Why the Levant-rant has caused far more harm than good.

As entertaining as Ezra Levant can be, at least in a face-meet-palm kind of way, I really wish that he never turned his gaze upon the Harbour City. In his 45-minute piece  he did far more harm than good. Let me explain why.

The Issue Has Already Been Resolved:

The Levant-rant if nothing else is steeped in unbridled passion. Its purpose is to inflame, to invoke righteous anger, and to elicit a response from angry viewers. He wants said viewers to make city council recognize the error of their ways. Levant wants  them to pay.  The problem, however, is that all of this seething anger, righteous or otherwise, is created in vain. As you can read in my last post, the city council has already responded by providing the thing that was of primary importance for Christians and other religious groups: a guarantee that the city would abide by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and be able to rent city property. The issue has been resolved.

Now in fairness to Levant, the statement issued by the mayor on behalf of the administration happened shortly before his newscast went viral. However, it certainly would not have been difficult for him to provide an update with this information attached.

Now to be sure, council’s affirmation of religious people’s rights does nothing to resolve the issue of Leadercast but Leadercast was never the primary issue for either the Christians in Nanaimo or for Ezra Levant. That issue needs to be worked out by the Daily News, Council, and Leadercast.

Misrepresentation of the Facts:

Through Exaggeration:

A significant problem with the Levant rant is that he frequently distorts the facts. He distorts first of all by exaggerating—a common strategy for our species when we really want to win an argument. For example Levant states that council voted to “ban Christians”. This is incredibly misleading. The language of the resolution does not mention Christians by name at all; there was worry from Christian groups that the language had potentially scary implications for events that they would want to host on city property. In this sense Christians and other religious groups could be seen as collateral damage but it was simply not the case that the city council of Nanaimo was deliberately and specifically targeting Christians.

A second example is found in Levant’s statement that council is trying to “drive Christians out of town” (see 20:00). This despite the fact that the mayor and some of the councilors attended the annual prayer breakfast for Christians shortly after this mess was started. The mayor even paid his respects to the Christian citizens of Nanaimo by reading some sections of the Bible. You can make the argument that council was naïve or even ignorant regarding the implications their resolution had for Christians but they certainly were not intending to drive them out of town.

Through Minimizing:

Levant also distorts by minimizing. My last post indicated that I am unable to confirm or refute the claims made about Dr. Cloud’s stance on reparative therapy. In Levant’s rant he refers to Dr. Cloud’s alleged views on reparative therapy as “funny ideas about the gays”. Reparative therapy is neither a “funny idea” in the humorous sense of the word nor in the benignly absurd sense of the word. No, reparative therapy is something that has done horrific damage to many LGBT people over the past decades. Even prominent supporters of reparative therapy from yesteryear have come forward to apologize for their prior beliefs and have distanced themselves from people who still promote it.

Through Conflating Issues:

Levant distorts by conflating issues. As I’ve mentioned there are two issues at play: the issue of cancelling Leadercast (the specific target of the motion) and the issue of Christians and other religious groups being potentially banned from renting city property (collateral damage). Levant’s-rant, however, tries to make Christians the specific target of the motion by referring to Leadercast several times in his rant as a Christian conference. This is despite the fact that the event is not religious at all but rather a conference about leadership in general.

Tone:

The second reason why Levant has done more harm than good is his poor use of tone. Christian leaders in Nanaimo worked very hard to phrase their critiques in a way that honoured and respected the councillors and the mayor. They wanted the administration to know that they aren’t despised or hated by Nanaimo’s religious groups.

Conversely Levant uses the tactic of demonizing.  As human beings it is very tempting to treat people with whom we disagree as horrible human beings with no redeeming qualities; this is basically what Levant does. He frequently refers to the councilors and the mayor as “blowhards” and “bigots”. He suggests that they are only motivated by the advancement of their own egos and is never willing to grant that they may actually be trying to do the right thing for the city.

Levant’s demonizing tactics are taken to such an extreme that he actually takes an important act of charity undertaken by one of the councillors and presents it as a vile act of self-aggrandizement. At one point Levant shows an image of councilor Pattje wearing a pair of women’s shoes. He refers to this picture as a narcissitic selfie, intended to make, in Levant’s view, some sort of political statement he cannot understand. What a horrific example of self-indulgence! That is unless one realizes that the picture was intended to raise awareness for a very important fundraiser called “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes”. This event, put on by the Haven Society is a walk in which men wear women’s shoes in order to raise funds to help end rape, sexual, assault, and gender violence. Thank you Mr. Pattje for participating in this important cause and shame on Mr. Levant for not recognizing this.

Now to be sure Levant in no way claims to speak as a representative of the Christians in Nanaimo but he does present himself as their advocate. If people mistake Levant’s uncharitable tone for the tone of local religious groups, then terrible damage has been done indeed.

It was also a key priority for the Christians in Nanaimo to address this issue in a way that was respectful towards the LGBT community. Regrettably, many Christians have failed to live up to their mandate to love their LGBT neighbours and as a result many Christians in town feel burdened to be better. Christian leaders want their churches to be comprised of people that respect and love LGBT people.

