Jian Ghomeshi stuck his head above the parapet last week. It got blown off.
The disgraced former CBC Radio host wrote a 3,400-word essay in The New York Review of Books about his life since he lost it all – his livelihood, his reputation, his money, and his brilliant broadcast career.
“There are lots of guys more hated than me now,” he writes. “But I was the guy everyone hated first.” In the piece, he mentions the suicidal moods, the shame, the shunning, the isolation, the friends and colleagues who abandoned him, the episodes of depression when he found himself curled up in a dark room, crying . He used to perform for an audience of hundreds of thousands. Now his biggest audience is at a local karaoke bar in New York.
Yet the dominant note of the piece (called Reflections from a Hashtag) isn’t so much self-pity as it is ironic self-appraisal. The tone is reflective, not bitter.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Twittersphere reception has been vitriolic. A great many people believe that more than two and a half years after the trial that declared him not guilty, Mr. Ghomeshi does not deserve a platform – especially not in a prestige publication like the NYRB. In their view he is guilty of every single thing of which he was accused, and then some. They want him to crawl back beneath his rock and shut up.
“Just because the courts didn’t hold him responsible doesn’t mean he wasn’t wrong – he failed to hold himself to account, apologize in a meaningful way to his victims.” one person tweeted. “These are the reasons #Ghomeshi should not be allowed a voice.” The NYRB’s editor, Ian Buruma , is feeling the heat too. Slate’s Isaac Chotiner subjected him to a highly uncomfortable interview about why he ran the piece, and wondered pointedly whether he would have also asked O.J. Simpson to write an essay. After all, O.J. was found not guilty too.
The extent of Mr. Ghomeshi’s criminal record is a peace bond he signed that also required him to apologize to a former coworker whom he had harassed at work. Yet I am well aware that large numbers of people, especially women – about half the women I know, I’d guess – are convinced that Mr. Ghomeshi got away with sexual assault, and that the not-guilty verdict was a travesty, and the justice system is to blame for giving women a rough ride. In this case, I do not believe the women who testified against Mr. Ghomeshi got a rough ride. (In fact, the judge criticized the three complainants as “deceptive and manipulative”) What I do believe is that he was a first-class schmuck – narcissistic, ego-driven, a sexual and workplace bully whose every conquest fed his bloated sense of self-esteem. He says so himself. I also believe he whitewashes some of his behaviour. As for confessing, here’s as close as he gets:
“Even as I feel deep remorse about how I treated some people in my life, I cannot confess to the accusations that are inaccurate. What I do confess is that I was emotionally thoughtless in the way I treated those I dated and tried to date." He goes on to say, "You wonder how you can exhibit any contrition about ways you may have behaved badly in the past without validating every crazy thing that is being said about you by people you’ve never met.”
Jian Ghomeshi is in his early 50s now – not the brash young thing he used to be. So how does someone of his age and stage go about achieving social rehabilitation? A year and a half ago he tried to start a podcast, but Art19, a software company which acted as an audio host for the project suspended its role after the Twittersphere went berserk. (“You should admit to your crimes, apologize and go away,” tweeted one inflamed person.) Rightly or wrongly, Mr. Ghomeshi remains a symbol of pure, predatory masculine evil – and, apart from the graveyard shift at the local radio station, is probably unemployable.
But the question of forgiveness is something with which #MeToo will have to reckon. Mr. Ghomeshi isn’t the only fallen star out there. The current issue of Harper’s features a long and anguished essay by John Hockenberry, another radio broadcaster whose career was shattered by sexual misconduct allegations. Almost overnight, he writes, he went from a position of respect to “someone who fears recognition and trembles at the prospect of running into some radio listener who has come to find me an object of pity or reproach.”
Compared to what the furies of #MeToo can do, sometimes jail looks easy.