Editor's note: Since publication of this article, the Post Millennial says it conducted an investigation into Cosmin Dzsurdzsa, who the outlet now says was a copy editor, and that it decided to part ways with him in September 2019. The Post Millennial says it does not endorse Dzsurdzsa's past actions or the views espoused by Dzsurdzsa's past employers, as detailed in the article.
Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is an editor at what has quickly become one of the most widely shared right-wing news websites in Canada.
According to the About Us page on The Post Millennial’s website, the University of Waterloo graduate used to be a “researcher on The Oxford English Dictionary.” The dictionary’s publisher, Oxford University Press, said in an email that it has “no record” of Dzsurdzsa working for the company, but that he appears to have worked on an unaffiliated research project examining the text.
But that short biography leaves out a few steps. Before Dzsurdzsa was hired at the Post Millennial, he also worked for websites that promoted racism and peddled pro-Kremlin content.
While he was a creative director and correspondent at Free Bird Media, the blog promoted Richard Spencer, who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the U.S. as a “professional racist” and white supremacist. It did the same for Faith Goldy, who praised white nationalists at the deadly Charlottesville neo-Nazi protest, said a neo-Nazi slogan on a podcast for the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and added that she "doesn't see that as controversial," advocated to “return” Canada to a population that is “96 per cent Euro Canadian” and said she wants "launch the next Crusade" to "reclaim Bethlehem." (Neo-Nazi ideology is driven by a hatred of Jewish people, along with other minority groups and the LGBTQ community, says the Southern Poverty Law Center.)
Free Bird Media also gave a friendly platform to Kevin J. Johnston, who has advocated for physical violence against Muslims and lost a major defamation case for online hate speech directed at a Mississauga restaurateur. The judge in that case said Johnston's words were a "loathsome example of hate speech at its worst."
And for Russia Insider, a pro-Kremlin site that BBC and Newsweek have called "propaganda" — "Russia's Arctic Military Drills Are Truly Massive," reads one 2015 headline from the site — Dzsurdzsa once advocated for Canada to drop trade sanctions against Russia.
The Post Millennial is seeking a larger presence in Canada’s media ecosystem ahead of the October federal election, planning to build a six-figure video studio and conduct its own polls. Its online following has grown quickly since it was founded in 2017.
But the outlet’s willingness to hire someone with a background working for sites that promoted hate is “disturbing,” said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.
“Editors shape the climate and culture of the newsroom,” Perry said. “What does that say in terms of the kinds of stories (Dzsurdzsa is) assigning to whom, or not assigning?”
This editor used to work for a site that promoted racists and a Russian propaganda site. Now he works for The Post Millennial, a rising star in Canada's conservative media scene.
In an emailed statement, Post Millennial co-founder Matthew Azrieli didn’t answer specific questions about whether his news outlet supports the views espoused by the Dszurdzsa’s past employers, or how the decision to hire Dzsurdzsa was made. It also didn’t answer questions about Dzsurdzsa’s current beliefs.
Azrieli instead emphasized his Jewish roots and co-founder Ali Taghva’s Iranian heritage, adding that the Post Millennial “celebrates the success of Canada's diversity.”
“I'm not going to be bullied into firing a new father on the basis of claims of guilt by association that are spurious at best and defamatory at worst,” said Azrieli, who didn’t respond when asked to elaborate on what was libellous about National Observer’s communications.
“Shame on you for trying.”
(In April, Dzsurdzsa had a baby with his fiancée, Lindsay Shepherd, who is a self-styled “free-speech activist” who has criticized left-leaning activists for suggesting there's no difference between white nationalists and white supremacists. Shepherd, who also writes columns for the Post Millennial, has expressed concerns about how white people will be treated "when we are the minority.")
National Observer attempted to reach Dzsurdzsa both through social media and his employer but, as of Aug. 19, had not received a response.
A request on Twitter on Aug. 13 went unanswered. And in an email to the Post Millennial on Aug. 13, National Observer asked to speak to Dzsurdzsa directly. Although Azrieli did answer, he didn’t respond to the request to talk to Dzsurdzsa.
The Post Millennial didn’t answer questions about how much influence Dzsurdzsa has over its content.
In tweets posted after National Observer first published this story, Dzsurdzsa said he wasn’t involved in the interviews with racist figures and hasn’t written anything advocating for hatred or extremism. He also said he wrote for Russia Insider before it took on a more “conspiratorial” direction, and said that he’s been “very forthcoming” about his past employers.
“With regards to all the other nothing burgers in this article, I'm sorry to the author who had to waste their time writing about little old me,” Dzsurdzsa wrote in one tweet.
“As to my political beliefs, feel free to follow me here or read my columns at The Post Millennial.”
The Post Millennial also posted an article in response to National Observer’s reporting. In it, editor-in-chief Ali Taghva, said this story is a “lazy, disingenuous guilt-by-association smear” and that “none of (National Observer’s) questions were worthy of response.”
“This hit piece is gross and unworthy of publication,” Taghva wrote. “It focuses on things that Cosmin’s former employer, Free Bird Media, did at the time that he was working there but had no involvement with. The implication is that Cosmin somehow is responsible for everything that Free Bird Media has ever done.”
What is the Post Millennial?
The Post Millennial boasts more than 28,000 likes on Facebook. Its stories are among the most widely shared online, according to a recent survey by the Digital Democracy Project, though it didn’t break the top 20 most-read news outlets in the country.
Most of the Post Millennial’s stories are aggregated from other media outlets, but the site also does some original reporting and runs a mix of opinion pieces, including some from high-profile conservative voices like Barbara Kay, who’s also published in the National Post.