Yet in Levant’s rant, we see subtle digs toward the LGBT community. The one that caught my eye was when Levant referred to them as a “community” in inverted commas (see 10:45). When we call something a “community” we are effectively stating that the group in view is not something that fits the standard definition and can therefore only be called a community in a qualified sense—hence the inverted commas. As a Christian I know I would take offense if someone referred to my co-believers or my church as a “community”. This may seem like a subtle point but when we are talking about Christians and the LGBT community, we must be aware of the pain that is there. When there is a history of pain, subtlety matters even more than it does in normal conversation. Now again, Levant in no way speaks for the Christian leaders or churches of Nanaimo but if he causes more pain towards the LGBT people of Nanaimo than he has most certainly caused more harm than good.

Halfway through his 45 minute rant, Mr. Levant says that the actions undertaken by the city council of Nanaimo was for the purpose of showboating for the camera and not about the facts. The irony of this comment leaps off the screen. If only Levant was innocent of the very error he accused city council of undertaking, he would have been able to do some real good. The fact that he wasn’t leaves me mourning the pain that he caused and hoping that a blog like this one can help minimize the damage.

 

Note: There are several different versions of Levant’s piece. The one that led to the writing of this blog is the 45-minute version which can be found on youtube.

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17 comments

  1. Brock Williamson · June 27, 2014

    Well said Travis; the irony is he has done more damage to himself with his over the top reaction than he will do to Nanaimo City Council. If nothing else, his video is a great piece on the problems of the human condition.

    • travisbarbour · June 27, 2014

      I couldn’t have said it better. Our tendency to miscast the arguments with which we disagree and demonize people with whom we are in conflict is quite the indictment of our character!

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

  2. Ross Williamson · June 27, 2014

    As usual Travis very well said. You and Brock hit the nail on the head with your comments on Ezra Levant. I wish he could read this it might just help this from happening again. Although I doubt it would tone him down.

    • travisbarbour · June 27, 2014

      Thanks so much Ross! Sadly sensationalism sells a lot better than fair and balanced reporting…

  3. Adam Roper · June 27, 2014

    I was thinking today- if passing the motion was initially Nanaimo city council’s attempt to show solidarity with the queer community, it was a paltry and lame attempt. How about approving a Pride Festival? Supporting trans-inclusive social housing? Developing clinical space, with inclusive medical professionals, for individuals with varying orientations? These are more tangible and substantial offerings of solidarity in my mind.

  4. Billy Coles · June 28, 2014

    People, Wake up! Men like Ezra calling out these Bigots, needs to happen. This council is the enemy of all Christians. You need to WAKE UP before we are all beheaded for going to Church or making a prayer. The slope is greasy and we are falling fast. Stand up for what you believe and make a difference. I know the writer of this article and those who support will brush me off. But I stand unashamed of what I believe.

  5. Louise · June 28, 2014

    This Ezra guy is a massive bully. I feel sick for how Nanaimo and council are being portrayed.

  6. Caleb · June 28, 2014

    Thank-you for your rational assessment, I can truly appreciate that hype is not an effective tool for promoting change. However, it is an effective tool to embolden and polarize people to a response.
    This truly is dangerous as then public response is based on hype and emotion instead of rationality. Here I would agree with you.
    That said, I would disagree with you on your point that the issue is resolved. It is not. The council’s decision prompted a response which asked for clarification and an apology from both the christian leaders and one of our MP’s. The council did clarify, they said that the motion stands but that they wouldn’t limit the christian gatherings in public buildings.
    Their response contradicts their original motion, one which contradicts the charter of rights and freedoms. Ultimately the council has shown that they will play politics and try to please everyone, this is contradictory, because in pleasing everyone you please no one.

  7. Louise · June 28, 2014

    Here is a letter I wrote to Nanaimo City Council today:

    “Until yesterday, I hadn’t heard about this whole thing. And until today, I didn’t realise how ‘viral’ it is.

    “I have my differing views with some of you over the last couple of years, but I just wanted to tell you that I support you through this. There’s clearly nothing I can say or do that will change anything (though I did write Ezra a curt email), but I want you to know that this will pass. This is a ridiculous scenario that probably could have happened to anyone in any town. It’s like spin the bottle on who it landed. This guy is a disgusting bully and no one deserves to endure what you must be going through.

    “Although my views on some items may differ greatly (ie Colliery Dams), I want to thank you for stepping up to become a councilor in the first place. It’s a job I could not emotionally handle. The stress would be too much for me, and I have wondered over the years how you deal with it – from people who are seemingly unhappy with whatever decision you make.

    “Unfortunately, the minds of today quickly forget yesterday’s news. If this motion was passed a couple of years ago, during or slightly after the Chick Fil A homophobic fiasco, I think you all would have been hailed as heroes. But today, that fiasco is largely forgotten by many, despite how many people it really hurt. I was in the States during that time and it was a very divisive subject. In the 2010’s. Seriously. Why is homophobia still a thing?! Clearly there was something lost in the approval process where it didn’t show who the sponsors for this event were. Hindsight. Four days was too short notice to cancel an event that had already been approved by someone at the city. That’s not malicious though. You’re not being anti-Christian or anti-religion of any kind. And quite frankly, if I was on council, I probably would have voted the same way.

