This is the first of a three-part assessment of Canadaland
Jesse Brown, in his March 17, 2019, podcast of Canadaland spent much of the hour pressing the NewsMedia Council to remove a member paper for irresponsible reporting. Brown was right: the Toronto Sun’s reporting on migrants living in a Toronto hotel was biased and full of errors.
But, in much of its reporting, Canadaland is no better. The National NewsMedia Council should not give Canadaland credibility by letting it be a member, at least until it cleans up its act.
It would be like Frank Magazine (which at least we know is satire, gossip and parody) being granted membership in the Council, and then demanding that other members of the organization be kicked out.
I’ve decided to take my case against him directly to the National NewsMedia Council, and ask for his membership to be revoked. Based on Jesse Brown’s own criteria outlined for membership, Canadaland should clearly be removed.
Canadaland erodes the standards of Canadian journalism to the point where I feel, as an individual and a former journalist who supports the Council, something needs to be done. I’ve spent hundreds of hours going through Mr. Brown’s history and catalogued his many instances of breaching the most basic of journalistic standards.
I have attached my submission to the National NewsMedia Council to the bottom of this post.
The Appendix to the submission gives numerous, detailed examples,of Mr. Brown and Canadaland making clearly false statements, misrepresenting facts to suit their own narrative, relying on dubious anonymous sources, engaging in sensationalism, and refusing to correct errors (or burying the corrections so that nobody will ever see them).
The examples in the Appendix are certainly not a comprehensive list – they merely show some of the highest profile examples of how he carries out his work, and the influence he wields on his staff to do the same. His actions have real consequences, including ruining reputations of people in media and other institutions. He has never been held accountable for any of this, and that needs to change.
Tune in to Canadaland’s March 18 podcast titled “Ruthless or Toothless? The News Biz Complaints Department” and you’ll Jesse Brown talk about the need to twist journalists’ arms to keep reporters honest. Jesse Brown believes he’s the man to do it, despite an almost comical history of screw-ups.
The top two people at the National NewsMedia Council were interviewed on that March 18 podcast and didn’t let Brown off the hook for Canadaland’s failings. Despite Brown’s best efforts to try to get them to praise Canadaland as Canada’s most valuable media watchdog, the council’s representatives didn’t go for it.
The podcast opens with a little rant by Brown, followed by 45 minutes of Canadaland’s owner/publisher/writer/host grilling his guests, John Fraser, the National NewsMedia Council’s executive director, and Pat Perkel, the council’s coordinator of complaints.
It wasn’t from an informative back and forth. Brown grilled the Council’s reps on some of its high-profile rulings, frequently trying to promote Canadaland as an ally in the struggle for better media. Fraser let Brown know what he thought: Brown and Canadaland are in the shaming business. Canadaland, Fraser said, was in the same kind of business as Frank magazine.
And, since Brown recently described himself in his Twitter biography as a “shame wizard,” the description seems accurate.
In the interview, Brown insisted the press council should do more to punish journalists who break media rules. The council uses the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Code of Ethics. But Fraser wasn’t buying it. “Canadaland is the proper place to shame people. That is what you do so well…You’re in the shaming business.”
It was also clear that Canadaland joined the media council on a dare from John Fraser, for the sum of a dollar. It got far too much credibility for that buck.
This is the text of my letter to the National NewsMedia Council
March 25, 2019 VIA EMAIL
National NewsMedia Council c/o Pat Perkel
37 Front St. East, Suite 200 Toronto, Ontario M5E 1B3
Dear Ms. Perkel,
Last week I listened to your appearance – along with the National NewsMedia Council’s Executive Chair, John Fraser – on the web-based podcast Canadaland, with a very heavy heart for the state of journalism in Canada. Allow me to be clear that I deeply respect the mission of the Council, and especially the service of John Fraser as an esteemed journalist and an old friend. Quite simply, we would have no press councils outside Quebec if it was not for Mr. Fraser’s work. My unease was listening to Jesse Brown.
Mr. Brown at multiple points throughout the interview implored the NewsMedia Council to revoke the membership of Postmedia and the Toronto Sun. Mr. Brown’s hypocrisy cannot be overlooked. Everything Mr. Brown said in calling out Postmedia and one of its columnists could be stated about Mr. Brown’s frequent publishing of false, sensational and inflammatory news. (I respect the views of the Council that opinion has much more leeway, so I am concentrating solely on reporting issues).
