I will confess off the top I don’t know the specifics of what freelance arts journalist Tara Thorne tweeted about the premier’s son, but — based on what I read about the now-deleted tweet — I don’t have any interest in seeking it out. What I do know is that Thorne apologized for the tweet twice — once not so much, and a second, more fulsomely — and then not only deleted the tweet but also deactivated her Twitter account.

I also know that, as a result of that one since-deleted tweet, CBC “management” summarily fired her from her long-running weekly freelance arts and culture gig on Information Morning — or, as the official CBC-speak version put it, the corporation decided to “end our business relationship with freelance contributor Tara Thorne follow[ing] serious deliberation and careful consideration.” (It certainly didn’t take the Mother Corp much deliberation or consideration to delete its once-boastful profile of the now suddenly former freelance contributor Thorne and redirect Googlers to its generic local news page instead.)

And finally, how could I not help but notice that her firing touched off an angry, hash-tagged, heartfelt, #ImWithThorney tweetstorm that filled screen after screen in my own feed? Scrolling through it is like wandering through a parade of the city’s culturati, almost all singing from the same hymnal of praise for Thorne:

  • former Halifax poet laureate Rebecca Thomas (“owe a debt of gratitude to Tara”),
  • former Coast news editor Jacob Boon (“no limit to my praise”),
  • musician Ben Caplan (“a great journalist and champion of underdogs”),
  • former Halifax journalist and now Toronto-based Quill & Quire Editor Sue Carter (“an amazing writer with a unique voice”),
  • publicist Trevor Murphy (her firing reflects “a deep lack of understanding of Tara’s important influence”),
  • Bus Stop Theatre executive director Sebastien Labelle (“the success of all my work in the arts… has depended on reporting by the too few arts reporters getting the word out there”),
  • writer Ryan McNutt (“truly great editor and arts advocate”),
  • filmmaker Marc Almon (“a champion of the arts and one of the best writers in Nova Scotia”),
  • Zuppa Theatre (“a massive supporter of not just Zuppa but of all types of art and artist”),
  • former NDP MP Megan Leslie (“worked tirelessly to promote local artists”),
  • current MLAs Lisa Roberts (“so valuable”) and Susan Leblanc (“a fierce and tireless advocate for the cultural community”),
  • the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative’s Christine Saulnier (“a huge loss”),
  • former CBC Mainstreet host and author Stephanie Domet (“the decision CBC made — at whatever level it was made — is bullshit”), and
  • former Information Morning host Don Connolly, who apparently told Frank Magazine Thorne’s tweet may have been “inappropriate” and a “mistake…” but “does it merit the CBC cutting ties with her? I would think not.”

… Well, you get the picture.

I’m with Connolly. And with #ImWithThorney.

(Thorne with cat, pre-deleted CBC profile page.) Photo: Richard Lann.

Tara Thorne has long been an edgy, over-the-top, one-of-a-kind, occasionally polarizing, always entertaining Halifamous cultural tour de force. For more than two decades, she’s covered arts and popular culture in this city with her uniquely “Thorne-y” perspective, including as both the former arts and entertainment editor of The Coast and also — until undone by her recent tweet — a weekly commentator for Information Morning.

Thorne used those high-profile pulpits not only to promote often otherwise under-appreciated local artists, musicians and filmmakers — see above — but also to call out those in the arts business she found wanting.

Last month, for the latest example, she covered the East Coast Music Awards, tweeting after it was over: “There were 10 more ECMAs handed out tonight—8 to men and 1 to decades-long Ontario resident Natalie MacMaster. So in total, that’s 28 ECMAs for music and 24.5 were awarded to men.” Vintage Tara Thorne. Acerbic. On the money.

So… how do we balance Tara Thorne’s long and exemplary history of supporting artists and culture in Halifax with what even one of her supporters described as “a hurtful and very bad joke tweet”?

The reality is that it’s become harder and harder to find balance — or nuance of any sort — in our increasingly polarized, rush-to-judgment world. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across the usual right-left divides but is often exacerbated by them.

The new default position, including perhaps especially among risk-averse employers and organizations, seems to be to rush immediately to the if-thy-right-eye-offend-thee (or someone else) extreme.

Consider a few other recent non-local examples.

In June, the New York Times editorial page editor, James Bennet, was forced to resign after the opinions section published an op-ed by Republican Senator Tom Cotton calling for military intervention in US cities where citizens were protesting against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd.

Dozens of Times staffers spoke out on Twitter… to denounce their newspaper’s decision to run the essay shortly after it appeared online, calling it inflammatory and saying it contained assertions debunked as misinformation by the Times’s own reporting; [800] later signed a letter objecting to it.

