For the Oct. 11 issue of the New York Review of Books, Jian Ghomeshi, a former Canadian radio broadcaster, wrote an essay under the headline “Reflections from a Hashtag.” It was a mix of boring self-pity and outrageous denialism. Here’s a key paragraph:
In October 2014, I was fired from my job at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation after allegations circulated online that I’d been abusive with an ex-girlfriend during sex. In the aftermath of my firing, and amid a media storm, several more people accused me of sexual misconduct. I faced criminal charges including hair-pulling, hitting during intimacy in one instance, and — the most serious allegation — nonconsensual choking while making out with a woman on a date in 2002. I pleaded not guilty. Several months later, after a very public trial, I was cleared on all counts. One of the charges was separated and later withdrawn with a peace bond — a pledge to be on good behavior for a year. There was no criminal trial.
Actually, there weren’t just “several more” accusers; there were more than 20.
Actually, there wasn’t just alleged “sexual misconduct”; there was this, from a Toronto Star report: “New allegations include a woman, a student at the time, who said the former host of the CBC Radio program Q tried to smother her by covering her nose and mouth with his hands, and others who describe how, with no warning, Ghomeshi made guttural snarling noises, hit, slapped, bit, choked them and in some cases pulled their hair so hard they were yanked down to the floor or onto a bed.”
Slate’s Isaac Chotiner pressed Ian Buruma, editor of the New York Review of Books, on just why he granted Ghomeshi such license with the historical record. “I am not going to defend his behavior, and I don’t know if what all these women are saying is true,” responded Buruma. “Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. My interest in running this piece, as I said, is the point of view of somebody who has been pilloried in public opinion and what somebody like that feels about it. It was not run as a piece to exonerate him or to somehow mitigate the nature of his behavior.”
Here’s the thing about journalism: Publishers don’t exert monopoly ownership over the intent conveyed by a piece. Readers are entitled to reach their own conclusions on that particular matter, and in this case, they did. The New York Review of Books faced great criticism on social media and elsewhere for its decision to run Ghomeshi’s mea parva culpa. “What Buruma and the NYRB leadership failed to grasp was that men like Ghomeshi aren’t entitled to a nicely packaged redemption arc,” wrote The Post’s Mili Mitra.
The New York Review of Books is a place where smart writers use books as pretext for unspooling all of their often vast knowledge on a particular topic, free of the spatial constraints of more conventional publications. The formula often works to the delight of the Erik Wemple Blog. One pitfall, however, is that all this high-mindedness is vulnerable to fraud in the form of well-written, navel-gazing garbage. Like this, from Ghomeshi:
You want the feeling of genuine contrition to stir within you — because people are telling you it’s the first step to redemption. And you let yourself imagine that some grand mea culpa might actually turn your fate around — regardless of the veracity of any allegations.
The stain of bad actions becomes indelible; a presumption prevails that the worst of what is tweeted is to be believed. You wonder how you can exhibit any contrition about ways you may have behaved badly in the past without validating every crazy thing that is being said about you by people you’ve never met.
For his kicker, Ghomeshi devoted a few paragraphs to discussing a pleasant conversation with a woman on a European train trip. When they arrived, they “both went off to find our respective ride-shares. Only once I emerged onto the street did I realize that I’d never even told her my name.” Stunning.
Was Ghomeshi’s essay so awful as to warrant Buruma’s sudden joblessness? That’s worth debating. What’s clear, however, is that Buruma was interested in the unfiltered sob story of a man accused of barbarous acts toward women. Less alluring, apparently, was the hard work of vesting the essay with honesty and integrity. First-person pieces, it turns out, often require more editing, more supervision than conventionally reported pieces. Don’t hand over your publication’s keys to your essayist. That’s what Medium is for.