Danielle Smith commentary: Why I interviewed Caylan Ford
There is an occupational hazard in talk radio when you spend three hours a day talking about meaningful and topical issues. Sometimes you have a guest that polarizes people so much it results in a backlash.
That happened recently on my show when Progress Alberta started a “Fire Danielle Smith!” campaign after I interviewed controversial former UCP candidate Caylan Ford. Some people thought I shouldn’t have interviewed her at all, so I wanted to explain why I did.
LISTEN: Danielle Smith interviews Caylan Ford after Ford’s resignation as candidate
I had run into a family friend of Ford’s at an event I moderated recently. The friend told me there was so much more to the story and that Ford had not been treated fairly by Press Progress, an alt-left publication that ran a story with screenshots of private text messages provided anonymously. I told the family friend that if Ford wanted to tell her story at some point she should get in touch with me.
WATCH BELOW: Jason Kenney responds to Caylan Ford’s resignation from UCP race
I was surprised to get an email from Ford the next day saying she wanted to come on my show. Ford got advice from her political advisers on whether it was wise to come on the show. I told her talking now could potentially help provide context so she wasn’t forever tagged as an extremist, but it could also make matters worse for her.
During the interview, Ford adamantly stated that she was not racist, that she had spent 10 years fighting for religious minorities in China and that she had been politically sabotaged.
Ford’s demeanour and answers to my questions persuaded me she was not a white supremacist. She did not repeat any comments that could be construed as extreme or intolerant.
LISTEN: Danielle Smith responds to criticism about the Caylan Ford interview
But many listeners disagreed. They thought I should have grilled her more on her specific comments that could be viewed by some people as racist and not allowed her to distance herself from the remarks that forced her to resign. I acknowledge that I could have been more probing. My boss too agreed with that criticism, but at the same time remains supportive that Ford had a right to have her side of the story heard.
My approach has always been to allow my guests to make their best case and to let my audience be the judge. I will take the criticism to heart the next time I interview a controversial figure and hopefully ask more probing and challenging questions.
As a political talk show host, I think it is vitally important that we continue to discuss contentious social issues on a mainstream platform. While some topics, guests and callers may cause discomfort, I believe that we get better understanding when we are willing to hear people out on issues where we disagree.
I will always be responsible in who I give a platform to. But I think we must stand firm and not allow uncomfortable issues such as accusations of racism to interfere with our ability to discuss important issues openly.
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