On its website, the Post Millennial calls itself “your reasonable alternative,” and emphasizes its co-founders’ multicultural roots.
Taghva emigrated to Canada from Iran when he was six years old, Azrieli said in his email to National Observer. Azrieli himself has “strong ties” to Israel and the Jewish community, he said, adding that members of his family died in Auschwitz, the Nazi extermination and slave-labour camp.
“We love Canada because neither of us would be viewed as native sons in any other country,” Azrieli’s statement said. “Our love for Canada is the same love that all immigrants in this country have. We were accepted and given the opportunity to succeed in a way unlike anywhere else.”
Though the Post Millennial identifies itself as centre-right and has published pieces with a left-wing bent at times, Mediabiasfactcheck.com, which rates the bias and accuracy of media outlets, categorized the Post-Millennial as “strongly biased” toward the right.
“For the most part, news articles are sourced properly and factually based, though there is a strong right-leaning bias in story selection that denigrates the left and in particular (Prime Minister) Justin Trudeau,” the rating reads. “The opinion/editorial pages provide little balance and primarily support Conservative and Libertarian positions.”
A CBC investigation in June found the Post Millennial’s journalistic ethics policy was mostly plagiarized from other news outlets.
Earlier this year, the site ran two pieces defending Caylan Ford, a Calgary candidate for Alberta’s United Conservative Party during the recent provincial election, who resigned in March after the left-wing PressProgress published leaked messages in which Ford said she was “saddened by the demographic replacement of white peoples in their homelands.”
Perry, from the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism, said such coverage is “exactly the risk” she would worry about.
“Even in the era of fake news, many readers tend to take what they read at face value and not read beyond the headlines,” she said.
The Post Millennial also has close ties to Ontario Proud, a right-wing third-party political group that has been widely credited with using its massive social media following to help Ontario Premier Doug Ford win the 2018 provincial election. An offshoot called Canada Proud is currently attempting to do the same with Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer for the October federal election.
Jeff Ballingall, the founder of the Prouds, is the chief marketing officer for the Post Millennial. The social media pages for the Prouds frequently share the Post Millennial’s articles.
Ballingall told National Observer that he wasn’t involved in hiring Dzsurdzsa, and the editor doesn’t report to him. “I don’t think there’s anything to say,” Ballingall said.
In his email to National Observer, Azrieli said Canada needs a “moderate outlet” that “supports diversity, free markets and families.”
“We are immigrants who want a bright economic future for our children, leaders who will uplift Indigenous Canadians economically and a media platform that celebrates the success of Canada's diversity,” the statement read.
Platforming white supremacists and pro-Kremlin propaganda
Dzurdzsa’s first articles for the Post Millennial, where he writes columns and manages content, were posted to the site 10 months ago.
After a stint in student media, however, his journalistic career began at Russia Insider. The Daily Beast has reported that Russia Insider publishes “far-right, ultra-nationalist talking points and anti-Hillary Clinton conspiracies, along with anti-Semitic content — including a piece that claimed, without evidence, that “the whole ‘Fake News’ phenomenon is fundamentally Jewish.”
Dzsurdzsa has said he was a deputy editor and contributor for the site.
He wrote six articles there in 2015, including one where he advocated for Canada to drop trade sanctions against Russia. “Canada’s government ought to think clearly about whether it wants to open doors for trade or to close them,” he wrote.
The sanctions were put in place in response to Russia’s aggression toward Ukraine.
Next, Dzsurdzsa started working for Free Bird Media, a blog that platforms white nationalists and conspiracy theories. Evan Balgord, executive director of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, told National Observer he’s tracked the site’s activities for years, but rarely focused on it because the blog has never attracted a large following.
“Free Bird Media had neo-Nazis on all the time, and Cosmin (Dzsurdzsa) was there,” Balgord said.
Before Dzsurdzsa was hired in December 2017, Free Bird Media promoted James Sears, who has been convicted of hate crimes for his publication of a misogynistic, anti-Semitic paper called Your Ward News (the trial could be re-opened, media reports said in July).
And during Dzsurdzsa’s time there, Free Bird Media gave Goldy, Spencer and Johnston long, friendly interviews that amounted to an unfettered platform for their views.
In one interview, after Spencer spent a few minutes explaining the roots of his race-related beliefs and why “alt-right” was a “more fun” term for them, the host responded: "Interesting. I understand exactly what you mean."
In a biography that has since been scrubbed, Dzsurdzsa was described as Free Bird Media’s “creative director” and “Kitchener-Waterloo correspondent.” The site announced the hire on Facebook in December 2017.
The Post Millennial didn’t answer questions about when Dzsurdzsa stopped working for Free Bird Media, but Dzsurdzsa hasn’t appeared in a video for the blog since 2018.
Dzsurdzsa’s work with both Russia Insider and Free Bird Media was detailed in a PressProgress article in May 2018.
The Post Millennial didn’t answer questions about whether it conducted a background check on Dszurdzsa before hiring him and whether it knew about his past work. It also didn’t answer when asked about Dzsurdzsa’s current beliefs.
“You’d think you'd want to distance yourself” from that vein of extremist beliefs, Perry said. The lack of clarity from the Post Millennial, she added, is “disconcerting.”
"It really is concerning that something that's a little bit more mainstream would not have a problem hiring someone with that history."
Editor's Note: This story was updated on June 9, 2020 to include the response from the Post Millennial regarding its investigation into Cosmin Dzsurdzsa.