And now, for something completely different: A Lesson in Spanish, Civility, Hypocrisy and General Douchebaggery with Ezra Levant and Sun News

8 Feb

A few weeks back, Ezra Levant dropped the F-bomb on television. Well, more or less. He did it in Spanish, in the phrase “Chinga tu Madre.” It means what you think it means. The real media (i.e., not Sun), including social media, fired up in response, but the whole tizzy was shortlived. That night, Brian and I heard on the radio that the CRTC had received one complaint. That complaint was from Brian.  The following exchange took place between him, the CBSC and Sun Media’s, um… legal counsel.

First, the CBSC does not understand that the Youtube link Brian sent to them was not the original airing of the phrase. They think Ezra Levant’s show is on Youtube. Anyway.

Dear Mr. Foster,

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) has received your correspondence concerning The Source.  It was forwarded to us by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).

Internet content does not come within the purview of the CBSC’s mandate. Since the Codes that the CBSC administers apply only to content broadcast on traditional radio or television, even if it is found on a broadcasters website we are unable to formally pursue your complaint and we definitely cannot deal with content on third party sites such as YouTube. However, if you have seen or heard this content on traditional television, we can deal with your complaint if you send us the time of broadcast for official taping and review purposes. The station, date and time are required for the CBSC to launch its formal complaints review mechanism which could include the review of the logger tape of the broadcast.

Please note that broadcasters are only required to hold logger tapes of their programming for a period of 28 days following the broadcast, so we would need this information as soon as possible. We have nevertheless forwarded your complaint to Sun News Network for their information while we wait for further correspondence from you.

Sincerely,

Mrs. XXXX
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Broadcast Standards Council

Brian decides to be helpful and spell things out a little more clearly:

Hi there.
The complaint was about the television show. It aired on the show. On television. As I said in the original note. I also gave the date and the show name. The youtube content was only meant to show the version as it appeared on the TV show…Not sure what else I can do. I’ll forward your note on to my MP, though!  Maybe you folks could look at the tapes and pay attention to the news–where this received a lot of play.
The CBSC takes this one seriously, and informs Brian they’ll move forward with his complaint. They do, and this is how Sun News Network responds:

Dear Ms. Courteau and Mr. Foster:

I am legal counsel to the Sun News network (“Sun News”).  I am writing in response to Mr. Foster’s complaint to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (“CBSC”) set out below concerning a segment broadcast on Ezra Levant’s show The Source on December 22, 2011 in which Mr. Levant used the Spanish-language phrase “Chinga tu madre“.  The segment in question first aired at 5 p.m. ET, and Mr. Levant used the phrase “Chinga tu madre” at 5:10 ET.

The complaint is that the phrase “Chinga tu madre” translates into a particularly offensive insult.

In fact, it is incorrect to assert that that the phrase bears the single meaning cited by the complainant.  A blog post on the Vancouver Sun (which is not affiliated with Sun News) by a Mexican immigrant to Canada named Mario Canseco on January 7, 2012 addresses this point.  Mr. Canseco’s blog post may be found at the following URL:

http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2012/01/07/on-the-proper-definition-of-chinga-tu-madre/

In his blog post, Mr. Canseco discusses Mr. Levant’s use of the phrase in some detail and points out that “[I]n the strictest form, `chinga tu madre’ and `go f@ck yourself’ serve the purpose of a particularly mild phrase: “You are a nuisance, go away.”

Mr. Canseco goes on to discuss the general meaning of the root word “Chingar”, as follows:

“That being said, Chingar can have many, many meanings, depending on the context. “En chinga” means to be in a hurry to finish a task or project. “No estés chingando” means stop bothering me. “Qué chinga” means having to do something that is terribly cumbersome. “Chingadera” means that somebody, or something, hindered your path towards a specific goal. “Chingón” is a person who is great at what they do. “Se chingó” means things did not turn out quite as planned.”

Finally, Mr. Canseco cites the discussion of the word in the work The Labyrinth of Solitude, by the renowned Mexican writer Octavio Paz.  In that work, according to Mr. Canseco, Mr. Paz discusses the phrase “Vete a la chingada” and defines it as “an invitation to send the recipient into `a grey country, located nowhere, immense and empty.’ “

Mr. Canseco was later invited to appear on The Source on January 17, 2012, at which time he expanded on this discussion.   (Because Mr. Canseco’s discussion on that appearance is an important element of Sun News’ response to this complaint, I am arranging to send a copy of the logger tape for that appearance to the CBSC.)  As well as making some of the same points he made in his January 7 blog post, Mr. Canseco noted that “Chinga tu madre” can be (and commonly is) used to mean “Stop bothering me”, or “Get lost.”  Overall, according to Mr. Canseco, there are many ways to look at the phrase, and it is a mistake to regard the phrase as “inviting somebody to do something with their mother.”

