Raveena Aulakh's suicide was tragic. And Joe Warmington's sickening response only made the grieving process worse.
Raveena Aulakh died by suicide on May 28. She was an award-winning environmental journalist whose excellent work on climate change impacts, endangered species and agricultural damages won her a National Newspaper Award. She was beloved in the Toronto Star newsroom and elsewhere. Colleagues remembered her warm personality, sense of humour, and generosity of spirit.
Aulakh’s death was a tragedy, and hit the Star newsroom hard. This grieving process was made more difficult by rumours and speculation that tried to explain the motivations behind her suicide, including an office affair involving senior manager Jon Filson. Since her death he has left the company and deleted his Twitter account.
Other colleagues and friends, as per Aulakh’s suicide note, respected her and her family’s wish to not write about her (the Star did not publish an obituary or note her death until a recent article by its public editor).
There is not one right way to respond to such a tragedy, but there is clearly a wrong way. And that is exemplified by the opportunistic grandstanding by Sun columnist Joe Warmington, whose sickening response only furthers the grief of Aulakh’s friends and family.
Aulakh’s death is tragic, but it’s also only news in the loosest sense of the term. The public interest of someone relatively non-famous dying by suicide is low (and award-winning journalist or not, Aulakh was hardly a household name). That it happened possibly partly because of an office affair gone bad, or that said office may have handled the HR repercussions of such an affair poorly, does not make it much more newsworthy. That this happened at the Toronto Star gives it an inside-baseball quality for journalists but does not, in and of itself, make it a story.
Joe Warmington, unsurprisingly, disagreed.
Warmington—who has never been one to worry about whether or not he has the moral high ground, so long as he can claim he does—decided that someone had to investigate the “coverup.” (It should be noted that Warmington never publicly interacted with Aulakh on Twitter while she was alive and his first public discussion of Aulakh or her work was on May 29 when he publicly asked Star journalist David Rider for a private message, presumably regarding Aulakh’s suicide.)
Warmington insisted that an “investigation” or “probe” into Aulakh’s death was needed, implying in the latter tweet that it was possible Aulakh’s death had perhaps not been a suicide. That this was both baseless and incendiary didn’t seem to bother Warmington, but then again we are talking here about a man who has built his career on smearing liberals and dutifully cheerleading for Rob Ford. Joe Warmington is, by his own admission, not a reporter. Instead—and these are our words—he is a hack who survives on his own notoriety.
Of course, Warmington is just smart enough to recognize that saying outright that Aulakh didn’t take her own life would potentially land him in serious and perhaps even actionable trouble. So he stuck with implication. On June 7, in a particularly grandstanding and self-important move, he tweeted about how he was in the Star building’s Starbucks investigating Aulakh’s “secret death”:
Warmington then publicly demanded that the Star publish Aulakh’s suicide note, which both goes against her expressed wishes in the note as well as against her family’s wishes—unless you want to publicly argue that the Star is lying about both of those things. Again, this is not something Warmington was willing to state outright; he simply implied.
Not long after this, high-profile Star columnist Rosie DiManno lost her shit with Warmington. On a visceral level it was satisfying to see someone really tear into Warmington for being the cheap hack and terrible journalist that he is; on a strategic level it was a bad idea, because it gave Warmington the opportunity to play the victim by retweeting every Ford Nation fanboy still following him who complained that DiManno was “threatening” Warmington.
This is the thing about Warmington: he is a hack and a bad journalist, but he is very good at knowing exactly what he can get away with. When he retweets people who complain that the Star seeking privacy—and again, this is the privacy that Aulakh’s family requested—is on par with the Star investigating Rob Ford and that there is a double standard, Warmington takes the opportunity to endorse and promote statements he knows he cannot make himself. When he retweets people condemning DiManno’s “threats,” he gets to complain-by-proxy about DiManno without having to take the step of complaining about them himself (because such a complaint would be deeply unserious and Warmington knows it). It is a weaselly and cheap tactic, but an effective one.
This sums up Warmington’s entire career. He is effective at what he does, and what he does is weaselly and cheap.