Therefore, I am writing today to formally request that the Media Council review Canadaland’s membership.
Mr. Brown, and his Canadaland website, should not be a member of the NewsMedia Council. To put it simply, Mr. Brown is doing permanent damage to the journalism profession and industry, as well as the individuals and institutions he targets in his reports.
His site is actually a vehicle for attacks and, as Mr. Fraser noted in the March 18 podcast, shaming. The reporting done by Canadaland is not meant to inform, it is designed to humiliate and belittle.
He has a well-earned reputation for irresponsible reporting practices, publishing information that is incorrect and/or fabricated, sensationalism, intimidation, and refusal to correct his own errors, despite gleefully calling out the missteps of others.
The few times he has admitted to mistakes, he has done so with no contrition, buried corrections and left the majority of the offending material in the public domain. His corrections have been late. Podcasts with factual errors are not re-edited. Sometimes, the errors are acknowledged in web text below the podcasts, which might be found by PC users but not by ITunes and other users.
I have listed some of Mr. Brown’s most egregious breaches of the basic tenets of journalism in the Appendix that follows this letter. Any one of them should give pause to anyone considering Brown to be a serious member of the journalism profession or a member of the Media Council.
Mr. Brown continues to do irreparable damage through his own reporting, and almost more troubling, by his mentoring of the younger journalists he hires and coaches into the performing the same irresponsible and harmful “journalism”. These young journalists’ method of craft and resumé will forever be tainted by association with Mr. Brown.
Mr. Brown has frequently wrapped himself in the cloak of the Council to convince the public that he is a credible source of news. As Mr. Fraser noted on the podcast, there is no formal review process to join the Media Council. Canadaland was invited to join at its own volition, and, in fact, on a dare. However, Mr. Fraser noted that there are grounds to expel a member who fails to live up to the Media Council’s mission to “promote ethical practices within the news media industry”.
One of the few differences between a self-described “shame wizard” with website and a credible journalist is the logo of the National NewsMedia Council.
As a lawyer and former journalist with full respect for freedom of expression, I acknowledge Mr. Brown should of course be permitted to continue his website, subject to the laws governing libel, contempt of court and hate speech, but Canadaland certainly falls far short of any definition of credible media. The ability to hold media to account is fundamental to our democracy, which is why the work of the Council is so important, and why membership in the organization should be considered with the utmost care. Membership should be reserved only for those media organizations committed to upholding the highest standards of journalism and that possess a demonstrated record of doing just that.
I respectfully request that the Media Council consider this matter. I ask you to review the material in the Appendix and seriously consider revoking Canadaland’s membership. As you will see from the incidents I document in the attachment, Mr. Brown has demonstrated a career-long pattern of: fabricating information; refusing to properly correct his errors; holding others to standards he consistently fails to meet himself; underpaying and poorly treating his staff while enriching himself; damaging reputations – both personal and organizational; intimidating his peers; and generally failing to meet basic journalism standards that the rest of the Canadian media hold as sacrosanct. He has never been held accountable for any of this, and that needs to change.
As a 40-year veteran of the media industry, I am appealing to the National NewsMedia Council to demand that accountability. I have followed Mr. Brown’s writings and Canadaland podcasts from since the site launched in 2013. As hub of media criticism, the site was entertaining and I viewed it in a similar light (and gave the stories the same weight) as Frank magazine.
I was an early and generous Patreon supporter until I realized how Mr. Brown operates. I was subjected to the Brown treatment in the spring of 2015.
At first, few people took Canadaland seriously. In 2014, Mr. Brown temporarily teamed up with the Toronto Star for an investigation into Jian Ghomeshi. Whether it was the legitimacy lent to him by his association with the Toronto Star or the appearance of thoroughness of the investigation done by Mr. Brown and the Star’s Kevin Donovan, it was clear to me that Mr. Brown and Canadaland were being embraced by some with the same public respect reserved for the most trusted media outlets.
