By Heidi Loney
Comedian Sarah Silverman recently said in speaking of progressives at university, “They lead the revolution. They’re pretty much on the right side of history.”
Student-run campus university papers have long been a tradition – the voice of the socially active progressives – with many of these young journalists carving out successful careers upon graduation. In the mid-eighties, a handful of ultra-conservative student-run newspapers cropped up on Canadian University campuses with funding from a US conservative public policy organization.
How they got into Canada
It was in September of 1983 when the first of seven campus papers, the debut issue of McGill University Magazine would first appear.
Dating back to 1911, McGill University already had an official student run newspaper called the McGill Daily. Like many campus newspapers, it was left-leaning, covering highly politicized issues of the day such as the anti-apartheid movement and the contras in Nicaragua. The paper reflected the ongoing protests on campus.
This was something that McGill third year arts student and young conservative Linda Frum, long before becoming a journalist with the National Post and conservative Canadian Senator, wanted to counter what she referred to as McGill Daily’s “self-indulgent politics”.[i]
Linda Frum is the daughter of the late CBC darling Barbara Frum, former host of The Journal. Linda is sister to David Frum, the former speechwriter for George W. Bush who coined the infamous term “Axis of Evil”. Linda wanted to offer a neoconservative alternative and like many of her contemporaries, Reagan’s and Thatcher’s domestic and foreign policies greatly influenced her.
The result was The McGill University Magazine, with 6500 copies of the first issue launched in September 1983, with Linda at the helm of its masthead. Sometime just after the turn of the last century, the McGill faculty had published the original McGill University Magazine, and this is what got Frum into trouble. Without asking for permission from the University administration and the Board of Governors, Frum had in essence violated copyright of the words “McGill” and “McGill University” as well as making her student paper appear official, which of course it was not. Even with a stern warning from administrators and without fear of some kind of reprimand, Frum plowed ahead with her premier issue.[ii]
It was unclear where the money was coming from to pay for the costs of printing her independent magazine, but Frum said that she’d financed the first issue of the McGill Magazine with “private donors” and just one advertiser, the Bank of Montreal. At the time, all Canadian universities had signed a South African boycott that prevented university-campus newpapers from selling ads to Canadian banks that loaned money to the apartheid nation. When the editors at the University of Toronto student paper the Varsity asked Frum if she knew why other student papers boycotted the Bank of Montreal, Frum answered, “I don’t know and I don’t care.”[iii]
Clearly Frum thought she was above the rules.
It would be over the course of the following term that more of these papers would appear across the country. Carleton University launched the Carleton Canuck while the University of Victoria John Galt, named for the male protagonist in the Ayn Rand libertarian bible, Atlas Shrugged. But it was Queen’s University right-wing paper Libertas and the University of Toronto’s University of Toronto Magazine that caused the most stir at Ontario campuses, and with good reason.
Each magazine, while staffed with its own editorial team and packaged with its own layout and covers, had conspicuously similar editorials. In their own editorial, the Varsity had lamented the need for another “alternative” magazine, considering the school already had a dozen or so college or faculty based papers. The Varsity suspected that the University Of Toronto Magazine, due to its “attractive look and handsome design work” must have also had a private or parental funding source.
Wright had told the Varsity writer Adam Corelli that it was his paper’s staff who’d contributed the $765 toward the $1000 cost of the first issue and denied family financial support, saying that his family didn’t share in his politics. He said that his staff and a friend who started a graphic design firm called Graphically Speaking just after leaving school, had come up with the look of the premier issue “over beer and pizza”.[iv]
In February 1984, the first of five issues of the University of Toronto Magazine launched its premier issue, featuring a smartly designed blue tinted front page illustration of a grand staircase. The Toronto Sun‘s Andy Donato had donated the editorial cartoon, also in blue, accenting the back cover after Wright asked Donato for his help.