During a virtual all-staff meeting, Bennet apologized, acknowledging the piece had not been edited carefully enough and should not have been published. That wasn’t enough to save his job. Although he officially resigned, it was clear he was pushed. Declared published A. G. Sulzberger: “Both of us concluded that James would not be able to lead the team through the next leg of change that is required.”

So, who was James Bennet before he was no longer? A veteran Times reporter, a former White House correspondent and Jerusalem bureau chief, he’d been the paper’s editorial page editor since 2016. Sulzberger acknowledged Bennet had broadened the ranks of columnists at the paper and “re-invigorated the staff-written editorials to lead crusades on issues such as privacy and economic inequality.” One of his editorial writers won a Pulitzer prize for a series on race.

One of Bennet’s few public defenders inside the newspaper, Times national reporter Farah Stockman, who herself won a Pulitzer for commentary while at the Boston Globe, tweeted after Bennet’s resignation: “I will always remember him as the editor who gave Ta-Nehisi Coates the space to write the ground-breaking case for Reparations . . . when few would entertain the idea. That’s the James Bennet I know.”

Before the events of June, Bennet was considered a likely candidate to become the paper’s executive editor in a few years.

Now, well, he’s no longer.

And then there is this, a non-journalism-related example of current historical revisionism that could have contemporary resonance in Canada.

In July, Planned Parenthood of New York announced it intended to remove the name of its founder, Margaret Sanger, from its Manhattan clinic and lobby to change a street sign in the city honouring “Margaret Sanger Square.” These moves, and others, are part of what has been described as “organizational shifts” in the Planned Parenthood organization, seemingly to cleanse Sanger from the organization she founded.

Who was Margaret Sanger?

An early feminist activist, Sanger is widely regarded as a pioneer in American reproductive rights. She opened the first birth control clinic in the United States more than a century ago, and helped create access to birth control for low-income, minority and immigrant women… Sanger worked with black leaders and ministers to give black women the same access to birth control as white women, [according to Esther Katz, founder of the Margaret Sangers Papers Project]. She was single-mindedly focused on making birth control cheap and accessible to everybody.

But then too, there is this:

She was also a vocal supporter of the now-discredited eugenics movement, which aimed to improve the human race through planned breeding based on genetic traits.

While now rightly discredited, along with the “science” behind it, eugenics — the notion that “society could be improved by encouraging reproduction among certain groups, particularly Anglo-Saxon Protestants, and discouraging or limiting reproduction among other groups, including Eastern European immigrants and, increasingly, Indigenous people” — was considered a “progressive” idea in Canadian socialist and feminist circles in the early twentieth century.

Among the iconic Canadian figures who at least briefly flirted with the idea of sterilizing “mental defectives and those incurably diseased:” Nellie McClung, the suffragette leader and member of the “Valiant Five” who helped establish that women were legally “persons” and “could no longer be denied rights based on narrow interpretations of the law;” and Tommy Douglas, the CCF premier of Saskatchewan who is best known as the father of Medicare in this country and who was chosen as “The Greatest Canadian” in a 2004 CBC-TV series.

Should they now be “canceled,” their very real and significant achievements disappeared in a binary choice between good and evil, right and wrong in which wrong and evil inevitably trump good and right?

While that may seem — is — a long way from the firing of one freelance Halifax arts journalist, the CBC’s decision to “end our business relationship” with Tara Thorne reflects the reflexive unwillingness to confront nuance and balance that has become all too common these days.

The CBC, which has been rightly criticized for its past failures to respond appropriately to the serial inappropriate behaviours of stars like Jian Ghomeshi and Don Cherry, seems to have settled on a new fault-free default position. One mistake and gone…

Goodbye Tara Thorne.

But as my colleague, Suzanne Rent, summed it up nicely in Wednesday’s Morning File:

What Thorne brought to the arts scene in the city and her promotion of the artists themselves far outweighed one bad tweet. And if it doesn’t, many of us could be one bad tweet away from trouble.

We could be. We are.

Stephen Kimber

Stephen Kimber is an award-winning writer, editor, broadcaster, and educator. A journalist for more than 50 years whose work has appeared in most Canadian newspapers and magazines, he is the author of...

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  1. How easily Thorne was fired accentuates the precarious existence of freelance journalists in this province. Even after a professional relationship of many years with the CBC it seems you don’t have any rights to due process.

    There’s a double standard in Nova Scotia society, one that allows a man found guilty of domestic abuse to resume his job as Liberal spokesperson, yet that punishes one bad tweet with the loss of what must have been a major source of income for a female freelance journalist.