That air of legitimacy and associated power also made Mr. Brown incredibly dangerous. The information that subsequently emerged about his reporting and misconduct regarding Jian Ghomeshi and other topics is shocking, as I’ve outlined below. I conducted extensive research – literally hundreds of hours – on the subject of Mr. Brown, and it is clear from his pattern of behaviour, his reaction to criticism and the traits he instills in staff, that he picks and chooses what journalistic standards he upholds to suit his own bias.
While I’ve chosen to remain (mostly) silent about Mr. Brown’s conduct in the past, listening to Mr. Brown’s call for the expulsion of other members from the Council pushed me to the realization that I have a moral obligation to speak out. Mr. Brown’s implication that you should consider pulling the membership of Postmedia and the Toronto Sun was a level of hypocrisy that cannot be overlooked.
Everything Mr. Brown cited in calling out Postmedia and one of its columnist could be stated about Mr. Brown’s frequent publishing of false, sensationalist and inflammatory “news”. As per Mr. Brown’s own words about what constitutes misconduct: “there is no indication that (the columnist) was censured in any way for that column. And she has continued on with much of the same.” “(the columnist) has mocked her critics. She has shrugged off any responsibility for what happened. She has doubled and tripled down. She is defiant. What the hell do you do about something like that?” “Using rhetoric and lies is to paint a bulls eye on them (the target of a report)” “Based on their actions, that company simply does not care. The Toronto Sun quietly corrected the (relevant) detail and left the rest of the piece up.” Making such statements about others in the media when Mr. Brown’s own conduct is so similarly reckless begs the question: what does Mr. Brown deem as being worthy of having his own membership stripped from the Council? If we apply his own stated standards, he would certainly be removed. If one were to hold Mr. Brown’s work up to against a checklist of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ Ethics Guidelines, his check boxes would be nearly empty. Examples of his contempt for journalistic standards are outlined in the Appendix, and include:
- A clear indifference to accuracy and balanced reporting
- Failure to verify information provided by sources
- Failure to promptly correct errors promptly in a consistent way
- Failure to give people or organizations that are publicly criticized an opportunity to respond before publishing accusations
- Allowing his own bias to impede fair and accurate reporting
- Using unnamed sources when there is no clear and pressing reason to protect their identity
- Failure to reveal the bias of unnamed sources
- Failure to corroborate information provided by unnamed sources
- Allowing unnamed sources to take “cheap shots”
- Failure to distinguish news from opinion
While his failures to uphold basic journalistic standards are often met with eye rolls from experienced journalists, any reasonable personal visiting the Canadaland website would perceive the content to be the full truth.
In an era when content can be shared with a simple click of mouse or tap of a screen, we owe it to the public to safeguard journalistic standards now more than ever. I am proudly Canadian, but I respect the U.S. for publicly shaming journalists like Jack Kelly, Stephen Glass, and Brian Williams, who were all guilty of fabricating quotations, sources, or events in their reporting. The difference is, these reporters were held to account.
Yet because we as Canadians are often too forgiving, and perhaps too meek to stand up to Mr. Brown as a media critic, he continues to elude any consequences for his reckless behavior. As the guardian of journalistic ethics and standards, I feel it is imperative for you to conduct this review, and seriously consider withdrawing Canadaland’s membership in the National NewsMedia Council.
Regardless of how you choose to proceed, I respectfully request that you made this letter and the Appendix publicly available in your searchable complaints archive so that Canadians can be made aware of Mr. Brown and Canadaland’s practices, and the damage they have done to real people and important Canadian institutions. As Mr. Brown himself said on the podcast with you, “When the buck does not stop with editors in chief or even with CEOS, it stops with the Council.”
123 Slater Street, 6th Floor Ottawa,
Ontario K1P 5H2
Fabricating Material for CBC
Jesse Brown’s history of compromising accuracy to fit his narrative predates his founding of Canadaland. While working at the CBC – now a frequent target of Canadaland – Mr. Brown fabricated a scene to accompany an episode of a show he was helping to develop. When it came out that the scene was fabricated, CBC management reprimanded Brown and his contract was not renewed.
But Brown essentially laughed it off. When approached in January 2015 by Globe and Mail columnist Simon Houpt about the incident, Mr. Brown readily admitted to faking the scene, even posting his email exchange with the reporting on Canadaland.
