Jian Ghomeshi’s Implosion Was Overdue
VICE Canada's Managing Editor Patrick McGuire takes a look at the systemic issues around sexual assault allegations, how Ghomeshi was the ultimate architect of his own demise, and why VICE Canada had to pass on publishing the first set of anonymous...
Image via Flickr user cfccreates
Image via Flickr user cfccreates.
In only a week, Jian Ghomeshi has gone from being the darling of Canada's prestigious CBC Radio establishment to a publicly maligned outcast with the allegations of more than nine women demolishing his reputation. But for many of us who live in Toronto, and have friends in media or the music industry, these allegations were already floating around as whisper and rumour. Women I know have been warning each other about Ghomeshi for years.
Now as the calamity of exposing Ghomeshi continues to unfold, we've learned that there was a woman working for Q who alleges Ghomeshi told her he wanted to "hatefuck" her. We also learned about an allegation today, on Jesse Brown's Canadaland podcast, from a former Q producer who claims Ghomeshi grabbed a woman from behind and "[dry] humped her... four or five times... with a big smile on his face" in the workplace. That same producer also alleges that he was told a rumour from an executive producer at Q pertaining to Ghomeshi choking a woman.
Beyond that, Western University had been warning their students not to take internships at Q because of Ghomeshi's lecherous and abusive reputation. A lecturer from UWO told the Star the ban on Q internships arose after Ghomeshi "prey(ed) on a young grad who wanted to work (at Q)."
If these rumours had drifted over to London, Ontario, and were credible enough to stop students from pursuing internships at Q, the questions becomes: why did it take so long for all of this to surface? What's wrong with the CBC that they weren't able to put two and two together and discipline their rising star in the face of alleged complaints? Or at the very least, launch an investigation into the veracity of these claims. An executive producer at CBC claims that Brown's reporting on a Q staffer complaining to her bosses is not true, but Brown maintains he has evidence to the contrary.
Even looking as far back as Ghomeshi's awful, embarrassing band from the 90s Moxy Fruvous, the allegations from that time period are now also surfacing. On Reddit, a thread went up shortly after the Toronto Star unleashed several stories about Ghomeshi, where users are sharing their stories of being harassed by Ghomeshi as teen girls. Then there's the video, which was posted yesterday of Ghomeshi in the 90s, where he derides his fans who "make him sick" as subhuman "bugs" that he has zero respect for.
While being a creep to teen girls, and a dick to your fans well over a decade ago still doesn't prove the allegations of the nine women last week, the picture this paints of Ghomeshi and the mountain of allegations against him is incredibly damaging.
Even though the amount of allegations has rapidly increased over the past week, and the Toronto Police are now involved, it has not yet been proven that Ghomeshi has done any of the things he is being accused of. Flawed as it may be, we have no other choice but to let the criminal justice system handle these allegations as they come. Especially now that Ghomeshi's career has been shattered.
We at VICE Canada had to confront the problem of handling anonymous sources, who had allegations about Jian Ghomeshi, head-on in September. Back then, we were approached by Jesse Brown, a freelance reporter who is now widely known for exposing the allegations about Jian Ghomeshi along with the Toronto Star. During our meeting, Brown brought VICE Canada a set of graphic and disturbing accounts that he was looking to publish--in the form of interview transcripts and audio recordings. Brown had approached us because (at that time) his story was put on ice by the Toronto Star. He was looking for a new media partner.
The allegations that Brown initially gathered, which are now widely known as they have been published by the Toronto Star, detail a history of allegedly abusive and violent behaviour at the hands of Jian Ghomeshi against numerous women.
At the time, while these allegations were believable and credible despite coming from anonymous sources, they were not substantial enough to responsibly publish a story. As Michael Cooke, the editor of the Toronto Star, wrote in his explanation of why they published their first story about Jian:
"The reason The Star did not publish a story at that time was because there was no proof the women's allegations of non-consensual abusive sex were true or false. They were so explosive that to print them would have been irresponsible, and would have fallen far short of the Star's standards of accuracy and fairness."
We felt the same way as the Toronto Star, as any other approach would be irresponsible and reckless. VICE was also in the unfortunate position of not having full access to Brown's sources (as the Star did).
