‘That’s journalism, baby’: STU grad responds to online hate

    Hands are seen typing on a laptop computer in front of the entrance to a balcony in this photograph. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

    When Joseph Tunney, The Aquinian’s former editor-in-chief, went to interview members of the “freedom convoy” for CBC Ottawa, he knew he was “going into the lion’s den.”

    But after a Feb. 8 video he posted to Twitter of an encounter with angry protestors went viral, he faced a torrent of online harassment.

    Despite the hate he received, the 2016 STU grad doesn’t regret posting the footage.

     “I just wanted to give people an understanding of what the air is like in Ottawa,” said Tunney.

    After an Ottawa Police Service press conference revealed nearly 25 per cent of convoy vehicles were carrying children and the Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa could get involved, Tunney was assigned to seek out protestors’ reactions.

    He didn’t expect a warm reception.

    “On my microphone is the CBC Gem [logo], so you know that you’re already kind of starting at a bit of a disadvantage.”

    He said he felt a rush of adrenaline.  

    When he tried to interview a group of protestors, he and his security guards and cameraman were quickly surrounded.

    In the video of the incident, which has over 1.6 million views, demonstrators sang “O Canada” at Tunney while one man shouted at him, calling him a “messenger for the devil.” 

    Though Tunney and his bodyguard were a “dynamic duo” because he wasn’t scared of tension and the bodyguard wasn’t afraid of getting punched, the situation intensified after the video ended to the point that Tunney’s bodyguard encouraged him to leave.

    “It escalated to the point where they were like, ‘CBC journalists, your colleagues are murderers,'” he said.

    Anti-COVID-19 mandate protestors are seen on Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa, Ont. on Sunday, Jan. 30, 2022. (Spencer Colby/The Charlatan)

    As a reporter, Tunney knows to keep cool in tense situations because he represents “a much larger organization.” He said no one wants to be the CBC journalist who lashes out. 

    Still, Tunney’s video went viral after being shared by right-wing media personalities like Ezra Levant, founder of Rebel News. 

    That’s when waves of online hate started rolling in.

    “They’re calling me fascist scum, … a propagandist,” Tunney said.

    Online trolls made fun of Tunney’s strabismus, a condition that causes him to have a lazy eye.

    “I think that speaks more about them than it does about me.”

    Tunney’s encounter with the protestors left him feeling “mentally rattled.” Still, the incident and the online hate haven’t discouraged him.

    He said while taking care of his mental health is important, this is what journalism is all about. 

    Joseph Tunney, pictured above in this submitted portrait, is a reporter for CBC Ottawa and former editor-in-chief of The Aquinian. (Submitted: Joseph Tunney)

    Tunney was grateful for the encouragement from his colleagues and a few people sent him notes of support. He also received support from national journalists like Andrew Coyne, David Cochrane and Susan Delacourt who liked and shared his video.

    Despite the rough interaction, Tunney wishes the protestors in the video no ill will. 

    “I’m not there to demonize them, despite me ‘working for the devil,’ apparently,” he said.

    Tunney enjoys being close to the action – talking to the people is what he lives for as a journalist.

    “We’re [going to] talk to people, and it might be a shit show, but that’s journalism, baby.”