“The pilot was ‘multiculturalism doesn’t work, we just eat each other’s sandwiches’.” “In between interviews with writers and academics, we had comic vignettes where I would go into ethnic eateries and kibbitz with the staff. For example, I went into a falafel shop and tried to engage the woman behind the counter in a debate about who has the best hummus, Jews or Arabs?” “For one of these, I went into San Francesco Foods on Clinton and asked if the guy could put my veal parm sandwich in a roti or a pita instead of a bun. He gruffly said ‘No, we don’t have that kinda stuff here!’ But I didn’t get it on tape. So, I asked my buddy to gruffly say the same thing.”
In the most charitable interpretation of events, we could take Jesse Brown at his (dubious) word that he merely deceived his listeners by asking a friend to lie about his own identity, pretending to be someone else, while Jesse Brown joined in the lie by engaging in a conversation with this false persona, to “recreate” a previous incident. We can set aside the racial undertones of the falsified exchange for a show entitled, “multiculturalism doesn’t work”. Nonetheless, the simple fact is that Jesse Brown admits to fabricating this scene and source.
Most notable is that there was no contrition in Mr. Brown’s admission on the subject. He clearly believes that the end justifies the means, and that his own by-line and ego is more important than the truth. Instead, he justified the fabrication and tried to characterize his executive producer’s response to terminate the project as an overreaction. Again from Mr. Brown’s post: “Weeks later, once the show had been picked up. I was discussing future episodes with Lynda Shorten (the show’s executive producer), and I mentioned that I had re-created the bit and asked if we should do that for on air episodes or not. She was shocked. She killed the pilot episode, which we later re-did, and she hauled me into management’s office and put a note on my file.
Mr. Brown’s contract with CBC was not renewed. After some time freelancing, he established his own media criticism website. He chose to hoist himself above all media in the country, to become a critic of others in media.
Multiple Journalistic Ethical Violations regarding Jian Ghomeshi
Mr. Brown’s involvement in the Ghomeshi affair – a role that essentially “made” Mr. Brown’s career — came into serious question following the release of Kevin Donovan’s book, Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation, a behind the scenes account of the reporting behind the story. According to Mr. Donovan, Mr. Brown was a frequent “sentence finisher” – that is, he would finish a source’s answer with his own words if they paused to find the right words – in legal terms, this is akin to “leading the witness”. This is an unprofessional way of conducting interviews with sources. It can strongly bias the source, cause the source to seemingly agree to material that may or may not be correct, cause mis-recollections, and heavily slant the “evidence” of the coverage.
According to Mr. Donovan, this was compounded by Mr. Brown’s tendency to approach the investigation with a high level of bias and a predetermined goal for the outcome. Mr. Brown believed a journalist should be in “partnership” with the victim, rather than approach the issues objectively.
In the book, Mr. Donovan accuses Mr. Brown of not asking sources tough questions to corroborate their very serious allegations about Ghomeshi. Mr. Brown was later revealed to have not disclosed the fact that he was a friend and co-worker of one of the alleged victims in the Ghomeshi case, Kathryn Borel, and that he knew of Ghomeshi’s alleged behavior when Mr. Brown worked with her at CBC. Brown not disclose his relationship with the alleged victim in the initial Toronto Star reporting, and, at the time these alleged offences were said to occur, he did not report any of them to his and Borel’s mutual employer, CBC management.
In the book, Mr. Donovan further describes that Jesse Brown offered sources anonymity far too easily – a common tactic employed by Mr. Brown throughout his reporting – which removes the ability of others to fact-check for accuracy, the ability of the accused to fully respond, and the ability of the audience to understand whether there are any biases from the source. Mr. Donovan explained how in requesting a comment from a “Q” producer, Mr. Brown promised “complete anonymity” without prompting from the producer. While it is standard practice to provide anonymity to sexual assault accusers, Mr. Brown extended his offers of anonymity far beyond the alleged victims in his coverage. Jesse Brown still carries a halo of respectability in the eyes of some people because of his reporting regarding Jian Ghomeshi. In effect, Ghomeshi’s fall was matched by Mr. Brown’s rise.
