How The Rebel Infiltrated Postmedia and Conquered Canada’s Largest Newspaper Chain
Reporter Sean Craig found that Postmedia’s new CEO, Andrew MacLeod, has given a directive to editors at the chain to make their papers more “reliably conservative” in an effort to fill a supposed gap in Canada’s mainstream media landscape.
MacLeod appointed former National Post and Financial Post comment editor, Kevin Libin, to oversee this top-down political directive. Since then, an editor-in-chief was demoted, supposedly for daring to run a pro-carbon tax editorial and questioning Libin’s appointment, while some employees have expressed deep concern at the changes and others have left entirely.
The gap Postmedia is attempting to fill, however, does not appear to be mainstream conservatism, as this is already well represented within the chain. Instead, the gap they’re targeting seems to be a market for far-right opinion that has emerged in the last few years. Thus far, this new market has only been catered to in Canada by alternative publications, chief among them Rebel Media, but it has proven to be deeply profitable.
As such, many have justifiably speculated that Postmedia will be shifting toward a Rebel Media model, or at least incorporating elements that have made it successful.
Yet what this speculation often leaves out is the deep ties and connections between Postmedia and Rebel Media that have existed for years.
Postmedia would not be making a long jump from one point to another, but rather taking a step over a line that has been gradually blurred in recent years.
Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley: A Long Partnership
Rebel Media was cofounded by Ezra Levant and Brian Lilley in the aftermath of the demise of Sun News Network, where they both had their own shows. The network shut down when Sun Media was bought by Postmedia and the TV network was left out of the deal. As such, Rebel Media is a direct outgrowth of a Sun Media property that got left behind in the transition to Postmedia.
But while Levant and Lilley’s shows were not brought along to Postmedia, both have deep histories with the company, and its predecessors.
The National Post was founded in late 1998, and Levant was a member of its original editorial board from then until 2001, taking an active role in shaping what the paper would turn out to become.
In a 2017 National Post article criticizing one of the publication’s articles about Rebel Media, Levant claimed there’s little difference between views of Islam at both publications, writing, “I know that, because I personally wrote many of the Post’s foundational editorials on Islam from 1999 to 2001, when the newspaper’s editorial direction was set.” He claims to have written more than 100 columns for Postmedia about Islam.
Though Levant departed from the editorial board in 2001, he continued on with other current Postmedia properties. He wrote an occasional column for the Calgary Sun until 2007. In 2010 he rejoined Sun News as a columnist and in 2011 as a show host for Sun News Network, where he worked until it was shut down.
But Levant’s links with Postmedia didn’t end after founding Rebel Media. Instead, Levant writes that he continued as a guest columnist, which he categorizes as his “main expression” with Postmedia, claiming to have written more than 600 columns for the chain.
Levant has gone as far as calling himself “part of the Post’s extended family,” adding that, “The feeling was mutual – half a dozen Postmedia writers regularly appeared on Rebel shows.”
There are other more indirect, yet still crucial, connections, between Levant and Postmedia. In 2004, Levant founded the Western Standard, a right wing magazine and online publication. His outlet employed now-marquee Postmedia columnists Andrew Coyne and Colby Cosh. Most importantly, however, was its founding editor, who is now in charge of determining the political slant of Postmedia: Kevin Libin.
Rebel Media’s other co-founder, Brian Lilley, also has links to Postmedia. Like Levant, Lilley joined Sun News in 2010 as a columnist, and became a TV show host in 2011 until the network shut down in 2015. Unlike Levant, however, Lilley has since returned to Postmedia in a formal role, getting hired by the Toronto Sun in January as a full-time columnist.
Rank and File
But the connections between the two publications aren’t limited to their founders, instead extending to some of the most prominent voices at both publications.
On Rebel Media’s end, anchors once employed by the network got their start at current Postmedia publications.
Faith Goldy, a white nationalist most recently known for her failed run as Toronto mayor, got her “first professional bylines” at the National Post, according to the publication itself.
This work led her to Sun News Network until it shut down, raising her profile, which then brought her to Rebel Media as one of their most notorious anchors.
David Menzies, meanwhile, is a former National Post contributor who has given a platform at Rebel Media to Kevin J. Johnston, a man facing two years in prison for hate crime charges and who lost a defamation suit for “hate speech at its worst,” according to the judge, against a Muslim man.
Meanwhile, numerous current Postmedia employees and contributors have appeared on Rebel Media, some regularly, including, but not limited to, National Post founder Conrad Black, Sun Media columnist and editors Anthony Furey and Lorrie Goldstein, National Post columnists Barbara Kay and John Robson, Postmedia columnists Sue-Ann Levy, Candice Malcolm, Joe Warmington, Lorne Gunter and Tarek Fatah, among others.