  2. I hunted for and found the tweet in question. Nothing really gets deleted on the web. The content and how it was presented was not a joke and was posted with incredibly bad judgement given the author’s self knowledge of her public profile. Perhaps the CBC’s action was extreme, but they had to do something. My hope is that they will find a new voice somewhere who will connect us to the arts community so that all those who strive to create great art will be celebrated.

    1. Nobody except Tara Thorne and some CBC employees knows what the real situation is. Perhaps the tweet and the faux-apology were merely the final straw.

  3. I’d never heard of Tara Throne and have not seen the tweet. But I am sick ‘n’ tired of media as gatekeeper.

    Bill Turpin commented on the Examiner’s reluctance to mention the name of Gabriel Wortman. Why do Examiner articles refer to mass killer Gabriel Wortman as GW, unless his name is in a quote? Some reporters of mass killings do not mention the name (or initials) of perpetrator because of would-be mass killers who want notoriety. Yet some of those same reporters incessantly report on terrorist attacks. Terrorists depend on mega news coverage of terrorist attacks for obvious reason.

  4. The list above of members of the ‘arts community’ praising Ms. Thorne reminds me a LOT of the feature “Logrolling in Our Time” that used to be published Spy Magazine, or was it Frank Magazine? Or both?

    Her coverage on CBC was okay, and also was kind of narcissistic and annoying at times. From outside the bubble of the ‘arts community’, I would like to reassure you that the city will be okay. She posted hateful personal information that was intended to ridicule and insult private citizens based on their sex life. Can you try to think for a moment about what that would have been like if you were the target of the tweet? One of your family members? Would you be reacting differently if a man had commented this about a woman? I am feeling fontrum [look it up] for those who are defending her from their professional positions, including this article. Gross.

  5. This column and The Examiner’s coverage of Tara Thorne and the CBC contribute nothing, but don’t blame Stephen Kimber; blame The Examiner, which won’t report what she tweeted,
    It reminds me of Nova Scotia’s near-extinct “suffered enough” principle, which held that prominent male members of the establishment should be treated leniently for wrongdoing because the mere accusation had already had a painful impact on his social standing and/or because punishment might “undo” his great works.
    If The Examiner can’t bring itself to say what Thorne did, then why bother writing about it? I’ll pay 10 bucks a month for empty calories, but not empty stories.
    And I hope we’re not seeing an example of the self-importance, because that’s usually the reason media omit newsworthy and relevant information — they feel entitled to judge it harmful in the brains of the unwashed.
    The Examiner’s reluctance to mention the name of Gabriel Wortman, the man who committed 22 murders in April, may be another sign of self-regard. All journalists are susceptible to it. The trick is to keep it under control.
    Notes to irony-lovers: 1) “Gabriel Wortman” is one of the tags attached to Examiner stories about him. 2) The Examiner regularly celebrates its challenges to courts that suppress information. 3) The Examiner is loved by its readers, including me, for its cheerful willingness to judge, defame, and report things that others won’t.

    1. To be fair to the editors at the Examiner, I was the one who chose not to include Thorne’s tweet in the column.

      1. Whatever anyone may think about Tara’s subsequent actions and the CBC’s response, the tweet itself improperly attacks two people (as Tara has acknowledged), so re-publishing it serves to once again victimize those two people. That’s my view, anyway.

  6. I was out of touch with things last week and missed this sad development. I’m so sorry to see Tara taking such a big hit for a few moments of letting herself slip across a line. We need sassy, funny, outspoken, provocative people who push up against lines we don’t want to cross, so when someone occasionally does cross a line of taste or propriety (especially when it’s not hate speech), we give them the opportunity to rectify and continue on. Tara could have apologized on air if she’d been given the chance. The CBC brought the hammer down too hard and too quickly. I will so miss Tara’s segment, which is one of the Info Morning moments that my household looks forward to as appointment listening. Perhaps it can re-emerge on the Examiner somehow.

    1. It’s not ‘hate speech’ in the legal sense, but it was pretty hateful. How would you feel if the tweet had been about your son? Would you feel the same, or differently, if it had been about your daughter?

  7. I get what you’re saying Stephen, but the Bennet case seems to me to be something wholly different. A dereliction of duty, perhaps, by someone who should have known better.

  8. Sometimes people are embarrassed enough by a bad tweet or tweets that they realize Twitter isn’t worth it for them. No reason Tara Thorne should stop reporting on the arts, and no reason why anyone who doesn’t want to read her should be expected to? “Cancellation” isn’t forever, it never will be.