The reality is more complex. In the years following the Ghomeshi matter, a fuller picture has emerged of Jesse Brown as a would-be investigative journalist in need of a big story to make his career, and someone who set aside – once again – the most basic ethical standards of the industry to pursue his own fame. The Jian Ghomeshi matters is highly important story that deserved far more scrutiny.
Amanda Lang Character Assassination
In 2015, Canadaland published several stories about CBC’s senior business correspondent Amanda Lang. The allegations in the stories were extremely serious, claiming she was sabotaging the network’s coverage of a story related to RBC’s use of temporary foreign workers. Brown claimed she had inappropriately been taking speaking fees from the bank and was romantically involved with a member of the RBC Board. Canadaland reported the following: “Multiple sources within CBC News have revealed to CANADALAND, under condition of anonymity, a shocking campaign Amanda Lang undertook in 2013 to sabotage a major story reported by her colleague, investigative reporter Kathy Tomlinson.”
These serious allegations of misconduct could ruin the credibility of any journalist and dramatically affect the reputation of the broadcast network. The Canadaland story was widely repeated by other media across the country. However, the bulk of the reporting didn’t hold up having been sensationalized and twisted by Canadaland.
As the story was about to roll out, Canadaland contacted CBC at the eleventh hour for a comment. This was on a weekend and Canadaland published the piece on its website on the Sunday evening. On Monday, Jennifer McGuire, then-General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of CBC News and Centres posted a memo stating: “While we welcome discussions and debate about our coverage, this morning’s blog post by Sean Craig on Canadaland about a story from two years ago is based on several misrepresentations. It is misleading and is ultimately damaging to us as a news organization. Despite reaching out to us over the weekend for a response, Mr. Craig deliberately made false assumptions and left out important facts.”
Simon Houpt summarized the affair in his piece on Mr. Brown:
“…a close reading of Canadaland’s reporting suggests its explosive claims in this story weren’t supported by the facts it had in hand. The sum total of Lang’s “campaign” seemed to be her participation in a phone call which Raj Ahluwalia, a CBC producer, this week told the Toronto Star he had invited her to be on. There was no firm evidence, as Canadaland alleged, that CBC changed course on the story because of Lang’s involvement. Even the provable financial connections between the parties were thinner than promised.”
Ultimately Ms. Lang was exonerated by the CBC after a full investigation. But permanent damage to Ms. Lang’s personal and professional reputation was done. She left the CBC a few months later and eventually found work, but her public profile has never recovered. Once again there was no contrition or meaningful correction from Mr. Brown; instead, the opposite. He simply doubled down and characterized the CBC investigation (in which the corporation engaged an impartial, third-party to investigate Ms. Lang’s coverage of RBC) as “horseshit”.
False Claims of sexism at The Globe and Mail
In 2015, Mr. Brown posted a story on Canadaland with the headline: “Women editors are fleeing The Globe and Mail” and sub-headline, “The Globe and Mail has a problem with women. The problem is, women keep quitting.”
Relying on his frequently-cited unnamed sources, the July 2015 report suggested the Globe and Mail had a significant diversity problem and he listed the names of female editors who had quit within a three-year span. He also claimed that the last four women to “flee” had not replied to requests from Canadaland for comment.
“While none of the four parting editors will speak to CANADLAND about their departures*, many current and former female employees of the Globe did, on condition of anonymity. These sources unanimously believe that the women are running from the Globe, and not towards other opportunities.”
In this instance, Mr. Brown included a sentence below the inaccurate list of women who had left the newsroom: “Who have we missed? Send names to editor@Canadalandshow.com. Sources will not be identified.” Both the allegation that that these women left because of “a problem with women” at the Globe and Mail and his claim that they had not replied to requests for comment were decisively proven to be false. Two of the women later revealed on social media that they were not actually contacted for comment. “For the record, despite what Jesse Brown wrote on @cndlnd, I was not contacted for an interview, Kathryn Hayward wrote on Twitter July 2, 2015. With the same arrogance he conveyed in being called out about fabricating content at the CBC, Mr. Brown tried to excuse the false claim rather than owning his shoddy reporting. “@kat_hayward sorry, may have sent intvw (sic) request to incorrect email, Kathryn. Will you comment now? Eager to update with your input,” Mr. Brown replied.
