Ben Mulroney stepped aside as the co-anchor of CTV’s entertainment chat show eTalk on Monday, saying he wanted to “create space for a new perspective and a new voice,” and that he hoped “the new anchor is Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour and they can use this important platform to inspire, to lead and to make change.”
The move comes less than two weeks after his wife, stylist Jessica Mulroney, was cut loose by CTV and other companies for threatening Sasha Exeter, a social-media influencer who is Black. Earlier this month, Exeter asked others with large followings to make public statements in support of Black Lives Matter. Mulroney allegedly misinterpreted the request and lashed out at Exeter, eventually threatening her with libel.
In an 11-minute Instagram video posted June 10, Exeter charged that Mulroney had engaged in “textbook white privilege.”
The following day, Mulroney posted on Instagram that Exeter “rightfully called me out for not doing enough when it came to engaging in the important and difficult conversation around race and injustice in our society. I took it personally and that was wrong. I know I need to do better.” She added that she would be “stepping back from social media in the coming days and giving my microphone to Black voices by having them take over my account and share their experience.”
The controversy hung over a 90-minute prime time special CTV aired that weekend, hosted by some of Ben Mulroney’s co-workers, including his current eTalk co-anchor Lainey Lui and his Your Morning co-anchor Anne-Marie Mediwake. The network’s lunchtime chat show, The Social, chewed over the story. Perhaps most damaging of all, Lui weighed in with a blog post that backed Exeter’s charge of “white privilege,” and said that, despite her own power and privilege, she, too, was afraid of Jessica Mulroney.
“She has powerful allies. If I’m worried, then, and I have a platform, imagine the people out there who don’t have my advantages.”
In making his statement in the opening moments of Your Morning, Ben Mulroney said that, while he loves his wife, “it is not my place to speak for [Jessica] and today, together, we are committed to doing the work to both learn and understand more about anti-Black racism, as well as learn and understand more about our blind spots.”
“So, what does this mean for me? Well, it means acknowledging here, today, that my privilege has benefited me greatly. And while I have certainly worked hard to build my career, I know that systemic racism and injustice helps people like me and harms those who aren’t like me, often in ways that are invisible to us. This needs to change.”
He added that he will “continue to contribute to [eTalk], hosting red carpets and taking on other special projects here at Bell Media [which owns CTV].” He will also continue as co-host of Your Morning, which he has anchored since its inception in 2016.
Mulroney was an original co-anchor of eTalk, which premiered in 2002.
The director of the University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus journalism program said Mulroney had no choice. “He clearly understands that, in this age of Black Lives Matter, there’s a new vibe around, where people are acknowledging past lapses in sensibility, so he’s making a gesture that is entirely appropriate,” Jeffrey Dvorkin said. “And frankly, he’s caught, he really has to do this in order to take the attention away from the drama that was created when his wife made those remarks.”
A CTV spokesperson said that Mulroney’s move, and his association with his wife’s controversy, would not preclude him from covering stories touching on the same issues. Asked whether Mulroney would still be able to front stories or be involved in on-air conversations or interviews regarding Black Lives Matter, systemic racism, or bullying, Bell Media spokesperson Scott Henderson replied in an e-mail: “Yes, that is our position.”
Like many powerful institutions across Canada, Bell Media is suddenly grappling with how to better reflect the country, an effort that has become more urgent amid the eruption of protests over systemic racism. One day after cutting ties with Jessica Mulroney, Bell Media announced the creation of a Content Diversity Task Force, which its president, Randy Lennox, said would help change “the decision-making process in the stories we tell on air and amplifying voices from marginalized communities on our platform.”
The company’s statement announcing Mr. Mulroney’s change of assignment cited the task force, and noted that Bell Media Studios, the division that produces both eTalk and Your Morning, “is committed to diversity in front of and behind the camera.”
Nanci MacLean, the vice-president of Bell Media Studios and President of Pinewood Toronto Studios, said in a statement the company is “proud of Ben for his decision.”
“Ben has played an integral role in the success of eTalk acting as a tireless champion of Canadian artists and productions. We thank him for his contribution to building eTalk into Canada’s #1 entertainment show, and look forward to developing new projects with him at Bell Media Studios.”
Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.