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By calling the liberal media the "Borg," the CBC "the Death Star" and asking a crowd of student journalists if they believed in the "theory" of man-made global warming, conservative media personality Ezra Levant was surely up to his usual antics at the final keynote at the Canadian University Press (CUP) NASH 76 conference in Edmonton last Saturday night.
A large number of student journalists came out to the speech by Levant -- which CUP allocated some of their $10,000 speaker budget to -- with around 20-25 leaving throughout. But it’s safe to say that Levant’s talk wasn’t necessarily what most typically expected to see at NASH.
To begin his talk, Levant read snippets from the two op-eds opposing his keynote at NASH from The Charlatan at Carleton University and The Link at Concordia University. He continued to address controversies such as his accusations of hate speech and his libel cases.
"I thought it was a great starting point, a news peg as I might say, to talk about dissident and allowing contrarians and listening to other sides of the debate," said Levant about his reasoning on beginning his talk with the op-eds.
In addition to the op-eds, Levant also spoke about the controversy surrounding his comments about the Roma people and his decision to publish the Danish cartoons of Muhammad in Western Standard magazine in 2006.
The question period, however, is when things got heated during Levant’s talk. Levant shouted down one student journalist originally from America -- in which he later referred to him as an "asshole" -- and told another student journalist that he’s "sure there's an enormous demand for shouty, women's studies majors on TV." She abruptly left the keynote after Levant’s response to her question on feminism.
Following the keynote a group of student journalists gathered around Levant to personally speak to him. A Sun News cameraman accompanied Levant to the keynote and filmed segments from question period as well as his interactions with the students afterwards.
But many on Twitter and at the conference questioned Ezra’s tactics in the way in which he delivers his information.
"It wasn’t rational, that’s not the way Ezra works. He doesn’t stay on one argument, he’ll jump around -- that’s his tactic," explained Colin Harris, the editor-in-chief at The Link and a journalism and political science student at Concordia University. "His talk was not strong. He brought up every example of oppression that he could think of."
Levant admitted that "shock value" is necessary to how he conveys his message.
"You need their attention before you give them substance," explained Levant. "I don’t call myself a real reporter, because to me a reporter is a straight shooting, no opinion kind of guy."
He added, "I absolutely am a journalist, I journalize the events of the day. Now, in case it’s not clear, I’m an opinion journalist, just in case that wasn’t obvious."
With the backlash with choosing Levant as a speaker, NASH 76 coordinators Andrea Ross and Alex Migdal defended their decision to have Levant speak.
"Honesty, I think this is a very good thing, all this conversation around that announcement. NASH is about fostering conversation and stimulating discussion on things like this," Ross told rabble.ca earlier during the conference.
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Justin Smirlies is currently the Editor-in-Chief at The Cord. He recently received an Honours BA from Laurier with a major in history and a minor in film studies. One day, he hopes to become a journalist. Maybe.
Photo: flickr/Raj Taneja