These are all significant figures in the commentary sections at Postmedia, exemplifying how much crossover there already is between the political voice of the two networks, which Libin has been given a specific directive to make even more “reliably conservative.”
But the connections don’t end with appearances from Postmedia employees on Rebel Media. Postmedia employees have also been directly involved with raising money for Rebel Media.
Lorne Gunter and Candice Malcolm were both aboard a week-long Rebel Media cruise in 2016, where they spoke as part of panels. Gunter was later criticized for failing to disclose in a pro-Rebel Media column that he received a free cruise from the publication in the past.
Meanwhile, Warmington was one of the headliners for a 2018 Rebel Media event, where, according to PressProgress, he was joined by a “parade of far-right extremists.”
It’s necessary to further contextualize these appearances into pre- and post-Charlottesville categories.
The August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville saw a collection of far-right factions come together, with a neo-Nazi eventually killing an anti-facist protestor. Then-Rebel Media anchor Goldy, who was reporting from the scene, gave a great deal of sympathy to the white supremacist protestors, later appearing on a neo-Nazi podcast to discuss the event.
Her actions, along with a pathetically belated realization of the consequences of tolerating far-right ideas, led many, including Postmedia employees, to leave Rebel Media or vow to never appear as guests again.
Some of these names included Lilley, Robson, and Kay, while Goldy was fired. Yet a crucial point is often missed here: Rebel Media did not become extreme that weekend. It already had been for a long time.
For example, The Rebel employed Gavin McInnes, the founder of the Proud Boys, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as a hate group. As an anchor on The Rebel, McInnes made numerous antisemitic rants, including one titled “10 Things I Hate About Jews.” He has since rejoined the publication after leaving in 2017.
Before Charlottesville, Rebel Media employees also used their personal channels at Rebel Media to defend fascism, call for a holy war, and defend a white supremacist who punched a woman.
Rebel Media’s predecessor, Sun News Network, also faced a slew of justified criticisms for extremism. In Canadaland, for example, author Omar Mouallem wrote that the network “promoted racism—against Arabs, against Romani people, against First Nations — under the veil of ‘opinion,’ a disgraceful abuse of the latitude that is afforded to news commentary and columnizing.”
So, those who willingly appeared on Rebel Media before the “Unite the Right” rally remain just as complicit as those who came after. There is no excuse for being associated with a publication that willingly trafficked in xenophobia and racism.
Dangerous Turn To The Right
It would be easy to view these connections, and the likely possibility that they will multiply as Postmedia shifts further to the right, as a mere stain on whatever reputation Postmedia still enjoys.
But the real danger of these connections is that they pose a threat to the most vulnerable Canadians as the far-right continues to gain power.
In a 2019 report on Rebel Media, Faith Matters, an organization founded to work on “integration, cohesion, hate crime and countering extremism projects,” claimed the publication’s rhetoric has “arguably made them a gateway to genuine Nazi rhetoric, glimpsed in Faith Goldy’s actions around and following the Charlottesville rally.”
The report added that “Rebel Media have thrived in normalising hate and suspicion of Muslims and migrants through the relentless hammering away of the narrative that there is a white genocide taking place, and that Muslims are taking over western civilisation.”
This is especially troubling considering research establishing a link between the hate speech these sort of stories generate and hate crimes. Richard Warman, a human rights lawyer based in Ottawa, filed a formal criminal complaint against Rebel Media last month for the “wilful promotion of hatred.”
Moreover, a recent study from Brazil found that videos from a network of figures referred to in 2018 by the New York Times as the “Intellectual Dark Web” can steer YouTube viewers toward far-right content. One of these figures, Jordan Peterson, writes columns for Postmedia and is now, according to Canadaland, working on a “secret project out of the fifth floor of Postmedia’s offices.”
Rebel Media is certainly successful on its own, as the publication currently has more than 1,268,000 YouTube subscribers and nearly half a billion video views, 178,000 Twitter followers and 176,000 Facebook likes. However, Postmedia shifting further to the right, likely including encompassing some of the traits that has made Rebel Media so popular among the far-right, will make matters worse.
Canada has a highly monopolized media, and when it comes to newspapers Postmedia is at the top, with just under 30 per cent of the market in 2017, more than 140 brands, and an expectation of receiving 20 per cent of the upcoming government media bailout funds in its first year.
This means these noxious views will be pushed around the country, and in many communities through the only local newspaper media left for residents — partially funded by public dollars.
Rebel Media has been adding fuel to the raging far-right fire both in Canada and abroad for years. But Postmedia is a much larger media outlet, with greater resources and a reputation for some as a bastion for “respectable conservatism” despite the extensive ties to Rebel Media. As such, a shift further right at the publication may make it an even more dangerous force in the years ahead.