Dawg commenter “My Pet Gloat” suggested in the preceding thread that Ezra Levant’s “Rebel” site was sustained by contributions from “a very tiny audience of fools”. While I can’t dispute MPG’s characterization of Ezra’s fans, I think there may be a bit more to the Rebel’s donor base than that.
God knows Ezra is merciless when it comes to rooting through his followers’ pockets for spare change. A typical Rebel “news” “story” will include an invitation to provide a donation for a “special poll” on the issue: a link to a petition with its own funding pitch; a separate invitation to “Join the Fight” and contribute directly to the “Rebel’s” coffers; and a link to the “Rebel Store”, which features some of ugliest and unfunniest propaganda items ever contrived (barring the wonderful $25.00 Ezra Bobblehead doll, of course). So it’s true that Ezra does siphon as much from his viewers as their wallets will bear.
But that’s not much. Until a few months ago, The Rebel’s online pitch to potential advertisers included a profile of the typical Rebel Follower - male, primarily from Alberta, and over fifty-five. From the comments section, it’s clear that many are retired and on fixed incomes. That’s not a very deep reservoir of cash to tap. And after a year of Ezra’s relentless begging, there are signs the well is running dry.
The Rebel’s last major, direct fundraising pitch, excreted last December, was a campaign to “Rebuild the Right in Canada”. According to Ezra, the key to that “rebuilding’ was to send cheques, payable to “The Rebel”, so that Ezra can “build up” the “Joseph Howe Institute”, a moribund, slapped-together entity that last surfaced two years ago when it promoted a conference shilling for big oil. (Hey, look, there’s Ezra on their website!). Ezra’s heroic “Rebuilding of the Right” would include such Rebellious Acts as holding an “Awards Gala for Best Conservative Journalism”, the “endowment” of special conservative journalism projects, management of an “incubator” fund for “young conservatives with big plans” (wow, that’s pretty specific!); and, of course, hiring a bunch of people to run all this Rebellious Rebuilding. In other words, Ezra invited his readers to write cheques to the Rebel and he promises to do stuff with it.
The cost of Ezra’s rescue of Canadian conservatism? A mere $500,000, of which “half would be given away.” Now, most charities in Canada look at an informal 80/20 rule - eighty percent to fund charitable activities, twenty percent for overhead. But hey, the Rebel’s not a “charity” - Ezra has a business to run! Since you don’t get a charitable receipt for your donation, you don’t really get to squawk when half gets spent on salaries and operations.
Except - it seems that “ask” may have been a little too much for even the Rebel’s credulous readers. Three months into the “campaign”, Ezra has raised roughly 2% of his target. My favourite contribution option, the Conservative Journalism Awards Gala, got a whopping contribution of $60.00 - not even enough to rent a decent tux for Ezra.
Advertising? The Rebel’s original pitch to advertisers offered a large and vastly overpriced range of exciting options - Top of Home Page Banner ads, side panel ads, program and segment sponsorships - you know, just like real TV. Except, of course, no-one bought. What corporation in its right mind would sponsor a service whose entire raison d’etre is provoking rage against a portion of its market? Today, advertising on The Rebel is limited to a handful of bargain basement, random Ad-choice products (“FOLLOW in JESUS’ FOOTSTEPS with Holy Land Tours!”), paying pennies per click.
Hmm. No real advertisers, no prospect of real advertisers, and a small pool of aging donors.
So where does the money come from? Yes, it’s a cheap and cheesy operation; and when your notion of “journalism” is a single interview with no fact checking, analysis, or counterpoint, and when you endlessly recycle the same story and footage as “MUST READ REBEL EXCLUSIVE NEWS”, then assorted “follow up” articles recycling the original material, then “survey on the story”, then “survey RESULTS”, then a “Petition on the Survey Results”, and of course “The Rebel’s Greatest Hits” - well, like a candy floss machine, you can spin a teaspoon of substance into quite a froth. And of course, like a candy floss machine, the key ingredient is hot air, blown hard.
But dirt cheap or not, there’s still rent and salaries to pay. And of course, those special projects.
Last year, for example, Ezra launched a series of “public”, “open”, “town hall” emergency meetings in Alberta, at which he harangued blue-haired audiences in hotel ballrooms about the wonders of the oil industry and the perfidy of the NDP and Liberals, and showed them little clips of old Rebel programming. The meetings were not actually “open” - Ezra’s goons ejected critics who got under his skin. And while they were “free”, donations were energetically solicited.
That made me wonder. So on the Rebel site, and in an email to Ezra and the Rebel’s general information address, I noted that an anti-NDP, pro-oil lecture tour was certainly fair ball, if a slightly dubious undertaking for a “news” source. But in the interests of transparency, I suggested that Ezra should divulge whether these junkets against the NDP and on behalf of oil development were being sponsored by his former lobbying clients in the industry.
I asked for a couple of reasons. “Ethical Oil”, the organization Ezra created, finally acknowledges that they accept funding directly from the oil industry. Previously they’d admit only that they were funded by “Canadians and Canadian businesses.” And around the same time, the Rebel began touting another series of community rallies opposing the NDP and organized by “grass roots community workers”. That was a pretty dumb claim, as a simple LInkedIn search identified the “grass roots” organizer as an oil industry consultant.
So I asked, clearly, but politely, who was paying for Ezra’s anti-NDP, anti-Liberal, pro-oil tour (and thus its subsequent exhaustive and exhausting coverage on the Rebel). It seemed a fair and relevant question: I have no problem with oil industry advertising and advocacy, but I think readers/viewers should be told if they’re watching a paid infomercial hosted by a lobbyist pretending to be a journalist.
I received no answer, and shortly afterward, I was banned from asking questions or posting at the Rebel site. Probably a good thing - it was having an impact on my blood pressure.
In collecting links for this story I went back for the first time in a while. Same terrible click ads, same handful of bitter, angry old commenters recycling the same bitter, angry old platitudes. Still no actual ads, still the same shrill solicitation.
And still the same question - who’s actually paying for this garbage?