Why The Toronto Sun Is Going To Die

Antonia Zerbisias said it best recently in a comment she posted on the excellent Toronto Sun Family Blog:
“The rape of Sun Media by Quebecor has only just begun.”
She’s not kidding.  As John Cosway himself has pointed out, almost 100 people have exited The Toronto Sun newsroom alone in almost a decade.  At its peak, before Quebecor’s takeover in the late 1990s, there were 200.  Think about it.  Roughly half of the heart and soul of a company gone in only a matter of a few years.  That’s a significant amount of personnel out the door, never to return.  Don’t tell me that doesn’t affect the quality of a tabloid newspaper.  Does Sun Media really believe 13 news reporters are enough to cover Toronto?
And then, there’s this.  Salon.com reporter Rebecca Traister wrote a thoroughly entertaining expose on March 29th about Rachel Marsden, or “Ann Coulter 2.0”, as the clever headline reads.  (Start reading this terrific 4-page article here.)  Canadians are already familiar with the untrustworthy Marsden and her troubled history.  And now, innocent Americans are getting the real scoop on who this awful journalist truly is.  (She can currently be seen late at night on the Fox News Channel program, Red Eye, where she espouses her wisdom on “dolphin rape” and how Pakistanis smell bad.)
Marsden started writing for The Toronto Sun a couple of years ago after her short tenure with The National Post.  She was employed at the latter for less than a year.  (Incredibly, The Post gave her a gig writing two columns a week.)  When that ended, the former Vancouver troublemaker settled into her Toronto Sun job where she writes only once a week (which is still too often).  She has since moved to New York for her Fox gig while continuing to submit her material to The Sun.
The Eat The Press section of The Huffington Post website, which I personally thank for drawing attention to this Salon article, briefly notes the more salacious aspects of Marsden’s past.  (To see the ETP piece, click here.)   That’s not news for Canadians well aware of her shenanigans.  It’s not until you reach paragraph 8 on page 3 of the Salon article that something new is revealed.
Reporter Rebecca Traister did a phone interview with The Toronto Sun’s Lorrie Goldstein.  We learn that Marsden approached The Sun and not the other way around.  And then, Goldstein explains, “We certainly knew the controversy surrounding her.  We asked the questions about those controversies [multiple stalkings, false accusations, working under a fake name] and we were satisfied with her answers and we are very happy with her. In the dealings I’ve had with her she’s been a consummate professional.”
How can Goldstein look at himself in the mirror anymore is beyond me.  One wonders what questions the paper actually asked Marsden before hiring her.  Didn’t they worry about her long history of misrepresentation and dishonesty?  (She falsely accused a university swim coach of stalking, and then, raping her, accusations that were never proven.  As far as I know, she has never apologized for ruining that poor man’s life.)  Furthermore, what were her answers to those specific questions?  (How I wish it was taped and leaked on YouTube.)
It speaks to the utter desperation of The Toronto Sun that Rachel Marsden is considered one of their best columnists, (a star on the rise, if you will) and that she’s the future of the newspaper.  (Fox News, apparently, feels the same way.  Traister reports that she’s being groomed for big things on their network.)
Well, here’s a newsflash:  there is no future.  As this website, The Fading To Black Blog, The Toronto Sun Family Blog, and Antonia Zerbisias of The Toronto Star have all noted, The Sun is dying.  Many, many employees have either been shipped out of the building or left of their own accord, and we’re not just talking in Toronto, either.  (Toronto Sun Family is reporting that Edmonton is the next Sun Media paper to be hit with firings.)
Frustration is at an all-time high.  Morale is at an all-time low. 
Plus, circulation is way down.  In a posted email on TSF, former editor-in-chief Jim Jennings noted, “You can argue…that overall readership of the Toronto Sun is off 30-plus percent since Quebecor took over.  Paid circulation is off significantly over the period as well.”
And why is circulation down?  It’s very simple.  When you can qualified professionals like Val Gibson and Bill Brioux, two of the most respected and popular writers in Canadian media today, while hanging onto chronic phonies like Rachel Marsden, you’ve sealed your own fate.
How bad is Marsden’s work?  Let’s go back in time for an example.