Regular magazine contributors included the campus’ who’s who on the political right including current federal cabinet minister Tony Clement, at the time a former U of T law student and politically active young Tory. Other writers included Linda Frum and Will Falk. They were fellow Trinity college students and Wright had used Linda’s Frum’s experience with her own paper, the McGill Magazine. Linda’s brother David Frum, who was also a good friend of Nigel Wright, held a meeting at his home. Wright, Clement and other politically conservative students from the Toronto campus attended the meeting to discuss the project.[v]
Other notable contributors included journalist Malcom Gladwell, who at the time was Nigel Wright’s classmate, and Guy Giorno, former Chief of Staff in the PMO of Prime Minister Stephen Harper before Wright succeeded him. Strangely, a letter to the editor from Giorno appeared in the second issue of the University of Toronto Magazine before his own article appears in the third issue. The letter reads:
I am fully supportive of the concept behind the University of Toronto Magazine; this campus is definitely in need of an alternative to the Varsity’s left leaning journalism.
Thank you very much,
It is likely that Wright and company would have had further help from David Frum’s future wife, Danielle Crittenden. Crittenden’s late father, Max Crittenden, had been the editor of the now defunct conservative daily, the Toronto (Evening) Telegram, the same place her late step father Peter Worthington and Andy Donato began their journalism careers. Worthington later became the founding editor of the tabloid paper the Toronto Sun in the same year that the Toronto Telegram owner, John Basset, shut down the paper because of company losses. Upon high school graduation, the Toronto Sun employed Crittenden as a reporter and feature writer until she left 1984.
After only five issues, Wright would leave the paper by year end to work in the Policy and Legislative Unit of the Prime Minister’s office, writing in a letter to readers,” I am comfortable in the knowledge that the Magazine has been left in able hands and in the hope that widespread support for it continues.” Wright handed the reigns of editor to Ingrid van Weert, his fellow law student and frequent U of T Magazine contributor.[vi]
Nigel Wright eventually served as the thirteenth Chief of Staff of the Office of the Prime Minister of Canada, later resigning from his position in 2013 after it came to light that Wright had written a check for just over 90K to cover the cost of Senator Mike Duffy improperly claimed residency expenses.
The money had to come from somewhere
Just as Nigel Wright was taking his new position at the PMO’s office, two student journalists – Albert Nerenberg and Howard Goldenthal – would collaborate on a series of articles in the McGill Daily. Printed over the course of a week in late 1984, Nerenberg and Goldenthal exposed the source of income for three ultra-conservative student-run papers at Canadian universities.
In the eighties, documentary filmmaker Nerenberg was the former editor at the McGill Daily and English Drama Student. Howard Goldenthal was a Ryerson journalism student at Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University) and a regular Ryersonian contributor. Goldenthal’s investigative report on the Institute of Educational Affairs (IEA) was the first in his career. He would go on to work at CBC’s the Fifth Estate for 16 years and later as producer at The Current.
While Nerenberg reported that the Varsity had suspected US financing but had no proof, Nerenberg and Goldenthal were tipped off when a piece ran in the Carleton Canuck. The interview between McGill student Francis Williers and Carleton University student, Dalton Saunders, also the editor of Libertas, Queen’s University ultra-conservative rag, suggested that the money for the chain of ultra-conservative papers came from the US. Williers later admitted being behind the clone papers and that he’d received a grant for the Libertas from the US organisation, the Institute of Educational Affairs (IEA). It’s also interesting to note that Nigel Wright and McGill Magazine editor Mark Proudman eventually distanced themselves from Williers, Wright saying, “The PCs don’t want to be associated with that kind of trash.”[vii]
After contacting an IEA official, student journalism coordinator Jonathan Cohn, Nerenberg and Goldenthal were able to confirm that a “powerful American organization with ties to the Republican party” was behind the private donor money that financed McGill Magazine, the University of Toronto Magazine and Libertas. They learned that McGill Magazine had earned a $3000 grant from the IEA (that would be about $6200 today). While Nigel Wright admitted to getting grant money from the IEA while editor of the U of T Mag, he wouldn’t reveal the amount. He was probably still pissed that the “official voice” of the U of T was the Varsity, who according to an aside in his own paper, collected $1.25 from each student in 1984, with a 125% increase on the way to restore the Varsity’s financial health.[viii]
In an interview, Wright told Nerenberg and Goldenthal that, “We are happy to have the help of the Americans. They have more experience in setting up alternative papers.”[ix]
Mark Proudman had downplayed the funding from the IEA, telling the Montreal Gazette in November of 1984 that the McGill Daily IEA story was “much ado about nothing” and that McGill’s official student paper was “left of Trotsky.” McGill Daily editor Neremberg had argued that “disclosure of the funding is important because it lets students know ‘these conservative papers – these example of free enterprise – are part of an international network of neo-conservative ideology'”. [x]
In the same Gazette article, IEA president Phillip Marcus confirmed that the IEA had provided start-up grants to the three papers: “$3000 to McGill Magazine, $2700 to University of Toronto Magazine and $2000 to Libertas.”