The phrase, in other words, has many possible meanings.  Under the circumstances, Sun News submits that it would not be reasonable for the CBSC to conclude that it bears only the meaning asserted by the complainant.

In addition, it is important to note that Mr. Levant originally used the phrase at the end of a detailed substantive monologue concerning what Mr. Levant regarded as the unwarranted intervention of the Chiquita Banana company into the debate over Canada’s oilsands.  This topic is a matter of significant political interest, and Mr. Levant’s discussion of it is undeniably permissible under Article 5 of the CAB Code of Ethics.  The overall discussion, therefore, is fully defensible, both under all codes administered by the CBSC and as a matter of the right to free expression under Canadian law, including section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

By ending his discussion with the phrase “Chinga tu madre”, Mr. Levant was doing nothing more than forcefully expressing his opinion regarding the intervention of Chiquita Banana into the oilsands debate.  In effect, he was putting an exclamation point on his monologue.  Because the phrase is broader in its meaning than the complainant asserts, Sun News submits that its use in this context was entirely legitimate.

For that reason, Sun News submits that this complaint must be dismissed.

Macho Tyson (a pseudonym)

Director, Legal Affairs

Quebecor Media Inc.

Brian forwarded this to me with just one question: Did they just use Octavio Paz to defend Ezra Levant telling Chiquita Banana to go f&%$ its mother? He didn’t respond. But when he learned just yesterday that Ezra Levant was ranting about the CBC using tax dollars to produce “porn”, he was compelled to reply.

Dear Ms. Courteau and Sun News Legal Counsel,

I’ve stewed on this letter for a couple of weeks. I had hoped to address it with the detailed reply warranted by such a literary-studies defence piece. Alas, I simply haven’t the time, resources or interest to further pursue this beyond this note. That is, I suppose, precisely how this usually works. And it is likely why organs like Sun “News” are able to get away with this sort of dishonest, uncivil drivel.

The CBSC would only have to contact a professor of Spanish, or speak with any citizen of South or Central America, or Mexico, to discover that Chinga Tu Madre, without any doubt, is only translatable into an explicit insult. Despite what Mr. Manson claims, there is no hermeneutic ambiguity.

After speaking with Spanish-fluent colleagues and friends I was reassured that there is no alternate meaning. One of my colleagues noted that Sun News Counsel is correct to note that the verb “chingar” has a variety of interpretations in Mexican and South-Central American cultures, by virtue of their colonial past. But their reading of the phrase, as a total, is moot. There is only one possible translation for the phrase “chinga tu madre,” even if the tone with which it is expressed may vary. The same can be said of our use of “Fu#$ You,” which may sound angry, threatening, benign, or playful depending on intonation, but it still means “Fu#$ You.”

I was actually going to let this complaint wither away until I received this gem of legal reasoning from Mr. Manson. Not only is it probably the strangest legal document I’ve ever read, its reasoning is so absurd that it reads like a comedian trying to talk himself out of a bad joke. Not surprisingly, then, after sending this letter to several colleagues I was also told that Mr. Conseco’s reasoning–whose blog post is the core of Mr. Manson’s defence–is actually eerily similar to a number of Mexican stand-up comedians’ bits. It seems a bit cheeky to me, and ought to for the CBSC, that the best legal defence that a counsel can offer is a blog-post that is concerned with the etymology and connotations of Chingar as a word, when what is at issue is the use of a phrase.

Technically, the etymology of Fu#$ can be traced to a pre-obscene meaning in Anglo-Saxon culture, but that does not mean that it is not obscene profanity in contemporary discourse. So while we’re citing comedians, I would refer to the Monty Python bit on the meaning of “Fu#$,” which notes that that word actually comes from the German word “Frichen” which means “to strike.” And as my legal proof I submit the link to this Youtube movie.

Moreover, while we are being cheeky, perhaps I can refer Mr. Manson and the obviously unilingual and literalist writers at Sun News to wikipedia. Simply search Chinga Tu Madre on this page and you’ll see that Mexicans think it obscene enough that it is worthy of a financial fine if someone’s car horn emits the phrase.

Perhaps there is still too much hermeneutic wiggle room in this. So let me refer you to the common and widely used “Google Translate.” If you look at the attached screenshot, you’ll see that–without any doubt–Google translates this to mean “Fu#$ your mother.”

