Canadian Outlet Serving Rage Bait to Far-Right America

A Canadian web publication called The Post Millennial is gaining traction among far-right American audiences. It has all the dressings of a standard news website​—a sleek interface, a masthead, a ​prominently displayed code of ethics—but the content, following themes popular among far-right audiences, strays far from what any standard news site would produce.

The Post Millennial was founded in 2017 by ​Canadians Matthew Azrieli, the grandson of billionaire real estate mogul David J. Azrieli, and entrepreneur Seyed Ali Taghva, who left the publication under uncertain circumstances this summer. Despite lacking experience working at or operating news organizations, the duo sought to create a scrappy outlet that could compete with major news sources, pitching itself to potential readers as “Your Reasonable Alternative.” Three founding staff leaders are also associated with a now-defunct outlet called The Nectarine, according to ​Canadian news site CANADALAND.

Many of the articles published on The Post Millennial are comprised of aggregated content from press releases, social media posts​, and the very news sources the site claims it wants to be challenging. Few articles contain additional reporting​ and are titled with inflammatory headlines following the themes of far-right social media rage bait. The Post Millennial regularly publishes attacks on journalists, defenses of​ President Donald Trump​ from his leading sycophants, and inflammatory smears toward causes the modern far-right movement perceives as anathema, like racial justice, LGBTQ equality, and anti-fascism. The site’s coverage mixes its far-right outrage ​fuel with articles that read like sponsored content, like a July article that celebrated the return of an ice cream promotion at McDonalds.

The outlet’s masthead carries a skeleton crew of conservative media writers; the outlet states that it relies on contributors and freelance writers for “a significant amount of the site’s content.” The outlet is home to right-wing propagandist Andy Ngo, who rose to fame in conservative audience​s fear-mongering about Muslims and later anti-fascist street demonstrators. Libby Emmons, senior editor at The Post Millennial, recently appeared on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s primetime television program to attack ​school districts ​in the United States for teaching children about systemic racism and the role it played in ​the country’​s​ founding. President Donald Trump has retweeted employees at The Post Millennial, including Ngo and contributing editor Ian Miles Cheong.

Although The Post Millennial is headquartered in Canada, web analytical tools SimilarWeb and Alexa accessed September 2020 indicate​ that most of the outlet’s web traffic is U.S.-sourced. At the time of publication, The Post Millennial carried about 76,400 followers on Facebook, 46,300 on Twitter, 12,600 on Instagram, and 11,300 on YouTube. Despite its modest digital following for a news outlet, the content on its website has been increasingly shared by far-right actors in the United States.

The site is rooted among a crop of similar right-wing Canadian outlets that have injected themselves in American politics, such as the far-right outlet Rebel Media, and far-right Canadian ​commentators who have transplanted themselves into American political discourse, like Lauren SouthernGavin McInnes, and Stefan Molyneux.

Emails and Twitter direct messages requesting interviews with nine current and former staff at The Post Millennial went unanswered at the time of publication.

The Post Millennial Mixes With the Far-Right

The Post Millennial’s crossover with the far-right ​began shortly after its founding. An early hire at the outlet was editor Cosmin Dzsurdzsa, who​ brought with him a resume that​ included stints at Free Bird Media and Russia Insider—websites that publish racist and pro-Kremlin propaganda​—Canada’s National Observer reported ​in 2019.

Confronted with National Observer’s original reporting​ on the hire,​ Azrieli declined to tell the paper how the decision to hire Dzsurdzsa was made and chalked up ​the paper’s reporting on Dzsurdzsa’s prior employment as “claims of guilt by association that are spurious at best and defamatory at worst.” Taghva echoed that sentiment, calling the reporting “gross and unworthy of publication.” About a month after National Observer published its findings, The Post Millennial parted ways with Dzsurdzsa and told National Observer that Dzsurdzsa had worked for the site as a copy editor. Dzsurdza’s current Twitter bio begs to differ—he lists himself as a former senior editor for The Post Millennial. According to archives, Dzsurdza published 559 articles for the website​ in about a year.

CANADALAND​ reported in 2018 that columnist Barbara Kay started an article for The Post Millennial with a quote from Holocaust denier Kevin Alfred Strom that appeared in an anti-Semitic context and ​that Kay falsely attributed​ to Voltaire. Weeks after an employee was notified of the mistake, editors at the site removed the article. The Post Millennial claimed that it took weeks to remove a Holocaust denier’s quote because the person who was originally notified had left for a vacation without notifying editors of the mistake.