  9. I saw the Tweet and I quoted it, as I thought it was important to know what we are actually talking about. It involves three people, one of whom is the girlfriend of the Premier’s son. I was asked repeatedly to delete my Tweet by a person who demanded that since Tara had deleted it, I should too. so after three requests from this person, I did. Therefore, many people don’t know what Tara said. It wasn’t a joke, I would characterize it more as a nasty comment. I’ve worked with Tara for years, BTW.

    Does the punishment fit the crime? I dunno, but I’m not surprised that there is 0 tolerance at the CBC at this point in time. I also made the point that if a man had tweeted something similar about a female politician’s offspring, would everyone be rushing to his defence? But in the noise that is Twitter, sometimes it’s really hard to have any intelligent conversations with the overly righteous.

    In conclusion, arts coverage was pitiful and is now more pitiful; as media outlets shrink so has arts coverage. CBC is one of the last places that we can look to to do something about this.

  10. I don’t think comparing Tara to eugenicists makes the case you think it does…

    In my reading of THAT story we have come to regard people who were once labelled “defective” or “moron” as valuable members of our families and communities, and therefore those who would have wished them away as, sort of, genocide apologists. Importantly, there were always those who did think that these folks deserved to be in our communities, but there was also a popular movement that didn’t.

    Can you be a genocide apologist and do other fine things? Sure. Do you deserve to be celebrated now though? I’d say not, and I think lots would agree. And that’s what we’re seeing happen.

    Tara’s joke is much more of a misstep and not a cultural shift away from de-humanization.

    1. Kimber didn’t compare Tara to eugenicists, ffs. He was drawing parallels between two different situations with a common thread: do we “cancel” people who do the occasional bad thing or hold the occasional bad position, or do we weigh those things in the greater context of their life and work?

      It’s an interesting, relevant and timely question.

      1. Well, if I read it wrong then I can be more clear. I DO think eugenicists shouldn’t be honoured but I DON’T think Tara should be fired for a tweet.

    2. Please explain how “we” now regard people who were once labelled “defective” or “moron” as valuable members of our society.

      1. I mean, I do? I think most people in my life do? We seem to have re-organized our education system to be inclusive (lots of work to do to go further here) because of this belief, stopped most versions of institutionalization (this long term care stuff is still brutal), changed our language and shifted what are acceptable beliefs to be espoused in public.

        Just before reading this article I was listening to a podcast about the history of mental health systems and the horrific crimes of eugenicists. I hope that my use of those terms wasn’t too harsh. It was meant to illustrate how unacceptable the popular positions at that time would be now.

  11. The tweet she was fired for wasn’t funny on its own. It wasn’t much of anything on its own. But it was in response to a tweet (from another reporter, quoting the premier) and in context, it actually was a little funny. You could almost see Tara rolling her eyes as she wrote it. In context, it had a tone of, “Gimme a break.”

    This makes the CBC look foolish but the fact that so many people can see that doesn’t help Tara who’s now lost an important gig in her freelance life.

    1. It was not funny at all. Pretend the sexes were reversed: a “Halifamous” man tweets his opinion (criticism) about the sex life of a politician’s daughter, then compounds the grossness by alluding to it again in the first “apology”. This discussion would be a lot different.

  12. I haven’t seen the apparently explosive tweet but assume Tara Thorne must actually have named the Premier’s son as her annoying bullhorn-style sexcapade neighbour. So game over with the mighty CBC. No space in their pulpit for someone with a funny tweet bone IF it messes with their Liberal lunch. Social media successfully brings down or sends up messages that really matter in the big picture. This blip on the radar and reaction to it is actually a comma – Thorne apologized plus took down her offensive tweet. Maybe CBC would consider affirmative action, accept her apology and give her 30 minutes in an otherwise boring morning time slot to speak to her social crime…

      1. I haven’t tried, but how hard can it possibly be to identify the premier’s son? It is not like she was targeting “the guy who changes the premier’s oil”.

  13. I had become really tired of her weekly broadcasts on CBC, going on about of all things, the arts. I am sorry she lost her assignment, but not sorry to see her go.

  14. Is there anyone who hasn’t, at some point in time, said something they later regretted? I know I’ve had to apologize for things I’ve said and then regretted saying. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t say them on Twitter. Based on what I learned about Ms Thorne from this article, I think CBC made a mistake firing her after she had done all that it was possible for her to do, namely apologize and remove the offending tweet.

  15. It’s one thing to be part of the power structure (if you have a job/gig at a state broadcaster, you are), it is another thing to forget it and libel/slander the son of a premier.

  16. I thought she was fired for refusing to adequately apologize and delete the tweet when first asked by her employer, not for the tweet itself.