The axe fell on Jian Ghomeshi’s career last Sunday, around noon.
The popular host of the hit radio show Q with Jian Ghomeshi had been summoned to a meeting with his employer, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, away from its Toronto headquarters and inquisitive staff. Two days earlier, on Friday, he had been placed on indefinite leave, to the surprise and mystification of his legions of admirers.
This was a decisive meeting for Mr. Ghomeshi, resulting in his dismissal. But his fortunes were all but decided at a meeting three days earlier, according to multiple sources familiar with Mr. Ghomeshi’s interactions with the CBC. All had knowledge of the days leading up to his departure, but none was authorized to speak publicly about it.
The meeting on Thursday, Oct. 23, was prompted in part by growing concern among Mr. Ghomeshi and his advisers that a journalist might be preparing to publish allegations of non-consensual and abusive sexual encounters, according to sources. Mr. Ghomeshi’s lawyers, who had been in discussion with the CBC for months, had evidence they believed would prove Mr. Ghomeshi’s sexual partners had consented.
Executives at the CBC, who had long accepted Mr. Ghomeshi’s account, asked to see the detailed evidence. According to sources with knowledge of the exchange, Mr. Ghomeshi’s camp agreed, and a meeting was arranged for Thursday.
At that meeting, a lawyer for Mr. Ghomeshi presented two people from CBC management with texts, e-mails and photos of the radio host’s sexual encounters. The evidence was intended to demonstrate consent, a point Mr. Ghomeshi would later stress in a statement: “Everything I have done has been consensual.”
But the CBC managers were taken aback, and their views on Mr. Ghomeshi’s conduct changed instantly. What they saw, in their opinions, was far more aggressive and physical than anything they had been led to believe during months of discussions.
Although Mr. Ghomeshi wrote in his statement that the CBC agreed “there was consent,” sources suggested CBC officials were not confident in drawing that conclusion. What was certain was the corporation – a public broadcaster, heavily funded by citizens – swiftly decided it had seen evidence of conduct it could not be seen to defend, according to sources.
The CBC did not put Mr. Ghomeshi on leave until the next day, Oct. 24. Shortly before 4 p.m., journalist Jesse Brown tweeted that Mr. Ghomeshi was on “indefinite” leave, and the CBC’s head of public affairs, Chuck Thompson, responded with a tweet saying he was not, as Mr. Ghomeshi had not yet been told.
Once the host was informed, he was given Saturday to think about his situation and decide whether he had anything further to say to CBC managers.
When he arrived at the Sunday meeting, his dismissal was not yet a foregone conclusion, one source confirmed. Had he expressed remorse, or offered to seek treatment, the CBC would have had to consider its next steps carefully. Yet Mr. Ghomeshi remained unrepentant. He was let go, and the CBC’s board of directors was told of his departure.
“The Board was informed on Sunday of the management decision, not before,” chairman Rémi Racine said in an e-mail. “The Board was not involved in the decision, as this is a management responsibility.”
Mr. Ghomeshi knew the Sunday meeting could decide his career at the CBC. At the very least, he was going off-air for some time – that much was certain, with allegations and evidence of aggressive sexual behaviour threatening to engulf him.
Accompanying Mr. Ghomeshi to the gathering were a lawyer representing him from Dentons Canada LLP and a staff member from Navigator, the renowned crisis-management firm he had hired. Also in the room was Todd Spencer, the CBC’s executive director of people and culture, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Mr. Spencer arrived with authorization to fire the host – one of CBC’s most high-profile figures – unless Mr. Ghomeshi said something to change the CBC’s views dramatically on an emerging scandal.
Given a chance to speak, Mr. Ghomeshi insisted he had done nothing wrong. His employment was terminated on the spot. The decision was unanimous.
At 1:36 p.m., the public broadcaster announced its relationship with Mr. Ghomeshi had “come to an end.” Mr. Thompson then clarified that the corporation had “recently” received information that “precludes” it from continuing to employ Mr. Ghomeshi.
The news sent shock waves through the CBC, its audience and Mr. Ghomeshi’s fans, many of whom poured onto social media to express outrage and bewilderment. Since then, the fallout has only grown in intensity.
Mr. Ghomeshi released a 1,586-word statement on Facebook later on Sunday detailing his “adventurous” sexual tastes, including bondage, dominance and submission, and other sex acts some might find “strange, enticing, weird, normal, or outright offensive.” These encounters were always consensual, he maintained, and anyone who said they were not would be lying.
A contrary story emerged within hours, when the Toronto Star quoted anonymous sources who alleged they had suffered violent, non-consensual assaults from Mr. Ghomeshi. None had reported their claims to police. The Star further reported that a former employee of the CBC claimed to have been sexually harassed by Mr. Ghomeshi.
On Monday, lawyers for Mr. Ghomeshi filed a lawsuit against the CBC, reiterating many of his earlier claims. But more accusers soon stepped forward. Four days after he was fired, at least nine women had made allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi, most of them recounting that he beat and abused them without warning, sometimes during sex. Two of them revealed their names – actor Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth, a lawyer and author.
Mr. Ghomeshi has not been charged with a crime, but his career is in crisis.
The story of Q
The story that led Mr. Ghomeshi to this juncture begins in 2007, with the founding of Q, the radio program that made him a household name in Canada and spread to more than 170 stations across the United States.
When Q launched as the new afternoon arts program in the spring of 2007, it had a core group of young and ambitious producers, almost all of them in their 20s and 30s. Mr. Ghomeshi had a very specific idea of what Q was going to be, and it was not typical CBC.