Rather than appropriately correcting this on the website, he instead defended his work:
“* CLARIFICATION: an earlier version of this post suggested that the four editors who left the Globe most recently actively declined to comment to CANADALAND prior to publication. In fact, requests for comment did not reach all four before we posted. For the record: one declined prior to publication, one after, and two have not explicitly responded. We are confident that all four are aware of our interest in speaking with them. We remain eager to include their perspectives and will update this post should any comment from them arrive.”
Mr. Brown was not correct in his core allegations about the reason why the four women left the Globe and Mail, and he was not accurate in representing his contact with them. As noted in above in the segments on Mr. Ghomeshi and Amanda Lang, Mr. Brown is known for liberally handing out anonymity without any justifiable reason. This makes it very difficult for people to fact-check his reported “news”. We are dependent on Jesse Brown to self-monitor as Editor / Publisher / Owner / Writer / Host of his website.
Falsely Accusing Officials from Greater Essex County District School Board of Falsifying Documents
In November, 2014, Mr. Brown repeated an error by Rebel Media’s Ezra Levant, falsely accusing Ontario’s Greater Essex County District School Board of “doctoring” a document in an attempt to shield themselves from negative news coverage about a racially-charged matter.
Only after immense pressure did Jesse Brown later admit on his Short Cuts podcast, “They did no such thing. The school board did not doctor anything.”
In our world of viral social media, it is inconceivable that a journalist would level such a damning accusation of fraud and breach of public trust without the slightest source evidence. While Jesse Brown made a verbal correction the in a subsequent podcast, he never altered the original podcast with the false allegation, nor did he put a correction notice on the sites where it can be downloaded. The serious accusation of fraud and breach of public trust is still in the public sphere and can easily be accessed by unsuspecting individuals.
Simon Houpt wrote a column about this incident in the Globe and Mail, which also serves as a good primer for learning more about Mr. Brown’s tactics (“Journalist Jesse Brown is quick to expose the failures of Canadian media. But what about his own?”, January 16, 2015):
“Then, last November, after the Sun Media commentator Ezra Levant attacked Ontario’s Greater Essex County District School Board for issuing a memo that supposedly said ‘teachers should be prepared to exempt Muslim students from Remembrance Day’ – an incorrect allegation on Levant’s part – Brown flew to his defence. In a podcast, he charged that the school board had tried to cover its tracks when other reporters (including myself) came calling about the memo. ‘They totally [expletive deleted] lied about it, Brown said. ‘They completely doctored the document after the fact.’” “That sounded to me like libel. I actually had the original memo: The school board had done nothing of the sort. So, in a long back-and-forth with Brown over e-mail and Twitter DMs, I tried to explain where he went wrong. Finally, on a podcast one week later, after I nudged him some more, he announced a correction. But the original podcast is still up on his site, uncorrected and unedited, with nary a note about the false allegation.”
Yet again, a very serious allegation against a public institution regarding racially sensitive matters turns out to be wrong, and Mr. Brown’s reaction is to issue a halfhearted correction a week letter, buried in a podcast. In the recording, Mr. Brown tried to take a parting shot at the school board for “spinning” the story.
Admitted Lack of Objectivity
In a Twitter argument, Mr. Brown responded to a tweet by a Montreal Gazette editor who said a recent piece by Brown was “crazy misleading”. Mr. Brown Tweeted back “my point was that the Globe (and Mail) threw a tantrum. You can make your own point on your own site.” And then, “I told the whole story as best I could- both sides. I don’t pretend to be objective.”
I point these latter two statements out as I find them to be astounding and revealing of Mr. Brown’s views on his role as a member of the media. He essentially states the he can say whatever he wants on his website, and if someone doesn’t like it, they can start their own site. He presents his opinion as “news”, and does not see himself as needing to be objective when reporting on matters.
Multiple Instances of False Documents and Serious Errors in Coverage of WE Organisation
Although there are multiple other incidents of journalistic malfeasance by Jesse Brown and Canadaland, for the sake of time, I skip ahead to documenting the most recent example.
In a series of articles and podcasts starting in 2017 and continuing over 18 months, Canadaland has launched very serious accusations about WE Charity and its co-founders, Craig Kielburger and Marc Kielburger. Jesse Brown has articulated that he has been trying for years to turn his “shame wizard” attacks to WE Charity and the Kielburgers. This “investigation” was led by Jaren Kerr, a recent university graduate, with Jesse Brown as Host of the podcast, and overall Editor.
