Lee Friday – September 8, 2021
On August 26, this headline was splashed across the front page of the Toronto Star newspaper:
“If an unvaccinated person catches it from someone who is vaccinated, boohoo, too bad. I have no empathy left for the wilfully unvaccinated. Let them die. I honestly don’t care if they die from COVID. Not even a little bit. Unvaccinated patients do not deserve ICU beds. At this point, who cares. Stick the unvaccinated in a tent outside and tend to them when the staff has time.”
Below the headline, and below the fold, the Star notes in fine print “Selection of recent posts on Twitter.” Presumably this explains the use of alternating bold text, to distinguish the various Twitter posts. But this does not lessen the inflammatory nature of the headline.
While the necessity of hate speech laws is debatable, the fact is that (a) such laws exist in Canada, and (b) the Star broke those laws with its headline. But that is not what prompted me to write this article. Instead, what grabbed my attention was the fact that the headline did not generate any criticism from Canadian political leaders, or from other mainstream media outlets.
Conversely, if an obscure media company published a hateful, but inconspicuous (page 28), headline directed toward any ethnic minority group, or the LGBTQ+ community, politicians and mainstream media outlets would be tripping over themselves to see who could be the first to condemn such hateful, divisive, journalism. So why are they silent about hate speech directed toward the minority group of unvaccinated people?
In contrast to the silence from Canada’s political leaders and the mainstream media, many readers complained about the headline, thus eliciting a backhanded apology from the Star, which we are supposed to interpret as “we made a mistake, and if we could go back, we would not run that headline.” That is doubtful. Editors choose their front-page headlines carefully. Think about it. The provocative headline is prominently displayed on the front page, but the actual story is found on page two, under a different headline that reads “When it comes to empathy for the unvaccinated, many of us aren’t feeling it.” This headline is more palatable, and it is a much better description of the content of the story, but the Star made a conscious decision not to use it on the front page.
Instead, the front-page headline represents the Star’s compilation of various Twitter posts neatly arranged in a way that promotes a hateful, inflammatory narrative that is all too common in social media. This is blatantly obvious. It did not happen by accident. Why the Star printed the headline is open for speculation, but the headline itself was not an oversight, and the editors probably had their so-called apology prepared in advance. This reminds me of a scene I saw recently in a television program, where a reporter refused to submit her story because it would cause unnecessary harm to several people, and her editor told her that she would never be promoted until she learned that scruples have no place in journalism.
Ironically, on the same day the Star ran that headline, they also published an article bemoaning Canada’s ‘hate crime crisis.’ The Star is either the pot or the kettle, take your pick.
It seems that politicians and the mainstream media condemn hate speech only when it is directed toward groups with whom the government wants to curry favour, and unvaccinated people are not one of those groups. As Canadian politicians tighten the noose with their imposition of vaccine passports, perhaps it is becoming fashionable to direct hate speech toward unvaccinated people.
Will the promotion of this hateful narrative by a mainstream Canadian media outlet – which gets a free pass from Canada’s political leaders – encourage some people to commit violent acts against unvaccinated Canadians, to whom they previously only wished death upon. After all, if the Toronto Star’s narrative gets a free pass …