Shots Fired: My Open Letter to Rosie DiManno and the Toronto Star
Those who drive and those who pedal can wipe each other off the face of the city’s streets in this mutual roadkill rush to attrition and Toronto would be better off for it.
– Rosie DiManno
It’s truly saddening how many wars are raging in the pages of Toronto’s media.
The latest barrage comes from the Toronto Star’s Rosie DiManno, who wrote yesterday that cyclists have risen to No. 1 on her list of People Who Should Be Shot.
Things are rough enough for Toronto cyclists like myself as it is. The Mayor is ripping up my infrastructure, Don Cherry is calling me a pinko, and now a prominent reporter from the city’s largest newspaper wants me shot. #TOproblems
I’ve read some fairly abusive language about cyclists before, even in the Star, albeit typically not from journalists themselves. However DiManno saying that cyclists should be shot is among the most disturbing and disgusting things I’ve ever read in yours or any paper. Even more so than this, and this.
DiManno, not an unprovocative writer by any means, is no stranger to exaggerations of her own inconveniences and hyperbolic attacks. Further, her anecdotes of “honkin’ wide bike lane(s)” and “psycho cyclists” in Lycra shorts are the regular faire offered up by every critic who writes their obligatory grrr cyclists piece. But these words, so obviously isolated for dramatic effect, have forced me to seriously wonder how seriously the the Toronto Star takes its role as an institution in this city:
They have risen to No. 1 on my list of People Who Should Be Shot.
Having consulted the 2011 Toronto Star Newsroom Policy and Journalistic Standards , I have some thoughts on the appropriateness of DiManno’s article.
The Star respects the rights of people involved in the news, acts with decency in its conduct with readers and those we report on.
As a Star reader, a cyclist, and a human, I do not believe that declaring a list of who should be shot, especially in what will later be referred to as “a family newspaper,” is either respectful or decent.
The Star clearly differentiates and identifies news and opinions. Opinions are expressed on the editorial page, in columns and Op-Ed articles and in blogs.
I respect the divide between news and opinion, and think both serve important purposes to a thriving public sphere. I also respect the reality that by no means does Rosie DiManno saying cyclists should be shot equate to the Star holding this editorial opinion or representing it as news. That being said, there’s about as much to be said about the right to open one’s mouth as there is about knowing when to be decent and respectful enough to keep it shut.
Columnists and Op-Ed writers have wide latitude to express their own views in the Star, including views directly contrary to the Star’s editorial views, as long as they fall within the boundaries of good taste and the laws of libel. Columnists ought to deal with matters of public interest, not engage in personal axe-grinding or internecine debates with other columnists who write for the Star or other publications. Columnists may debate issues with readers via the online comments system but should do so respectfully and courteously.
I’m not sure in what universe a declaration of People Who Should Be Shot falls within the boundaries of good taste. Furthermore, DiManno’s baseless anecdotal musings about anything and everything which irks her is personal axe-grinding of the worst kind. Is it becoming of a publication with the Star’s stature and reputation to stoop to the level of printing personal death wishes? I kindly invite DiManno’s respectful and courteous comments on this subject.
Beyond identifying this article’s shortfalls in journalistic integrity, I also believe it is important for Rosie DiManno to further consider the impact of the words she writes.
Cyclists in Toronto are many. In 2011, about 48% of Torontonians claimed to ride a bike for sport, recreation, or personal transportation. This is not, however, the same as identifying as a cyclist. The ways and means through which we navigate the spaces we live and work in constitute vital parts of our identities, both internally and as we present ourselves to the world. These identities mediate our world views and in turn contribute to how we see the city, and other people living and moving in it. As with any form of personal or performative identity, they can be inclusive or exclusive, and thus can be mobilized as both bonds and barriers to a sense of unity in diverse urban cultures.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that, when you say people should be shot, their feelings get hurt,
It is also important for DiManno to understand the place of privilege her axe grinding comes from. Toronto is an economically diverse city, wherein for some cycling is not a choice but a necessity. For those in Toronto for whom frequent cabbing is not an option, the act of riding a bike may have nothing to do with affinity for lattes and Margaret Atwood novels.
In a local context, the term ‘cyclist’ continues to provide us with a damaging mental barrier and convenient scapegoat. It serves only to alienate and denigrate an entire segment of society, and cast them aside as ‘others’. They are a brave fraternity, a suicidal cult; a subculture of urban guerrillas, dressed in spacesuits, weaving in and out of traffic. They are scofflaws: running stop signs, terrorizing seniors on the sidewalk, all while taking a free ride on the taxpayers’ dime. They are Critical Massers, radicals, advocates, environmentalists, athletes, hipsters, couriers, and students. They are easily typecast, maligned and disregarded. And worst of all, they are thought of as anybody else but me.
Ultimately, the ‘War On The Car,’ the war between drivers and cyclists, and even DiManno’s self-proclaimed geurrilla warfare against anything that doesn’t walk, are all part of the same divisive politics that have been used to fragment this city and pit it against itself. Rob Ford’s demonization of cyclists and efforts to incite a culture war in Toronto for his own gain have led to cyclists’ and drivers’ identities and perceptions of each other being dangerously framed and mobilized against each other. Toronto is worse off for this.
Just as she accused some city councilors, DiManno is an enabler. The overblown rhetoric of wishing cyclists to be shot serves only to further propagate the hyper-politicization of transportation issues. It promotes the same divisive culture which allows people like Rob Ford to dismantle the things we love about Toronto. A war between pedestrians and drivers cyclists is a war between Torontonians. As DiManno herself pointed out of drivers, “there’s a human being at the wheel.” Drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians are all people. We’re all just trying to get from A to B in a way that works for us. I don’t think any of us really want to fight a war. We certainly don’t want to be shot.
I hope that after reading this letter, the Toronto Star’s editors will address some of these concerns, or at least consider some progressive points of view on transportation culture so that we can have a more mature and nuanced public conversation about the people in our city. It might even sell a few papers.
As for Rosie DiManno, I’d be happy to take her on a bike ride and talk about bicycle culture any time, as long as she doesn’t try to write a sports article about it.
- Aaron Manton