Following multiple attempts by WE Charity to get Canadaland to correct clearly incorrect, misleading or defamatory reporting, the organization took the step of serving Canadaland with two separate Notices of Libel. I believe this is the first time in the history of WE Charity that it has served a media institution with a Notice of Libel, and the first time in over twenty years that a co-founder of the organization has initiated an action for defamation. The Notices speak for themselves, but I’ve summarized a few of the key concerns below:
- In its October 15, 2018 article and podcast, Canadaland published and widely circulated via social media an image of a Kellogg cereal box with the ME to WE logo on front and a second image of a financial ledger with payment from Kellogg as part of its “extensive evidence” of a partnership between ME to WE and Kellogg’s. Despite Jaren Kerr being informed by WE prior to publication that WE has never received any funds from Kellogg’s, and that the image of the cereal box was not an actual product put into the marketplace, nor was the image created by WE or Kellogg’s, Canadaland chose to present the images as WE being caught in a lie. This false material was circulated by Canadaland to much fanfare, as Mr. Brown and Mr. Kerr released the article and podcast as part of Canadaland’s annual fundraising drive. Canadaland still has this false material circulating via both its social media and website, and has not corrected the public record.
- WE has stated in its Notice of Libel that Canadaland published a digitally-altered WE Charity internal financial document, with edits that removes information that directly contradicts Canadaland’s grossly inaccurate claims regarding the amount of revenue WE Charity receives from corporate donations. It is unclear who altered the document. The digitally-altered image remains online in Canadaland’s original article.
- Jesse Brown during a Canadaland podcast asserted that the “ME to WE Foundation” was not a charity, but a private for-profit business. Prior to publication WE provided multiple legal briefings showing that the ME to WE Foundation is incorporated as a foundation for solely charitable purposes – raising money for WE Charity, which builds schools, hospitals, clean water projects and engages in other development projects in impoverished parts of the world. The United States’ Internal Revenue Service clearly agreed because it has held that foundation status in the U.S. for many years. The Canadaland podcast is still online, in-full, without any edits to the podcast to properly correct.
- Canadaland claims the Good Housekeeping Humanitarian Seal that Good Housekeeping gave to WE was “just advertising,” and that WE somehow unduly influenced the magazine to give the charity this endorsement. Good Housekeeping, which has been issuing its Seals since 1910 – thery’re probably the company’s greatest asset – has publicly stated that 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.”
- Canadaland attacked the credibility of the The Globe and Mail by alleging that the special section content published in The Globe and Mail regarding WE Charity is “created by WE employees”. The Globe’s own policies, expressed on its web site clarify that this is not correct. Canadaland has issued a print correction on its website, but the Canadaland podcast is still online, in-full, without any edits to the podcast to properly correct. Anyone accessing the podcast via download platform, such as Apple iTunes, would access the inaccurate content.
- Canadaland used sensationalist headlines to claim “Craig Kielburger Founded WE to Fight Child Labour. Now the WE Brand Promotes Products Made by Children” based on WE Charity partnering with Kellogg (as noted, not an actual partner), Unilever, and Hershey’s. Jesse Brown and Jaren Kerr chose to ignore all attempts by WE Charity to communicate that the true intention of partnering with these Hershey’s and Unilever is to help them eliminate their issues with child labour, including the root causes of poverty, and do so in the very near term. After reviewing the extensive documented evidence, it is clear that WE Charity works with these partners to implement development programs in the production regions of their products. Unilever is widely recognized as 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. Hershey’s has committed $500 million to social welfare programs and is on track to achieve third-party sourcing for all chocolate by next year (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. A two-minute Google search will provide anyone seriously interested in the truth with Unilever’s annual report on its efforts to remove unfair-trade sourced material from its supply chain, and its policies related to that.
