CORRECTION: The original blog post said that ten years ago, the Review asked Mair to write a guest column. In fact, this incident occurred in 2004 despite what Mair indicates in “Free Speech, Censorship, and Why Ryerson’s Journalism Program Can Go F#@k Itself.” The Ryerson Review of Journalism regrets the error.

“I understand only too well.”

The words burned across my laptop screen, large and bright blue. A part of me worried that they foreshadowed some kind of retaliation, but I suppressed the thought. Sure enough, though, one week later there it was:“Free Speech, Censorship, and Why Ryerson’s Journalism Program Can Go F#@k Itself.

The author was Vancouver journalist Rafe Mair, well known for his political commentary and brash personality. I had recently been in e-mail contact with Mair, and things had, obviously, ended badly. “I understand only too well,” was the last thing Mair wrote to me.

This whole saga started when I e-mailed Mair to take part in a video series called the Most Tales for the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s website. In it, journalists recount a “most” story of their choosing: their publication’s most outlandish move, their most difficult part of starting a new media outlet in Halifax, their most bizarre meal, and so on.

Being from Vancouver, I’m familiar with Mair and have always liked the punch of his style, the honesty of his words. So I e-mailed him an invitation to participate in the Most series. He quickly agreed – but his response alluded to the “row” he had with my “University some years ago about free speech.” What was he talking about?

I discovered that seven years ago, the Review’s masthead had asked Mair to write a guest column (elevated to “the main article” in Mair’s account). Instead of submitting an article on the agreed-upon topic, he produced a screed on censorship. A worthy subject, but not the one the editors had asked Mair to discuss. They requested a rewrite, not because the original “would have offended the media who helped fund Ryerson” as he suggests—has he ever actually read the magazine?—but because it wasn’t what they asked him for. He declined (“You can all go fuck yourselves!”) but he didn’t forget. Now he wanted his Most Tale to be about the decade-old saga: “This article, written and cast aside as being ‘not suitable’ was by far my biggest annoyance … it would have offended the media who helped fund Ryerson and I was asked to do another that did not offend. A major journalism school could not print an article on free speech!! You bet I was pissed off.”

It seemed clear Mair was less interested in telling a “most” tale and more interested in raging about Ryerson’s purported crimes against free speech. Plus, if this assumption proved true and his interview ended up being unusable—unusable because it wasn’t in keeping with the series, not unusable because it criticizes the Review—this would predictably lead to more accusations around our not using it. Mair would have even more “evidence” of self censoring or censoring him or something to that effect.

I regretfully bailed, saying:

“While I would love to conduct the interview, the issue is not that you are criticizing Ryerson or the Review (which we have no problem with), but rather that what you wish to talk about doesn’t exactly fit in with our theme. I really want to stress the fact that this is not a cancellation due to the fact that you are angry with our publication; it is because this series is specific to ‘most’ tales. Examples from previous videos show journalists talking about their dumbest moment on a deadline, their most awkward meal, etc. And while your story is interesting to be sure, it is not a ‘most’ something from your journalistic career. I hope you understand.”

That’s when he suggested he understood “only too well.”

I’m saddened by this whole experience because I really used to respect Mair. I considered him to be an important—albeit outspoken—voice in the Canadian journalism conversation. But I’ve come to realize that Mair isn’t so much a journalist as a hotheaded guy with a very specific agenda, intent on seeing censorship everywhere he looks. Mair plays with fire, and even if he doesn’t get burned, all that smoke is bound to mess with his head.


The following is our e-mail exchange in full. Salutations are eliminated. Times are according to Eastern Standard Time.

Harowitz to Mair, Nov. 22, 2011 at 1:32 pm:

“I’m not sure if you remember me but I am a fourth-year Ryerson Journalism student, and I interviewed you over the phone about a year ago for a story I was writing on Michael Hastings and his “Runaway General” Rolling Stone story.

Currently I am the editor of the Ryerson Review of Journalism’s Summer 2012 issue. As part of the online segment of the Review, we are conducing a video series called The Most Tales where a journalist talks about a story of theirs that was “most” something; that is, the most terrifying reporting experience, the most rewarding interview, the most annoying part of the job, etc.

I am contacting you because I would like to interview you as part of The Most Tales. Here is an example: http://www.rrj.ca/rrj2/multimedia.aspx?id=16695. I think your career and your candidness make you an excellent subject for our series. And the best part is, you get to pick the topic: it’s whatever “most” you feel like sharing.

Though I currently live in Toronto, I am from Vancouver and will be in town from Dec. 15 – 27. Do you have a free hour on a day during that time for me to come meet you and film you describing a “most”?

Let me know. I would love to for you be a part of this series.”

Mair to Harowitz, Nov. 22, 2011 at 11:24 pm:

“Can you come to Lions Bay?

It will have to be before the 18th as we’re going away for Christmas …[sentence eliminated because it includes Mair’s phone number]… Considering the row I had with your University some years ago about free speech Ryerson has obviously changed its mind or forgotten!”

Harowitz to Mair, Nov. 22, 2011 at 11:50 pm:

“I can definitely come to Lions Bay.

Does Saturday, Dec. 17 work for you? If so, what time? It probably won’t even take an hour. Also, just so I have an idea of what we’ll be talking about, what “most” story do you think you’d like to discuss?”

Mair to Harowitz, Nov. 23, 2011 at 1:06 am:

“The appalling state of the media as critics holding the establishment’s feet to the fire.”

Harowitz to Mair, Nov. 23, 2011 at 10:03 am:

“Great. And where should I meet you?

Looking forward to this.”

Harowitz to Mair, Nov. 23, 2011 at 11:36 am:

“Also, in thinking a little more about what you said you’d be talking about, I’m a little confused. The series is about journalists talking about a personal “most,” such as a “most annoying interview” or “most ridiculous experiment for a story,” etc. Can you think of something that is a “most” tale for you to share?”

Mair to Harowitz, Nov. 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm:

“This article, written and cast aside as being “not suitable” was by far my biggest annoyance … it would have offended the media who helped fund Ryerson and I was asked to do another that did not offend. A major journalism school could not print an article on free speech!!

You bet I was pissed off.

I assume that the interview, which I would love to do, is off”

Harowitz to Mair, Nov. 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm:

“While I would love to conduct the interview, the issue is not that you are criticizing Ryerson or the Review (which we have no problem with), but rather that what you wish to talk about doesn’t exactly fit in with our theme. I really want to stress the fact that this is not a cancellation due to the fact that you are angry with our publication; it is because this series is specific to “most” tales. Examples from previous videos show journalists talking about their dumbest moment on a deadline, their most awkward meal, etc. And while your story is interesting to be sure, it is not a “most” something from your journalistic career. I hope you understand.”

Mair to Harowitz, Nov. 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm:

“I understand only too well”