That all changed when Ghomeshi presented graphic, personal sex tapes to his bosses at the CBC, which in his mind, proved that his violent behaviour was consensual. He did so because he mistakenly believed that Jesse Brown was about to publish a story about Ghomeshi's allegedly violent behaviour, after Brown mentioned a forthcoming "monster" story on his podcast. Brown maintains he was alluding to a story about CBC withholding information about CSEC, our nation's cybersurveillance agency, and not the Ghomeshi story.
Regardless, Ghomeshi's graphic sex tapes unsurprisingly led the CBC to fire him. He also showed them lewd text messages "on a CBC-owned phone," which also forced their hand. All of that sparked Ghomeshi's ill-advised, revelatory Facebook post. Ghomeshi's poor decisions with his bosses and on his own Facebook page gave the Star the supporting information they needed to publish the allegations Brown and Kevin Donovan had gathered, which they were previously unable to do without major legal liability along with risking their story being discredited.
The stories of two women, Lucy DeCouture and Reva Seth, who came forward to publicly publish their allegations of being abused by Ghomeshi are arguably the most believable. But their on-the-record testimonials have also exposed the problem of trusting anonymous sources, who may have stunning information to share, but are rightfully concerned about their own personal well-being. This conflict prevents many people, who hold secret and/or explosive information, from revealing their identities to the public.
Seth confronted this problem directly in an op-ed in the Huffington Post, where she wanted her actions to serve as a lesson to her young sons, that would make "them understand when they are older that a woman shouldn't be made to feel ashamed of something a man does to her without her consent."
Hopefully the bravery of Seth, DeCouture, and all of the other women who came forward will encourage others in the future to do the same. If we can remove or at least dent the climate of fear that develops when a woman wants to reveal that a powerful man has abused her, then perhaps in the future allegations can come out much faster.
And yet, despite the bravery of DeCouture, Seth, and the many others who spoke out anonymously, the apparent hubris of Jian Ghomeshi is extraordinary. Despite rumours swirling out in the open, alleged workplace complaints being filed against him in the CBC, a Twitter account dating back to April that accused Ghomeshi of assaulting Carleton University students, and the country's most-circulated newspaper actively working on an expose about his allegedly abusive behaviour, Ghomeshi was the ultimate architect of his demise.
Ghomeshi's agency in his own downfall exposes the disheartening reality about the nature of sexual abuse allegations: they are very, very hard to prove. If all of the women who have come forward are to be believed, Ghomeshi was able to get away with his misconduct for a very long time. Why the CBC was not able to act sooner is a gravely serious question that will hopefully be answered by their ongoing investigation into the matter. But more importantly, it speaks to the amount of insulation an abusive but powerful man can receive once they've become the golden boy of their institution.
The unraveling of Jian Ghomeshi is a mess, that would not have been realized were it not for Ghomeshi's presumably repulsive home videos and text messages that he voluntarily showed to his bosses. Rumours are abound as to whether or not he is even in Canada anymore (doubtful that he is, as leaving his house in Toronto is likely a dangerous endeavour these days), but a newly-opened police investigation may lead to charges. If he is in the United States, an extradition could be the next major story.
But, what's important (a fact that was made crystal-clear to me by a friend and fellow journalist, after I pointed out Ghomeshi's "imploding career" would smoke-screen Harper's new terror laws) is not the drama surrounding Jian Ghomeshi himself. It's the systemic reality surrounding the women who brought forward their stories about Ghomeshi, which has kept these allegations shrouded in darkness for too long.
The fear of being harassed and discredited by Ghomeshi and his fans, felt by the women who obviously did not want to come forward before, is a real problem. When your adversary is the star voice of Canada's public broadcaster, who has the power of a massive audience to sway public opinion (Ghomeshi's original heartstring-tugging Facebook post received over 110,000 Facebook likes), bringing forward damaging allegations can be a self-destructive prospect. The legal fees alone could be ruinous.
But if the Ghomeshi situation is as bad as it looks, he has been able to leverage his reputation to meet women, and then to keep them quiet. The lack of power held by the women in all of these alleged situations needs to be addressed, though they are certainly subverting that power dynamic now. Hopefully as the Toronto Police's investigation unfolds, these women can gain some closure.