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The student press was briefly consumed by controversy last week when the Canadian University Press (CUP)—whom we wrote about this year—announced that Ezra Levant would be a keynote speaker at its national conference. The Link at Concordia was less than pleased about this, citing Levant’s propensity for getting sued and generally being awful. CUP mounted a solid defense of its decision to book Levant, as did Justin McElroy of Global BC.

It’s not the first time journalists have grappled with the question of giving a voice to someone who is controversial, or whose value in the public debate is questionable.

Three years ago, when a lone pastor in Florida thought it would be a lark to burn the Qur’an, he got wall-to-wall coverage; not everyone thought it was a good idea. Not long after that, the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank announced that he would not write about Sarah Palin for a month, because the also-ran was getting more coverage than she merited.

Yesterday, as his brother was being subjected to the most public intervention in history, Toronto councillor, Doug Ford, was all set to go on AM640 to talk to Bill Carroll, presumably about how great the mayor is. Carroll decided not to give Ford the time of day. “I could think of about half a dozen questions to ask,” Carroll told his listeners, “and then I thought: but they’ve already been asked. I already know, in advance, what the answer’s gonna be and I no longer care.”

As Sun News’s David Akin has written, some readers think that the prime minister’s limited media availabilities are cause for a boycott of the rare times when he does speak. Last month, some news outlets agreed, opting not to film the prime minister’s speech to caucus because reporters weren’t allowed in the room. The Conservatives turned the spat into a fundraising push.

But it is not a binary choice of cover-or-boycott. Toronto Star publisher, John Cruickshank, wrote last week about one of the challenges of covering Rob Ford: namely, the risk of becoming “agents of his deceptive propaganda.” In response, Cruickshank wrote, the Star is “documenting factual errors in accounts of the mayor’s economic claims.” Ignoring Ford’s lies—or his brother’s rants, or the PM’s silence, or Levant’s… everything—won’t make them go away.

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About the author

Simon Bredin was the Spring 2015 chief copy editor of the RRJ.

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