On November 4, 2006, she had a column in The Toronto Sun entitled “US vote key in war on terror:  Americans must decide this election whether to fight overseas or die on their own soil”.  To be fair, that ridiculous headline was not written by her.
After reading it, I became very angry and decided to do some factchecking.  Unsurprisingly, her piece was riddled with errors.  After spending hours making notes, I wrote a long and detailed email to the paper’s then-Readership Editor Alison Downie.  I never heard a reply and none of Marsden’s errors were ever corrected.  (Why was Downie fired, anyway?  Something to hide, Quebecor?)
So, how sloppy was her work?  Some highlights:
  • In paragraph 5 (it’s right under “KERRY’S BLUNDER”), Marsden references Massachusetts Senator John Kerry (D) and that famous botched joke he made.  At one point, while criticizing the former Democratic Presidential Candidate, she writes, “He claims critics didn’t get his joke. Apparently, he was really talking about that moron, George Bush, who received higher grades than Kerry did at Yale.”
As I noted to Alison Downie in my email, “When Kerry graduated in 1966, according to The New Yorker who looked at the records, his overall average grade was 76%.  When Bush graduated in 1968, his overall average grade was 77%.  That’s an overwhelming difference of 1%.  Is that what Miss Marsden meant by ‘higher grades’?  To me, their results were practically the same and neither Bush nor Kerry has anything to brag about.”
  • In paragraph 6, she makes a dubious claim about The Dixie Chicks’ documentary, Shut Up And Sing.  She says that “Middle America – also known as all those unenlightened mouth breathers” (what she believes liberals think of people who live there) were “responsible” for the film “bombing at the box office” in its first week.
Back to my email to Downie:  “Shut Up And Sing is not even playing in Middle America.  It opened in 4 theatres on October 27.”  At the time, it was “playing only in New York and Los Angeles, the east coast and west coast, respectively.  How can Miss Marsden claim that Middle America has rejected this movie when it’s not even playing there?”
“[Also], it’s a hit.  In its first weekend playing in 4 theatres, it made $50,103.  Its per screen average was $12,525.  By point of comparison, Saw III, the number one movie that weekend (it also debuted on October 27), had a per screen average of $10,612 even though it was playing at 3167 theatres and made over 33 million.  I ask you how can a movie opening in 4 theatres with a higher attendance average per cinema than the number one movie in the country be credibly called a bomb?”
  • In paragraph 8, Marsden writes, “Bush’s tax cuts may not be your thing because you enjoy having the government spend your money for you, but at least Republicans actually pass budgets. In 2002, when the Democrats controlled the Senate, they apparently couldn’t be bothered. (I hear West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who was a KKK member sometime in the last century, was hosting a big bedding and linen blowout on the Hill that day.)”
My email to Downie:  “…Senate Democrats (along with Senate Republicans) DID pass the budget (Bill H.R. 5121, The Legislative Branch Appropriations Act, 2003) on July 25, 2002.  And contrary to what Miss Marsden might have “heard”, Senator Robert Byrd was there to record a “Yes” vote.  The amended budget passed by a measure of 85-14.  I challenge Miss Marsden to prove with evidence that Senator Byrd was doing what she claimed he was doing instead of voting on the budget.  I suspect it’s another careless and unsuccessful attempt at humour on her part.”
There’s more but you get the idea.
Is this what Sun readers can look forward to in the future?  More bullshit and less truth?  More petty, childish, unfunny attacks on liberals instead of compelling, persuasive arguments?  More free rides for The Republican Party no matter how many real scandals they find themselves in?  (I can count the number of Walter Reed editorials on no fingers.)  If so, count me out.
If that weren’t bad enough, Rob Granatstein, The Sun’s current Editorial Page Editor, embarrassingly gushed about her in that Salon piece.  “She’s opinionated, she’s loud, she’s fun.”  “We’re delighted to have her because she has quite a voice, let me tell you!”  “I think you’ll see her for a while to come, as long as she keeps doing what she’s doing.”  It’s enough to make you want to puke.
Jim Jennings’ replacement in Toronto, Glenn Garnett, announced today that tomorrow evening he’ll be starting a behind-the-scenes blog regarding the goings-on in 333 King St. E.  What are the chances he’ll talk about the forthcoming death of this newspaper?
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, April 2, 2007
12:01 a.m.

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