    “People are acting like wild pack animals while attacking you. I’m very upset by this and can’t imagine how you are feeling. I would imagine you’re receiving some heinous emails and phone calls from whackjobs on the far-right. Hang in there. This will one day be yesterday’s news. I just want you to know to know you have my support.

    Louise G”

    I would like to also note that council have been receiving hundreds of horrible emails a day, including things like “I hope you get AIDS and die” and “Heil Hitler”.

  8. Pam Nowell · June 29, 2014

    Isn’t this whole subject about “freedom”. Freedom of speech, to assemble, to be treated equal in Canada? Since when do we scrutinize the media. They require freedom to do their part. Sun News is a strong voice in Canada. Ezra Levant is taking on the cause of Canadians from coast to coast. Sun News is a voice to be reckoned with. The Nanaimo Council were cooperative in re-assessing their decision. The day may come when Ezra Levant and Sun News will be the strong voice needed to bring a breakthrough. Be grateful for their righteous stand.

    • travisbarbour · June 29, 2014

      Hello Pam,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and respond. I do think that Sun News has a role to play in the national media. A colleague and I were talking about how they were the only national outlet that picked up on this story. It’s important for us to recognize that.

      Unfortunately the quality of the journalism was so poor, in my view, that his report actually harmed the situation more than it helped. Quality journalism requires accuracy, fairness, and balance. I don’t believe Levant showed any of these.

      This saddens me because I believe this story could have been presented in a way that: informed the public and was critical of council even while being accurate, fair, and balanced.

      • mcmiccontrol · June 30, 2014

        Hi Travis,

        A friend of mine shared your article on Facebook and I wanted to give you kudos for your fair and balanced writing — definitely the opposite of Lavent’s approach!

        With the caveat that I haven’t seen his 45-minute piece–though I did want a 22-minute version–I wanted to opine that Lavent’s rant isn’t just poor journalism, but it’s not journalism at all–it’s an infomercial.

        I say this because of his call to action at the end of the piece to donate money to John Carpay, the constitutional lawyer interviewed in the segment. A little bit of digging on Carpay shows that he is the head of the “Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms,” which what appears to be a right-wing think-thank masquerading (like Levant) as a ‘freedom fighter.’ The JCCF is a not-for-profit, registered charity that relies on individual donations to sue the pants off of people–which is exactly what Levant and Carpay were asking for at the end of the piece.

        Despite the fact that “Sun News” was imprinted on the screen, this wasn’t journalism; the primary goal was fundraising.

        I sincerely doubt that the best interests of ordinary Canadians was Levant’s motivation to highlight the story–otherwise, he would have attacked it in a fair and balanced manner, exactly as your critique has pointed out. He created a fundraising market (Christians) by tailoring a poor decision by Nanaimo council into an inflammatory rant against Christians, and used that as a justification to ask for money on behalf of Carpay, which will surely go into the JCCF’s coffers, whether it’s used towards litigation against the City of Nanaimo or not.

        As you said it perfectly yourself: “Sadly sensationalism sells a lot better than fair and balanced reporting…”

  9. Allynne · July 2, 2014

    Dear Pastor,
    when I google John Carpay I don’t get the info that you just listed. Is this a misinformation campaign that Nanaimo-ites are determined to believe?
    John’s name when googled says that he has been active since 2001 with the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and advocates for lower taxes, less waste and accountable government. Right wing?Who doesn’t want that?
    I googled Leadercast. I wanted to go. My sister from the Bahamas , who isn’t a Christian, was ooing and awing over how wonderful it is.
    Here’s the beef on Chick Fil A tells you the truth about a fellow Christian[ whom you feel willing to sacrifice in Nanaimo.]
    Pastor you are willing to write an anti semetic remark on Ezra, pound of flesh?
    I have written to MP Crowder and Thomas Mulcair. I am now going to write to Doug Routley on his unbelievable remarks regarding the KKK.I will send it to Christie Clark and CC Thomas Mulcair.
    I can’t believe that as Christians in Nanaimo you are more willing to scrutinize Ezra than your city government.. They are supposed to be working for you.
    From all these comments am I to believe that you are defending the right to be left wing instead of asking for accountable government in your own city.
    I am over and out .
    blessings,
    Allynne

    • travisbarbour · July 2, 2014

      Hello Allyne,

      Thanks for commenting. For now just let me say that Allynne that the comments in no way reflect my own opinion but rather only the comment of the reader

    • travisbarbour · July 2, 2014

      Hello Allyne,

      a follow up comment. I was not aware until you wrote your comments and then sought out the information the Mr. Levant was Jewish. I’m aware of the anti-semetic history of Shylock’s character in “The Merchant of Venice” and for that reason have removed the metaphor from my post. I apologize for my ignorance. My intention was to draw attention to my belief that Mr. Levant, in my opinion isn’t interested in reconciliation as much as he is in revenge.

  10. Pingback: Nanaimo decision rescinded: Thanks BC Civil Liberties, not mainstream media | Church for Vancouver

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