5 Questions on Jian Ghomeshi

Uncomfortable truths about the Jian Ghomeshi scandal

Was there a conspiracy of silence at the CBC to protect Jian Ghomeshi? 

Anonymous sources quoted in the Star paint a sympathetic picture of the CBC’s handling of the Ghomeshi affair, suggesting execs “didn’t know the scope of what they were dealing with” until it was too late. But the CBC wouldn’t be the first corporation guilty of coddling its stars.

The Mother Corp at first seemed intent on going to the wall for Ghomeshi, making preparations to defend the Q host against assault allegations – at least if we’re to believe Ghomeshi’s $55 million lawsuit against the CBC over his firing. 

The suit has been widely discredited as a pre-emptive attempt to get out in front of the damning story. It turns out that the accusations are from more than a lone “jilted” ex-lover, as Gho-meshi claimed. Nine women have complained to Toronto Star reporters so far, two of them – actor Lucy DeCoutere and author Reva Seth – allowing their names to be used publicly in connection with allegations that include choking, punching, slapping and sexual assault. 

But the suit, for what it’s worth, paints a troubling picture of behind-the-scenes goings-on at the CBC in the weeks before revelations of his alleged exploits went viral. It describes CBC reps, who knew the Star was working on a story, being involved in conversations with Ghomeshi, his advisers and lawyer on how to address the allegations. There were conference calls “to devise a strategy” and press releases drafted to respond to media inquiries. 

Ghomeshi says the CBC acted as a “trusted ally and confidant,” even assuring him that they had conducted their own investigation “and were satisfied that the allegations of lack of consent [made by the ex-lover] were false.”

What changed? The official story is “graphic evidence that Jian had caused physical injury to a woman,” according to an internal memo sent to staff by executive vice-president of English services Heather Conway.

The Conway memo also said that the CBC would be hiring an outside investigator to conduct “a rigorous, independent investigation beyond what’s already done” into stories of workplace harassment involving Ghomeshi. Employment lawyer Janice Rubin was hired Tuesday, November 4.

But it looks like an ass-covering exercise. In 2010, a former Q producer reportedly complained to the show’s executive producer, Arif Noorani, that Ghomeshi had cupped her ass and told her he wanted to “hate fuck” her. But that somehow got lost in the ether even though she also reportedly complained to her union, the Canadian Media Guild. Now neither the Guild nor the CBC’s human resources department has a record of that complaint. 

On Monday, November 3, the CBC said Noorani had “decided to take a few days off” while the investigation into possible workplace harassment is ongoing.  

Are mental health issues involved?

It’s a murky area to get into, but Ghomeshi’s text messages to alleged victims seem divorced from reality. 

And then there’s Big Ears Teddy, the stuffy that Ghomeshi says has “played a really important role in my life,” helping him deal with the anxiety disorder he’s spoken openly about in recent months. 

Ghomeshi seemed to fancy himself the hero of a real-life erotic thriller. In the Facebook post he wrote in his own defence before further news broke last week, he characterized his relationship with the jilted ex as something out of Fifty Shades of Grey. The line between fiction and reality seemed blurred in his mind, only his alleged victims didn’t think he was play-acting.

What are the political implications?

Just when the public broadcaster could use a little good publicity, it looks like heads may now have to roll to restore public confidence.

For the CBC, the timing of the scandal couldn’t be worse. The day before news filtered out of Ghomeshi’s taking a leave, CBC president Hubert Lacroix shared details with the CBC’s union about corporate-wide cuts announced last June. Another 400 jobs will be lost by March 2015, some 1,057 in total this fiscal year alone. Four hundred more jobs are expected to go in 2016, and possibly another 400 in 2020. 

The political ramifications don’t end at the CBC. Ghomeshi briefly became the left’s problem. Green party leader Elizabeth May, a self-described friend, was criticized for initially tweeting her support for him, and feminist Judy Rebick for posting a supportive article by the National Post’s Jonathan Kay on her Facebook page. Both quickly apologized for appearing to take sides.

Ghomeshi was more than the face of the CBC he was the outward embodiment of its progressive values. In conservative political circles, he’s now being used as a symbol of the left’s supposed hypocrisy. Check the online comment sections. Comparisons are being made to Rob Ford. Whose devil is worse, the left’s or the right’s?

What’s next?

Ghomeshi seems to be steeling himself for serious trouble on Tuesday it was revealed that he’s hired criminal defence lawyer Marie Heinen, who got former attorney general Michael Bryant off the hook on those embarrassing vehicular manslaughter charges. Ghomeshi has filed a grievance with his union demanding reinstatement. He posted a message on his Facebook page stating that he intends “to meet these allegations directly.” 

A public mea culpa doesn’t seem to be in the offing yet. There are the legal issues to consider. But it may be his only choice if he wants to salvage what’s left of his career. This is no longer a case of he-said, she-said. It’s a turning point in the national discussion of violence against women. 

Can Ghomeshi come back?

Maybe south of the border. Criminal charges seem inevitable. Three women have reportedly formally complained to police. He’s been dropped by the CBC, his book publisher, his promotion agency, the band he manages and Polaris prize organizers. The public doesn’t seem to want to forgive, given the reaction in some quarters.  

It will take one very smart PR firm to turn this moment into a springboard to atonement and rehabilitation.

enzom@nowtoronto.com | @enzodimatteo

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