What bothers me about the Ghomeshi discussion

Fame and popularity do not mean inculpability
Photo: Bruce Barrett

I really like Jian Ghomeshi. As the thoughtful, eloquent, well-informed, highly charismatic and soft-spoken long-time host of CBC’s Q, he has quite a loyal following across the country and even south of the border.

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He’s everything you’d want in a radio talk-show host. So it’s more than understandable that when news broke that he was fired by his employer, the country went into a collective tizzy.

When Jian Ghomeshi took to his own Facebook page to issue a carefully worded statement and argue that his kinky sex life was the reason behind his firing, I saw the public narrative change immediately. Words of support, scoffs over that old fuddy duddy of a public broadcaster, attempts to discredit the accusers, people tripping over themselves to reassure Ghomeshi that his sex life was his business—it all unfolded in front of my eyes within minutes.

Within hours, websites in support were popping up, and a petition to reinstate Ghomeshi was making the rounds. If he had hoped that going on the offensive and issuing a pre-emptive strike would reap online displays of unwavering support, he was more than vindicated.

No one knows the entire truth, and we probably won’t know it until this goes to court, now that Ghomeshi has launched a $50 million lawsuit. But without pointing fingers and taking sides, I take issue with a few things.

Just because someone is a well-loved public figure does not mean they are immune to wrongdoing and exempt from justice. We (the public) don’t know Jian any more than we know the four women who have come forward to accuse him of non-consensual sexual violence. We just think we know him because he’s been part of our lives for so long. If four women had come forward with allegations about the local school principal or the guy who runs the deli down the street, would we be more inclined to believe them? The cult of personality and hero worship are dangerous. They can erode our critical thinking and lead us to automatically assume innocence where guilt may reside. I’m not saying Ghomeshi is guilty, only that he’s not automatically innocent simply because we like the way he smoothly poses questions on air or because we liked Moxy Früvous. (Who the hell liked Moxy Früvous?)

Despite what many outraged Canadians might want to believe, from the beginning there were clear signs that this was always about more than kinky sex. Sure, our Crown Corporation (and many of its viewers) may not be “hip with the times” and into BDSM (I’m sure there are tons of confused conversations taking place in living rooms across the country right now, as viewers attempt to explain to grandma why her beloved Jian isn’t on the air today), but I have a hard time believing that the CBC would fire their golden goose over his unsavoury (to some) taste for bondage and spanking.

I believe that Canadians, as a whole, are much more liberal-minded and less prudish than Americans about human sexuality and would have been inclined to dismiss this as inconsequential. I don’t really care that he likes to choke and punch someone while having sex, as long as the person being choked and punched is okay with it. Consent is the key here, not kink. After all, how does what he enjoys in the bedroom affect what he does in the studio?

Even the perception and association with BDSM shouldn’t have affected his reputation (and the CBC’s, by association) to the point it warranted the broadcaster to get rid of its prodigal son and run the very real risk of legal pursuit by a wronged party.

Without necessarily concluding guilt, there must have surely been enough evidence seen and heard by the CBC to satisfy its legal team that his dismissal was legally sound. There is simply nothing to be gained for the struggling public broadcaster by wrongfully dismissing one of its most popular employees to save face.

The subsequent Toronto Star article that broke last night seems to corroborate that point of view. Jian wrote in his lengthy statement that this is happening “as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex-girlfriend and a freelance writer.”

The “jilted ex-girlfriend” card raises major flags for me. I have written extensively on rape culture and society’s easy dismissal of sexual assault accusations as the malicious machinations of vengeful, hell-bent, angry women.

First off, the “jilted ex-girlfriend” card raises major flags for me. I have written extensively on rape culture and society’s easy dismissal of sexual assault accusations as the malicious machinations of vengeful, hell-bent, angry women. In lay terms, “b*tches be crazy,” and you just have to take what they say with a huge grain of salt.

But, contrary to popular opinion, rape and sexual assault continue to be the most underreported violent crimes in North America. Study after credible study has proven that women are simply, and too often, scared into silence, particularly when the perpetrator is a well-known figure with fame, money and public support on his side. So I have a hard time believing that a woman would knowingly subject herself to the torment of a public flogging and questions about her motives and her morals, only to get back at a lover, particularly a lover so well loved by this country.

While I would never take someone’s word at face value (too much is at stake when sexaul assault allegations occur), and I would always demand and expect due diligence and proof that a crime took place (something that might be even harder to prove in a case involving BDSM where the lines of consent become blurry), here’s where this story unravels for me: While Ghomeshi alludes to one jilted lover, the Toronto Star article speaks of four women who have come forward with accusations of non-consensual sexual violence.

Four women takes this incident from a “he said, she said” scenario to a full-blown pattern of “she said, she said, she said, she said. . . ” sexual aggression. What could the motivation be for four women to lie about something like this? For the chance to be vilified by every Ghomeshi fan who’s upset he’ll no longer be on the airwaves? For fame and notoriety? For revenge? For easy laughs? Hardly. There is nothing easy about coming forward with allegations of sexual violence, and women are vilified twice as much as the accused in the court of public opinion.

The Toronto Star felt compelled to tell us that the women who came forward were “educated and employed.” Why, you ask? Because a woman accusing a man of sexual violence needs all the propping-up her credibility can get.

If you need any more proof of the fact that we live in a world that is all too often quick to dismiss sexual assault allegations as frivolous and malice-driven, all you have to do is notice that the Toronto Star felt compelled to tell us that the women who came forward were “educated and employed.” Why, you ask? Because a woman accusing a man of sexual violence needs all the propping-up her credibility can get. And heaven help you if you only have a high school diploma and are currently looking for work, ladies. Don’t even bother filing a sexual assault complaint until you get a job and a GED.

And just like it’s not one “jilted ex-girlfriend” coming forward with accusations, but four women, Jesse Brown, who has been investigating the allegations against Ghomeshi, is not just some “freelance writer.” The former CBC radio host and columnist for Maclean’s, Toronto Life and Saturday Night runs Canadaland, an impressive independent news website that, since its launch last year, has already broken some very big stories.

I fail to see how someone would spend several months investigating a story (after the allegations were first brought to him) and then approach the Toronto Star and investigative reporter Kevin Donovan to gain their legal and editorial support without substantial evidence pointing to the accuracy of what he had. It’s hard to believe that a major newspaper would expose itself to possible libel without having something really solid to go on.

That being said, the fact that so far there seems to be no police involvement, no criminal charges, and no criminal investigation, is bound to raise a few questions among those quick to dismiss accusations of sexual violence. The fact that these women have not gone to the police yet (as far as we know) does not mean that they're lying. It may simply mean that they're not ready to put their sex lives under a microscope and be ripped to shreds by legions of Ghomeshi fans. The benefit of the doubt always seems to favour the people we know over those we don't, and Ghomeshi is nothing if not well known in this country.

However, allegations made to a reporter should never be enough to destroy a person’s life. Here's hoping our criminal justice system takes over and gives us the answers we're looking for.

However, allegations made to a reporter should never be enough to destroy a person’s life. Here's hoping our criminal justice system takes over and gives us the answers we're looking for.

This story is still in its infancy. And because of whom it involves, and the salacious and shocking content of BDSM-infused accusations, it’s here to stay for a while. I suspect more details will come pouring in and perhaps more people may come forward. More mud-slinging will take place. People will be divided into camps and the drama will play out on our Facebook walls and Twitter accounts daily.

I, for one, will be closely watching how the media (and its inevitable bias) reports on this story, because how a story is reported is often just as important as the story itself.

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