And last year, The Post Millennial hired right-wing writer Andy Ngo as an editor-at-large after Ngo was embroiled in a scandal​ in the U.S. A Portland Mercury investigation last year revealed that Ngo’s chummy relationship with far-right protest group Patriot Prayer included a video of Ngo appearing to listen to Patriot Prayer members plan a violent clash at a bar, which he omitted from his coverage and made no effort to stop. Shortly after the Portland Mercury’s reporting, Ngo’s former employer, online magazine Quillette, removed Ngo from its masthead. Later that year, Ngo joined The Post Millennial as editor-at-large, where he has ​since published 18 articles. Ngo is by far the outlet’s highest profile figure in American media, having appeared on Fox News and testified before the U.S. Congress.

The Post Millennial ran​ a defense​ ​of and​ a column by racist troll Eoin Lenihan in ​the summer of 2019 ​after this reporter wrote about the anti-journalist smear campaign Lenihan conducted with the assistance of right-wing media. Portraying himself as an extremism researcher, Lenihan attempted to link several journalists to “antifa” based on the accounts they followed on Twitter, resulting in a plague of harassment for the mentioned reporters at the hands of far-right figures who treated the assembled catalog as a list of targets. In Lenihan’s ​column for The Post Millennial, the outlet allowed him to falsely claim that his online history “was never racist, aimed at immigrants, women or religious minorities” and to make numerous dubious claims about journalists who exposed his history. (Disclosure: This writer requested a correction from The Post Millennial after the outlet allowed Lenihan and other authors to publish multiple false statements and characterizations about his work without attempting to seek comment or verify the statements. The Post Millennial refused to correct even basic factual inaccuracies.)

LGBTQ issues are a frequent topic on The Post Millennial, and the coverage carries a tone that is ​hostile toward transgender people. One such article, published by Ngo in July, is titled: “Trans woman who boasts of having ‘female penis’ arrested at Portland Antifa riot.” The article includes images of the individual that appear to show them pre-transition and uses the individual’s dead name. The article hyper-focuses on the individual’s gender identity, although it provides no explanation for why the publication considers it relevant to the person’s arrest.

A Plagiarized Statement of Principles That Appears to Be Rarely Followed 

CBC/Radio-Canada reported in 2019 that The Post Millennial had published a journalistic ethics policy in late 2018 that ​appears to be derived from the ethics statements of mainstream outlets​. “Approximately 75 per cent of the language in the policy is identical to declarations of principles from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Globe and Mail and Torstar publications,” CBC/Radio-Canada found.

Although The Post Millennial’s policy now includes a sentence with a hyperlink directing to The Washington Post’s own stated policy, the standards laid out still closely resemble those at most major news organizations. Regarding fact-checking, it states that reporters are primarily responsible and that all articles are “put through a rigorous multi-level review process that involves multiple editors.” The Post Millennial states that its reporters are expected to “offer rights of reply to key subjects before publication” in order to allow subjects to clarify their views, statements​, or public image and that “articles must document the efforts taken to contact them when they decide or are unable to reply.” It states that its reporters mu​st be “forward with their identity and disclose their status as journalists while functioning in an investigative role” unless operating in a country that is aggressive or violent toward reporters.

But whatever agreement exists is almost immediately undercut by the fact that a senior editor at The Post Millennial has worked under a pseudonym for no discernable reason. The writer using the pen name “Barrett Wilson” has made a small niche for himself in right-wing media by claiming to be a “former social justice warrior” who experienced an epiphany that made him conservative—but without a name or details, there is simply no way to verify anything he claims about himself. The editor calling himself Wilson has published more than 300 articles at The Post Millennial under his pen name.

Regarding fact-checking, The Post Millennial also appears to neglect its own stated standards. The outlet is one of several conservative outlets that The Daily Beast reported were duped into publishing material produced by a Middle Eastern propaganda campaign. A closer look at The Post Millennial’s ensnarement by PressProgress in July found that the article it published, an opinion piece regarding anti-government protesters in Iraq, was attributed to Joseph Labba—a computer-generated persona. ​Following this reporting, The Post Millennial yanked Labba’s author profile off its site ​but said it would repost the article with a staff byline. As PressProgress reported, a close look at Labba’s author photo reveals indicators the image was computer generated.

 

 

Several stories published at The Post Millennial cite unreliable sources to support its claims and some articles contain just a single source to support its claims. In July, The Post Millennial contributor Cheong recycled a false claim originating from a QAnon conspiracy theorist about a slain Black Lives Matter supporter in Austin, Texas, who was shot and killed at a protest. The Post Millennial ran an article falsely claiming that the killed BLM supporter had fired a gun first, primarily supported by Cheong’s inaccurate tweets—one of which was shared by President Trump. The site later issued a correction but reportedly stuck by its framing​, insinuating the person who had been shot was to blame for his death.

