, a multi-millionaire, doesn’t realize that foundations are supposed to make money. The ME to WE Foundation raises money for WE Charity, which builds schools and hospitals in the developing world.
I’m having a very hard time understanding what Brown finds so bad about that.
- The “WE media conspiracy”. In their piece “Is the Media Afraid of the Kielburgers?”, Canadaland infers that, somehow, WE managed to influence The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Postmedia, the CBC, and every other major media outlet in Canada, into providing only positive coverage of the WE organization and its activities.
Here’s my favourite line from the media conspiracy element of the article: “Over the years, I’ve spoken to four or five reporters who’ve been chasing [a story about WE]… but nobody seems to have gotten very far with it.”
I wonder why?
Option 1: upon undertaking some actual journalism, there was nothing notable to report.
Option 2: this children’s charity is engaged in a vast conspiracy among Canada’s leading media outlets, and only Canadaland is immune to their influence.
Canadaland attacked the credibility of The Globe and Mail by claiming the special section content the Globe runs about WE Charity is “created by WE employees”. The G&M’s own website and stated policies show this is not correct. Yet again, the Canadaland podcast is still online, in-full, without any edits to the podcast to properly correct the mistake.
Canadaland claims the Kielburger brothers use threats of litigation to silence their critics, pointing to a lawsuit filed more than 20 years ago against now-defunct Saturday Night magazine for an article that took cheap shots against then 13-year-old Craig Kielburger and his mother. Brown was not able to show any other evidence of “litigiousness”. I sent a question to Craig Kielburger asking if he had filed a libel suit or served a libel notice on anyone since the Saturday Night lawsuit, and he said he has not.
- Canadaland is Righteous and WE Charity is Evil. Canadaland has done its best to convince its audience they are crusading journalistic truth-tellers on the side of the angels and that WE Charity is an evil, media-manipulating entity that warps the minds of school children and secretly promotes child labour, the very thing it was founded to stop.
So let’s summarize:
In Canadaland’s alternate universe, WE Charity strays far from its mission to end child labour by partnering with three companies that have child labour in their supply chains: Unilever, Kelloggs, and Hershey’s, to help them get rid of child labour.
Canadaland’s claims about the Kellogg’s partnership, proven by its bogus cereal box, are false. Even Brown and Kerr admit, in passing, that these boxes were never on the market and base their claim on an anonymous expert who “feels” the box is real.
Jesse, let’s see the box.
WE Charity says it worked with Unilever and Hershey’s to help them improve their supply chains. Unilever is one of the most socially-conscious companies in the world, awarded by Oxford the #1 position on its Behind the Brand Scorecard for sourcing policies. It even posts an annual report about what it’s doing to solve the problem. (Ah, the magic of Google! It took two minutes to find those links.)
Hershey’s has previous issues, but has committed $500 million to social welfare programs and is on-track to third-party sourcing for all chocolate by 2020. WE Charity has spent the past 24-years helping to end child labour by building 1500 schools and schoolhouses, establishing 30,000 alternative income programs, and helping lift over one million people out of poverty.
Canadaland ignores these facts, and wraps everything up with sensationalistic headlines and click-bait. The truth is that there is no story here, and there’s a reason why no mainstream media picked up on this “expose”.
Canadaland attacked the credibility of a well-established Canadian charity. For a charity, a good reputation is everything. They can’t raise money if they lose it. When WE Charity tried to defend itself by publishing a review of the matter by a retired judge and issuing two libel notices asking for corrections, Canadaland fired up the twittersphere to present themselves as the victim. They call the charity litigious and shame them for attacking spunky little Canadaland.
Canadaland wrapped themselves in the flag of “independent media”. I believe in supporting independent media, but I don’t do it blindly.
Bonus: Why would Canadaland attack a children’s charity?
I’ve never seen a media entity that so blatantly asks its users for money the way Canadaland does. Obviously all outlets need to earn revenue through advertising and sales of their product, but Canadaland directly fundraises off its WE Charity reporting, encouraging its audience to give more money to continue and expand its WE Charity investigation.
In the first WE podcast on October 15, Jesse Brown teases the story for a few minutes, and then goes into a 13 minute (from 8:45 to 21:50 of the podcast) pitch for donations and subscriptions. Brown ties his ability to keep his reporter on the WE beat to the amount raised. On an October 18 Podcast, Brown says “…if we reach our next goal of this crowdfunder, Jaren Kerr will be offered a permanent full-time job with us.”
Frankly, that’s just tacky.
Canadaland raised a few thousand dollars a month from its donors. A lot of women and children in the developing world paid a high price for that uptick in Canadaland Patreon supporters.
WE Charity is a juicy target for Canadaland, with its celebrity ambassadors, and social media presence. I’m certain that simply adding the hashtag “WE Charity” causing Canadaland material to trend. It is may have been an effective way for them to expand their audience, and try to increase their revenue. It’s simple: Canadaland profits from attacking the charity.
Bonus #2 The Impacts of Canadaland on WE Charity
My “Top 5” were just some of the egregious examples of Canadaland’s over-hyped failed “investigation”. There are many more. I encourage readers to review WE’s overall response to Canadaland’s reports, the independent report from form Ontario Justice Stephen T. Goudge, and the two (December 21, 2018, and November 6, 2018) Notices of Libel, to get a sense of just how reckless Canadaland has been in its quest to drive page clicks and solicit donations.
WE Charity says it lost a supporter who was increasing its donation by $500,000 to provide primary education to 2,000 girls in Kenya. It’s a tragic outcome for this story – and despite the widely shared Canadaland articles, it seems that few have gone on Twitter to share this terrible news. It’s a reminder that media failures – and the failure of many of the rest of us to use due diligence or even common sense.
It’s time Canadaland took some of that Patreon and advertising money to hire some fact checkers.