Now he has given his side of the story to Dutch publication Vrij Nederland. And he is irked. “I am embroiled in a big scandal, in the middle of storm on social media. It is rather ironic: as editor of The New York Review of Books I published a theme issue about #MeToo-offenders who had not been convicted in a court of law but by social media. And now I myself am publicly pilloried.”
Sorry, Buruma: You started your job in September 2017 — after the death of Robert Silvers, who had run the publication alone or with his longtime co-editor Barbara Epstein since its founding in 1963. By September 2017, the ways of social media were well established: If you publish something that lacks balance, honesty or some other critical ingredient of good journalism, Twitter will apprise you of your shortcomings. In thousands of different and biting manners. So there.
More from Buruma on backlashes: “It is absolutely not true that I do not have empathy for women who are mistreated or assaulted. But I also want to know: what happens when you are publicly pilloried on social media? That story had not been told.” Bolding inserted to underscore that point that perhaps the former editor of the New York Review of Books should read more.
According to Buruma, publisher Rea S. Hederman “did not fire me,” Buruma told Vrij Nederland. “But he made clear to me that university publishers, whose advertisements make publication of The New York Review of Books partly possible, were threatening a boycott. They are afraid of the reactions on the campuses, where this is an inflammatory topic. Because of this, I feel forced to resign – in fact it is a capitulation to social media and university presses.”
Peter Berkery is the executive director of the Association of University Presses, which represents 146 members over six continents. If there were a boycott movement among university publishers dismayed with the Ghomeshi story, Berkery says he would probably know about it. But: “I know that the NYRB was concerned that some of their advertisers might ultimately choose to make a statement through their advertising dollars, but I’m unaware of any organized effort to coordinate a boycott,” says Berkery.
The book-publishing world doesn’t move at the pace of, say, presidential politics. The Ghomeshi piece surfaced last Friday, allowing university presses just a few days to mount a collective effort. “It would have been wildly premature,” says Berkery. “My members are thoughtful, measured people. They never would have done something like that prior to hearing a response from the NYRB.”
And by “response,” Berkery is referencing a statement by the review’s leadership addressing the quite substantive complaints that the essay allowed Ghomeshi to soft-pedal his past in an effort to squeak his way back toward respectability. Of course, Buruma did grant an interview to Isaac Chotiner in Slate, wherein the editor expressed scant worry about such matters. “I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime,” said Buruma. “The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern.”
“Reading online and electronic versions of print media, it seems like Ian thought he was right and wasn’t prepared to apologize. Dude, that’s on you,” says Berkery.
We have asked NYRB about Buruma’s claims and will update if we hear anything good.