The Post Millennial has also defended right-wing actors who have been criticized for making false and unsubstantiated claims. An article the outlet published this year backed disinform​er and far-right ​activist Jack Posobiec after The Daily Beast reported that Posobiec had falsely claimed that crates of pipe bombs were found near the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. In its attempt at a refutation, The Post Millennial failed to produce any proof that The Daily Beast’s reporting was inaccurate and that Posobiec had been telling the truth about the bombs.​

Despite The Post Millennial​’s statement that its reporters must “offer rights of reply,” the policy in action leaves much to be desired. A column published last week presented what it said was an “exclusive” story revealing that Seattle Public Schools had required its staff to attend a virtual presentation on racial equality, intersectionality, and anti-racism. The Post Millennial’s coverage accused SPS of being “more interested in indoctrination of their students towards their intersectional and divisive ideology than teaching math, science and accurate history,” and alleged that people who disagreed with the training “seemed to be shamed into silence.” Despite the outlet’s stated standards, the article made no mention of efforts to reach SPS or any mentioned staff for comment, and the article relied on anonymous sourcing in its entirety​, without conveying to the reader why anonymity was necessary.

In another incident, Portland Mercury news editor Alex Zielinski tweeted about Ngo’s presence at a ​June Portland protest​,​​ where he was not forward about his identity or role as a journalist as The Post Millennial​ claims it requires. Following the tweet, the outlet ran​ a story attacking Zielinski, claiming that her tweet had “endangered both Ngo and those around him.” Zielinski said that she was asked for comment on the stories about her, but that the requests were atypical of standard requests. She provided RWW a screenshot of one such request from Mia Cathell, a writer at The Post Millennial.

Mia Cathell, a writer at The Post Millennial, sent this inquiry to Portland Mercury news director Alex Zielinski.

“The questions were always very much like ‘Do you have a response to us thinking that you’re doing a bad job?’” Zielinski said. “It was very accusatory. … It was more like, ‘We’re coming after you, what do you have to say about that?’”

Murky Ties to Conservative Political Campaigns Raise Ethical Concerns 

Even as The Post Millennial ​grows its readership​and influence, the inner workings of the outlet remain ​murky. A 2019 CBC/Radio-Canada investigation found that the outlet suffered from “poor transparency” surrounding its ties to conservative political campaigns and “unanswered questions about its journalistic standards and funding model.”

Jeff Ballingall, founder of the right-wing political advocacy group Ontario Proud, was brought on as The Post Millennial’s chief marketing officer in May 2019, raising questions about the outlet’s ties to Canadian conservative political campaigns. Earlier this year, The Globe and Mail reported that Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Peter MacKay and his lawyer issued a legal notice against The Post Millennial alleging the outlet had published an article that was defamatory and provided an “entirely false and misleading impression to any reader” regarding MacKay’s campaign.

The notice also stated that The Post Millennial failed to disclose in its article that Ballingall was working for MacKay’s then-political opponent Erin O’Toole. After O’Toole’s election win in August, co-founder Taghva tweeted that it was a “huge night” for Ballingall, who he said “effectively led the O’Toole digital campaign.”

​Additionally, BuzzFeed News reported last year that a then-employee for ​The Post Millennial was behind a collection of Facebook pages promoting conservative politicians and attacking Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, often linking to stories published on The Post Millennial. ​

When Ballingall became its chief marketing officer, his hiring announcement reportedly stated that the site had received money from undisclosed “private investors.” Azrieli says none of his ​billionaire family’s money is invested in the website, according to the Ryerson Review of Journalism, but the outlet’s investors remain unknown.

National NewsMedia Council Weighs In

RWW spoke to representatives of National NewsMedia Council, a voluntary self-regulatory organization that acts as an independent third-party between reader complaints and news outlets in Canada​, via conference call. NNMC is funded by its more than 500 member organizations, ranging from major papers to local digital outlets, to act in a hybrid role of public editor and press council, offer​ing judg​ments regarding journalistic standards and ethics. News organizations are typically invited to join NNMC, and some apply directly. NNMC ​Executive​ Director Pat Perkel said that The Post Millennial is not a member.

“We would neither invite The Post Millennial​ nor have they expressed any interest in joining,” Perkel said. “One of the things we ask is that our potential members have a code of practice​ or standard of practice or code of ethics that they adhere to, that they make that available to their readers so that their readers can find out what they are doing, and that they adhere to our complaints handling process. Those are pretty big hurdles for some people—The Post Millennial, for one.”

NNMC said it received two complaints about The Post Millennial pertaining to accuracy in 2019 and no complaints in 2020. Since The Post Millennial is not an NNMC member, the organization is unable to ​accept the complaint.

Brent Jolly, director of communications, research, and community management with the NNMC, told RWW that credibility is the currency of news organizations, and that public trust in journalism “has been eroded significantly by organizations that have begun to mimic journalism in order to espouse a larger social-political belief.”

“It’s one thing to post a code of ethics on a web page or run it in a manual or something like that, but it’s something completely different to actually internalize it and ensure it’s part of your DNA,” Jolly said. “I think very much this is a case where that connection may not be as strong as it in is other trusted news organizations.”

 

https://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/the-post-millennial-canadian-rage-ba...