The “who” behind the funding
What was the most disturbing about the funding was its actual source. The people behind the organisation were powerful, highly connected, and well financed. The Institute for Educational Affairs (later Madison Center for Educational Affairs) was a New York based, non-profit public policy organization founded in 1978 by William E. Simon and Irving Kristol. In the seventies, Director William Simon was Secretary of the Treasury during the Nixon administration. Beginning in 1977, he served as president of the John M. Olin Foundation, one of the IEA’s chief sources of financing. Many consider co-founder and journalist Irving Kristol the godfather of the neoconservative movement.
And the John M. Olin Foundation didn’t just help fund the IEA. In a Varsity journalistic piece authored by University of Toronto graduate student Patricia (Ellie) Perkins, she explored how the Olin Foundation penetrated Canadian higher learning institutes by funding, “a lecture series on ‘American political culture’ which is administered by the Political Science Department.”
Perkins, now a Professor at York University in Environmental and Ecological Economics, was highly critical of the selection committee asking, “Why has the committee to select invitees been limited since its inception 3 years ago to just four of the more than 45 members of the Political Science Faculty?”
Two of the University of Toronto professors on the committee were Clifford Orwin and Thomas Lee Pangle, both followers of Straussian political philosophy. After originally being denied tenure at Yale University for his Straussian beliefs, Thomas Pangle was eventually offered a tenured position at the University of Toronto. Orwin studied under conservative Harvard University professor Harvey Mansfield, also one of the guest speakers. [i]
Harvey Mansfield founded the Madison Center in 1988, merging with the IEA to form the Madison Center for Educational Affairs. When it eventually folded, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute assumed sponsorship for the Collegiate Network in 1995, which like its predecessor provides “editorial and financial outreach to conservative and libertarian student journalists.”[ii] The Collegiate Network names Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham as prominent alumni.
The Collegiate Network’s American style neoconservative predecessor, the Institute of Educational Affairs, had a history of funding ultra-conservative campus newspapers. Old-right conservative Frank Chodorov and conservative author William F. Buckley, Jr., founded the Intercollegiate Studies Institute back in 1953.
Where we are today
The Ryersonian operates through Ryerson’s School of Journalism by its professors and its staff drawn from a pool of journalism students as part of their course credits. Excalibur, the autonomous newspaper of York University, is exclusively student-run and funded through York’s student union. Journalism grad student Peter Goffin is one of four managing editors at the Ryersonian. In a phone interview he says that his paper has no specific slant and that managing editors, rotated every 4 weeks, must be “on-board” with all editorial decisions. As well, the Ryersonian welcomes input from all viewpoints in both their opinion section and on-line comments. Goffin says that the paper has yet to turn down a single opinion this year and with the exception of some hard right student groups, doesn’t sense any negativity on campus.
The Varsity editor-in-chief Alec Wilson concurs. While the paper has its slant, he says that U of T students can express their different viewpoints through the editorial and paper’s comment section. And like the Ryersonian, Wilson says that they’ve had no complaints.
But in February 2011, a group of conservative university students, feeling ostracized by the political perspectives represented on Montreal’s McGill campus, founded the Prince Arthur Herald, a bilingual neoliberal student publication. Certainly much more economical without printing fees, the publication began with just $150 with an additional $17,000 raised through fundraising; the money paid for the costs of incorporation and web design. As an “alternative” voice to the McGill Daily, McGill, Queens’ and Ottawa University students make up the conservative team of writers and editors. In her weekly column, National Post Barbara Kay refers to the students of the publication as “the [National] Post’s journalistic farm team.”[iii] Barbara Kay is also a member of the Herald’s Board of Governors and a regular contributor to the publication, so perhaps the Herald has become the farm team for the National Post.