Despite the overwhelmed evidence to the contrary, Canadaland continues to inflict harm to the charity and debase the credibility of the media by strenuously defending their conduct and reaffirm the truth of the articles and podcasts:
“Canadaland 06/11/2018: We wouldn’t have published our investigation of @WeMovement if we did not believe it to be 100% accurate. It was reported carefully & responsibly. We’ll review their libel notice. If we got anything wrong, we’ll correct. The article in question is here: http://www.canadalandshow.com/craigkielburger… — Canadaland 06/11/2018: Also, our investigation of @WEMovement by @journojaren continues. You can reach him at jaren@Canadalandshow.com, or message him securely on Signal at 530-517-7538”
Sensational and Dangerous Use of Inflammatory Language
Most recently, last week in the March 18, 2019, Canadaland podcast, Mr. Brown restated a claim that he has made several times about a column by Sue Ann Levy in Postmedia’s Toronto Sun.
The admittedly awful column stated that asylum seekers were being housed at a Toronto hotel by the federal government, and that they were slaughtering goats in the bathtubs. Mr. Brown stated that as a result of the column, someone attempted, someone lit a gas can on fire in a hallway of the hotel “about 2 and a half hours later” (presumably meaning 2.5 hours after the column was published) to “to be clear, this was an attempted murder 577 migrants, most of them Muslims.”
Mr. Brown tried to directly link the admittedly-outrageous column to the arson attempt, with absolutely no evidence, and apparently made up the claim that the attempt was made “2.5 hours later”. Was this 2.5 hours after the column went live on-line? 2.5 hours after it appeared on newsstands? If so, which newsstands? No one was arrested for this arson, and police have released no evidence of motive. Mr. Brown appears to have no concept of the difference between correlation and causation.
Hypocrisy in the workplace
It is important to note that Mr. Brown has a clear track record of making malicious claims about work environments, including about unpaid internships, toxic workplaces, etc., but does not hold himself to that same standard of proper journalistic workplaces. Brown has been called out by former employees for his perceived hypocrisy in being a self-appointed watch dog for media workplaces, but not treating his own staff fairly. Examples include the following:
- Former Canadaland reporter and coauthor of Brown’s book: The Canadaland Guide to Canada, Vicky Mochama, tweeted “racialized peopled get paid less at Canadaland (and) successive transparency reports confirm that.” Brown’s response drew ‘mansplaining’ criticisms from another former employee, Scaachi Koul, who wrote “good for jesse, explaining to a black woman who used to work for him what her grievance should actually be.”
- Another former employee, Jane Lytvynenko, accused Brown of paying her male successor $20,000 more than her, Tweeting “…i’d just like to shout out my former employer jesse brown who gave a man $20,000 more to do my job after i left.”
- Another former employee producer, Katie Jensen, took to Twitter in 2017 to advocate for pay transparency in journalism and spoke about her experience of working unpaid overtime for Canadaland and working 60 hours a week for $27,000 for Canadaland.
- In 2016, a number of female staffers left Canadaland, and Brown admitted in a podcast published in October 2016, that the work environment had taken a toll on his staff. In just over a week in October 2016, Brown lost almost half of his team. “I have to tell you, I did not see any of this coming, and my head is spinning,” Mr. Brown told listeners before using these departures as an avenue to solicit funds.
These examples are certainly not a comprehensive list of the grievous breaches of standard journalistic practiced by Mr. Brown. They merely show some of the highest profile examples of how he carries out his work, and the influence he wields on his staff to do the same.
Mr. Brown is as entitled to his freedom of speech and expression, just as any other Canadian with a website, a keyboard and opinion is. My concern is that Mr. Brown’s membership in the National NewsMedia Council provides him a level of credibility to which he is in no way entitled.
I urge you to reconsider his membership based on the information above, and in doing so, uphold the values and standards of journalism that your organization was created to protect.
I have a response from the NewsMedia Council.
The Council does not consider past behaviour when deciding whether a media outlet can be a member. John Fraser said the council’s board never considered that issue when the council was being organized. And the two complaints it has received about Canadaland are about an issue that might be before the courts. Brown wrote me to say the media council heard a third complaint against him, by Parliament Hill journalist Tom Korski, and decided in Canadaland’s favour.
Update: June 3, 2019: This article has become more relevant as I have followed and criticized Brown’s attack on WE Charity for the last eight months on social media and two months here. Bad journalism practices have become an integral part of Canadaland ‘s reporting on this topic. Please look at other articles on fairpress.ca for continuing coverage of this topic.