A former editor at the New York Review of Books says he stands by his decision to publish a controversial essay written by disgraced former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.
Ian Buruma told Vrij Nederland, a Dutch magazine, that he lost his job after an intense backlash to the article from social media and magazine advertisers.
“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,” the Dutch native said to Vrij.
“And now I myself am publicly pilloried.”
Last week, the magazine published Ghomeshi’s essay, titled “Reflections from a Hashtag,” where he wrote he had “deep remorse” for the way he treated people, but said the accusations from the women were inaccurate.
Ghomeshi was acquitted in March 2016 of four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking involving three women and later signed a peace bond after apologizing to a fourth woman that saw another count of sexual assault withdrawn.
The essay sparked an online backlash from those who said the former CBC radio host should not have been given such a prestigious platform to write an unchallenged first-person piece. Critics complained that the piece wasn’t properly fact-checked and was self-serving to a man trying to rehabilitate his image.
On Wednesday, the magazine added an editorial note clarifying several details about the allegations against Ghomeshi, how they emerged and the legal proceedings that followed.
Buruma says he was not fired from the prestigious literary magazine, but felt forced to resign after he was told by his publisher that university publishers who advertise in the Review of Books were threatening a boycott.
“They are afraid of the reactions on the campuses, where this is an inflammatory topic,” Buruma said to Vrij.
“Because of this, I feel forced to resign – in fact it is a capitulation to social media and university presses.”
He admits he didn’t gauge the forces of the #MeToo movement.
“I still stand behind my decision to publish,” Buruma says now. “I expected that there would (be) intense reactions, but I hoped that it would open a discussion about what to do with people who behaved badly, but who were acquitted in a court of law.”
Romayne Smith Fullerton, an associate professor in Western University’s faculty of information and media studies, said it’s the intransigence of those with influence like Buruma that has made her less and less optimistic about the potential for gender equality in journalism and beyond over her 22 years of teaching.
“It makes me feel like we haven’t come very far,” she said. “I feel often like there’s more push back. That there are less people who are willing to even stand up for equality, let alone what I would see as advancing the cause of women.”
Smith Fullerton said the magazine’s lack of transparency about the events that transpired over the roughly weeklong controversy has sown distrust among readers.
“I would like to see the magazine step up, and acknowledge what they see as their own deficiencies,” she said. “One of the biggest and most valuable pieces of currency journalism has is credibility. If you’re going to throw it under the bus, don’t be sad when you don’t have an audience.”
There is a place for journalism about the cultural forces that have enabled bad male behaviour, said Smith Fullerton, as well as the perspectives of men who have been accused, like Ghomeshi. But those accounts shouldn’t come in the form of an unchallenged, first-person essay in a highbrow literary magazine, she said.
“Until we actually reach a spot where we are in fact equal, then we need to advocate on the side of those who are not equal,” she said. “And we do not yet have an equal workplace, a equal social sphere, or an equal public sphere.”
The New York Review of Books declined to comment.