As a private off-campus publication, the Prince Arthur Herald has no requirement to reveal their funding sources. What’s unknown is where the $17,000 came from. The Collegiate Network, a Delaware based charity that provides financial support to conservative and libertarian student publications, names the Prince Arthur Herald, the only Canadian student publication on the member publication page of their website.
Jacob Lane, Managing Director of the Collegiate Network for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute was not available for comment.
None of this surprises the McGill Daily editor and political science major, Cem Ertekin, considering the timing. In Quebec, a series of student protest stemmed from an increase of student tuition fees highlighted the issues. Ertekin says that during the 2011/2012 academic year at McGill University, a small group of students created the Mod Squad (short for Moderate Squad), a smallish on-campus group that sought to “empower the McGill student body by restoring the voice of the average student.” The McGill Daily stated that “the group”, who later changed its name to the Moderate Political Action Committee (ModPAC), “formed as a result of a Facebook event that started during the five-day occupation” of the sixth floor of the James Administration building at McGill.
According to a Maclean’s article in what would become known as the 6Party movement, “Students took over the building on Tuesday when about 60 showed up to protest the administration’s decision to not honour a referendum over the continuation of funding for two campus groups.” On the sixth day, the protest ending without incident when police and security asked the occupiers to leave. The ModPAC’s facebook page, website and twitter page petered out.
Unlike the Toronto campus papers, Ertekin states that his paper cannot possibly be non-partisan when in their own statement of principles (SOP) it says: “Within this optic, The Daily recognizes that all events and issues are inherently political, involving relations of social and economic power and privilege. Further, we recognize that power is unevenly distributed, especially – but not solely – on the basis of gender, age, social class, race, sexuality, religion, ability, and cultural identity…To help correct these inequities, to the best of its ability, The Daily should depict and analyze power relations accurately in its coverage.” Ertekin adds that much of what he sees from the right is reactionary to the progressive movement rather than rightist activism in itself.
Ertekin believes that given that the Prince Arthur Herald is merely an on-line outlet, it doesn’t factor in at McGill University.
Okay, so (maybe) nothing to worry about there. But we still have the men’s rights groups and white supremacist groups trying to assert their rights on Canada’s campuses. Most recently, the Students for Western Civilization, a white supremacist group “composed primarily of students and alumni of Toronto universities” claim that Excalibur refused to publish: York Needs A White Students Union! In September, the group whose members are unknown, plastered their “White Student’s Union” posters without detection on York, Ryerson and U of T campuses.
The Students for a Western Civilization movement created their Facebook early in 2104, attracting a bounty of comments from neo-nazis across North America. No one at Excalibur knows about the submission or who is behind both of these hate groups. For all we know, someone anonymously slipped the letter under the editor’s door. Both the Ryersonian and Excalibur are investigating, hopefully with some results.
[i] Right-wing Olin foundation funding sympathetic lectures, The Varsity Vol 109, No 29 Jan 17, 1985
[ii] Beer, Jeremy; Jeffrey, Nelson; Frohnen, Bruce, American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, May 20, 2014
[iii] Barbara Kay, Giving conservative students a voice, The National Post, Wednesday September 7th, 2011
[i] The Varsity Volume 104, No 15 October 14, 1983
[ii] McGill 25 Years Later: The McGill University Magazine Controversy: http://www.alumnilive365.mcgill.ca/2009/10/05/mcgill-25-years-later-the-mcgill-university-magazine-controversy/
[iii] The Varsity Vol 104, No 15 October 14, 1983
[iv] The Varsity Vol 104, No 53 February 10, 1984
[v] The Varsity Vol 104, No 43 January 18, 1984
[vi] University of Toronto Magazine Vol 2, No 2 December 1984
[vii] Seven ultra-conservative campus papers surface, The McGill Daily Vol 74, No 31 November 21, 1984
[viii] University of Toronto Magazine, Volume 1, No 2 February 1984
[ix] U.S. Institute behind Canadian Magazine, The McGill Daily Vol 74, No 30 November 19, 1984
[x] McGill students feuding over US grants, The Montreal Gazette, November 29, 1984