This defence is so cynical and poorly reasoned that it should “vete a la chingada.” By the reasoning of Sun Legal Counsel, I did not just say that this argument should “fu#$ off.” rather I am philosophically suggesting that this argument should be “vanquished to the grey country, located nowhere, immense and empty.” It seems an appropriate suggestion given that Mr. Manson and Sun News seem content to live in a land of grey space where there is, thankfully, no black and white meaning to obvious insults.

Perhaps I’ve made my point by now. This defence is absurd. Mr Levant insulted another person in a different language and will likely get away with it because of the CBSC’s lack of familiarity with Spanish. To the CBSC and Sun News I would say this: if the Mexican government thinks that a car horn that emits this phrase in a public space is fine-worthy, then it is appalling to think that one could use this phrase on Canadian public airwaves and then get away with it by sheepishly pointing out arcane definitions, and etymological root verbs and nouns.

The CBSC should deal with this the same way they would deal with someone saying “fu#$ your mother,” on television. Honestly, I don’t even care about the use of obscenities; I have no sense that some profane line has been crossed. But the hypocrisy and mean-spiritedness of Sun made this follow up impossible to not write. A few days ago Sun News attacked the CBC for using public dollars to create “pornographic content,” committing what Ezra Levant eloquently called the “peddling [of] smut on the public dollar.” I’m glad that Sun thinks we ought to hold broadcasters to some higher moral standards when they use public resources. But if, as Sun itself believes, use of public resources means that one must be held to some higher moral contract with the public, then they have breached that contract in their use of profane language on the public airwaves.

Or is that just another grey zone?

I look forward to a reply, and to the CBSC’s decision to levy some sort of punishment for this transgression of the moral standards that must, as Sun agrees, be held in the highest of esteem when dealing with public resources.

Brian Foster

 


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11 Responses to “And now, for something completely different: A Lesson in Spanish, Civility, Hypocrisy and General Douchebaggery with Ezra Levant and Sun News”

  1. Stephane February 9, 2012 at 12:25 am #

    I’ve also made a complaint regarding Ezra Levant on a different incident. Email exchange between me and the CBSC lasted a good 4 months. I had to withdraw the complaints as the case was going nowhere. I think no mater Sun TV or Sun News Network do unless it’s killing someone on their show nobody will ever win against them. It’s obvious that Sun TV and the CBSC are in bed. As a punishment you will get nothing. My next step was to go in front of a panel and explain my case and they would of decide what kind of action could of been taken. What a joke I hate to say it but this is the only thing I ever will agree with Ezra Levant and it’s that the CBSC is totally useless and should be abolish. They will defend the broadcaster before the viewer which is plainly wrong.

    But good luck and fight until the end.

    • elementalpresent February 9, 2012 at 8:30 am #

      What a joke, indeed! We’d rather see the CBSC given some teeth than abolished – in theory, it’s a good body to have. It just seems like it doesn’t have a sense of who or what it’s defending, so the most powerful player, with the most rhetoric, will always win. We’ll keep posting the hilarity if Brian gets a response.

  2. Amanda February 10, 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Ezra loves this kind of attention. Do you ever notice that at the end of his show he loves reading letters that ridicule and debase him. He thrives on negative attention!

    • elementalpresent February 10, 2012 at 11:32 am #

      For sure. You’re right that as a polemicist he needs something to respond to or rail against. I don’t worry about feeding him though. I hope for a chorus of voices to drown him out without resorting to the same venomous tactics.

  3. Qwillman February 21, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Mr. Levant is a joke. In any language. But it should not be a surprise. The network he works for is a joke too.

  4. Stephane March 1, 2012 at 6:29 pm #

    Any news with your case? The CBSC seems more preoccupied with cartoons anyways.

    Global TV told to apologize for spoof in which Bugs Bunny is killed

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/arts/television/global-tv-told-to-apologize-for-spoof-in-which-bugs-bunny-is-killed/article2355731/

    • elementalpresent March 2, 2012 at 2:52 pm #

      No news yet. We didn’t see this news story, so thanks for posting.

  5. Stephane March 6, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    You will have to push the CBSC and bug them at least a few times a week. Their mentality is that they are hoping that the complainants will eventually drop the complaints.

  6. Stephane June 2, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Any news??

  7. Stephane July 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    I heard the good news Ezra Levant got into some trouble from the CBSC unfortunately they still have their license. We need to keep the pressure on a few more complaints and that could be it for Sun News Network

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