The aim was to land big-name guests, and not to adhere to the usual CBC mandate: promoting Canadian content coast-to-coast. A couple of veteran producers who objected ran up against Mr. Ghomeshi’s star power; they were weeded out. The five that stuck around quickly began to understand that, although Mr. Ghomeshi had “brilliant instincts,” they were going to pay a price for being part of this wild experiment, said Matt Tunnacliffe, a former Q producer and director.
“You’re on this crazy ride so you just deal with Jian’s perfectionist attitude,” said Mr. Tunnacliffe, who is one of the two minds behind at least 95 per cent of the trademark essays Mr. Ghomeshi read at the opening of each show. (Although the essays were often attributed to Mr. Ghomeshi, most were written by Mr. Tunnacliffe – who now lives in New Brunswick and writes for the show on a freelance basis – or Sean Foley, another former producer, who left the show a few months ago to join As It Happens.)
“[Mr. Ghomeshi] had a vision for the show and he made it happen … and he wasn’t accepting of things that got in the way of that vision. That included subpar work, headphone settings, script work,” Mr. Tunnacliffe said. “It was a tough place to work sometimes.”
And as the show increased in popularity, so too did Mr. Ghomeshi’s efforts to have his name permanently etched into the program, three staffers, former and current, said in interviews. Several years ago, staff were informed that, as a result of Mr. Ghomeshi’s contract negotiations, the summer version of Q would be dramatically different. Because he was not hosting in the summer, the show was rebranded Q The Summer. The theme music changed and guest hosts were forbidden from opening the show with an essay.
It’s not clear if there was one moment when the show became more about Mr. Ghomeshi than the parts that made it come together – although two former staffers pointed to Mr. Ghomeshi’s famous 2009 interview with actor Billy Bob Thornton as a turning point – but increasingly, staff felt unrecognized when it came time to dole out credit for the show’s success.
Always lurking in the background were questions about Mr. Ghomeshi’s romantic life. None of the staff interviewed by The Globe said they saw any evidence of the alleged violence that has been documented over the past week. But they took notice of the frequency with which Mr. Ghomeshi dated new women. Mr. Tunnacliffe described it as this “weird vibe around Jian and women.” Staff also had a code word they used when they were asked to book guests who they suspected had slept with Mr. Ghomeshi, Mr.Tunnacliffe said.
One staff member, who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity, said one question she has repeatedly faced since the scandal erupted is how the voice on the radio, who portrayed himself as a feminist and sensitive, can be accused of such things. Her response was simple: He was often “reading other people’s words.”
Most of the original producers who founded the show are no longer with Q. Going up against Mr. Ghomeshi was a difficult battle, the staffers said. That power imbalance was compounded by the fact that some of the junior staffers were not full-time, but worked on contracts, one former producer said.
“Can you really stand up to a guy whose 20-foot-tall portrait is on the side of the building when you’re not guaranteed work beyond next week or month?”
Mr. Ghomeshi began to realize all was not well in the spring. Friends got in touch to tell him that reporters and a former girlfriend were asking questions about his sex life, and whether he had non-consensual, even violent sex with women he had dated. At least one former partner was alleging that he had.
Mr. Ghomeshi flatly denied he had ever done anything non-consensual, but the risk that the swirling whispers might become public concerned him enough that he did not keep them to himself.
He turned to the CBC – specifically Chris Boyce, the executive director of radio and audio, and Chuck Thompson, the head of public affairs, according to a lawsuit Mr. Ghomeshi has filed against the corporation. Mr. Boyce and Mr. Thompson both said they cannot comment due to the legal action.
The radio host says he opened up to CBC executives, explaining he enjoys rough and “adventurous” sex, and engages in bondage, role-playing, dominance and submission. He says he told them some might claim he had sexual encounters that were non-consensual, but that was not true. And in the summer, he said reporters were asking about at least three women making allegations against him.
On Sunday, Mr. Ghomeshi released a statement, writing, “I have been open with the CBC” since the allegations “ramped up.” But sources with knowledge of the situation say during the spring, and in intermittent discussions throughout the summer about how to respond should allegations go public, his accounts to the CBC were relatively unspecific, even as executives asked pointed questions.
For the time being, the CBC was prepared to stand by him, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Senior people at the broadcaster had long relationships with Mr. Ghomeshi, he had seemed open, his personal life was sensitive territory, and he was one of the public broadcaster’s biggest stars.
Months later, it all unravelled with his firing. He has filed a grievance for reinstatement as well as the lawsuit against the CBC claiming breach of confidence, defamation and punitive damages.
Trauma and tears
Facing several new accusers, Mr. Ghomeshi remains defiant. In a statement posted to his Facebook page on Thursday, he wrote: “I want to thank you for your support and assure you that I intend to meet these allegations directly.”
Navigator said on Thursday it is no longer working with Mr. Ghomeshi. As well, Rock-It promotions, which had been handling some of Mr. Ghomeshi's media requests, said on Twitter that it “will no longer be representing Jian Ghomeshi.”
The Globe and Mail contacted the CBC, Mr. Spencer, Dentons and Mr. Ghomeshi for comment, but calls and e-mails were not returned.
In response to the allegations against Mr. Ghomeshi, CBC management gathered about 100 of its talk-radio staff to provide an update and acknowledge how “traumatic” the situation has been for employees, one source said. They also announced they were hiring outside investigators and talked about providing counselling to staff.
The emotional meeting lasted more than an hour, led by Mr. Boyce, Mr. Spencer and Cindy Witten, senior director of Talk Radio. Managers became teary-eyed as they expressed frustration that they could not speak openly about Mr. Ghomeshi’s firing because he has filed a lawsuit, the source said. Staffers wept as well.
With a report from Jill MahoneyReport Typo/Error
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