Yesterday evening Facebook suddenly exploded with fervent pleas of "bring back Jian!!!!" and links to petitions, including one from change.org, to save his job. Jian Ghomeshi, popular media personality and co-creator and host of the most popular program in CBC history had been fired by the CBC, shortly after he had tweeted that he was taking a hiatus for some "much needed personal time". Right away something smelled a bit fishy. Everyone wondered what happened. Then he released his statement on facebook.
As of right now it has been shared 36,411 times on Facebook. He opens with a lament for the loss of his dearly beloved father and swiftly moves on to describe a pointed and focussed "campaign of harassment, vengeance and demonization" against him by a "jilted ex girlfriend". He vaguely describes his predlictions for (consensual, he insists) BDSM sexual activities and how his interest in those has been used against him in some very unsavoury allegations. Certainly unfair if true, and since many of these tens of thousands of shares seem to come with the comment that "what goes on in the bedroom stays in the bedroom!!!" and "his personal life is personal!!", his well-crafted version of events was clearly widely accepted at face value. Public opinion instantly was behind him.
Except there are some huge red flags.
1) He cites his professional achievements. They are not grounds for him to be above accusation or wrongdoing.
2) He starts with a sad story about losing his father. Most of us will experience the loss of a parent at some time. That has nothing to do with culpability.
3) He accuses the woman of painting herself as a victim, but turns the entire situation around and paints himself as a victim.
4) Moralizing. The choice of words...nefarious, scandal, salacious, vengeance. Scorn for people who choose to believe it. Noble proclamations about privacy and secret lives.
5) He name drops, sort of. "We joked about our relations being like a mild form of Fifty Shades of Grey or a story from Lynn Coady's Giller-Prize winning book last year. " Why...why be that specific? He clearly knows that author in a professional capacity. Is this to show how well-connected he is?
6) Claims of evidence that their actions were consensual. So does he have emails where they discuss that they both like rough sex? So what? Who documents anything beyond that? Some communications that show a mutual interest in, say, BDSM, doesn't mean that unlimited consent was granted.
7) The jilted-ex girlfriend line. Tale as old as time. "If any woman speaks against me, it's because she's a desperate man hunter and wants revenge. Not only that, but other women who were not in any way non-consensually attacked will happily go along with these lies, because women are crazy and they all hate me."
To me, this entire statement was made in order to speak out first and scare the woman into silence: I have connections, it says, I know people. I am famous, I am successful, everybody feels bad for me, you said you like it; do not open your mouth. If any of the women work in media or aspire to, this could be disastrous for their careers, and they would be quite right in fearing the response from an indignant and protective public.
In his statement he also mentions that a major newspaper had been looking into the story but had dismissed it and not published it, to indicate a lack of credibility in the cl aims. However, within a few hours, the Toronto Star released an article identifying itself as that newspaper and outlining the severity of the allegations. Please look away now if the topic of sexual violence is one you'd rather not read about.
Their investigation turned up serious and consistent claims from three women of violence, ranging from choking, attempted suffocation, biting, and beating to verbals abuse. A fourth was a colleague at the CBC who has now left, presumably due to inaction from the Corporation, who experienced sexual harassment in the workplace. Comments on articles across the internet are suddenly peppered with anonymous personal stories of encounters with him. An XOJane blind item by writer Carla Ciccone from 2013 detailing a bad date with a grabby, creepy Toronto media personality, presumed then and now to refer to Ghomeshi, resulted in vicious, threatening abuse online. A quick search turned up dozens upon dozens of articles slamming her, not to mention the response on twitter.
This torontolife piece from eight months ago openly identify Ghomeshi as sthe subject of that blind article, and the comments, also from eight months ago, show more than a few people had noticed his slathering over young women, on twitter and in person.
Obviously rumour and speculation do not equal guilt. But his statement, no doubt created with the support of the high-stakes crisis management PR firm he's hired, spent several paragraphs taking down one woman and acting as though the claims are hers and hers alone, but what we're seeing here is a consisent undercurrent of questionable behaviour. Is he going to issue another sad story for each one? How many more are there? He says she undertook a campaign to sway people against him - but why would other people suddenly say "why yes as a matter of fact, now that you have told me I was assaaulted, I was." Ladies do have brains and a will, believe it or not. These women have absolutely nothing to gain and everything to lose from making statements (true or false) against him.
The shadows of another situation across the pond is strong. Over the last two years, the BBC and other British media have been embroiled in huge investigations into decades-long coverups of famous media personalities who have turned out to be unchecked sexual predators. In the case of Jimmy Savile, the claims spanned decades and while some were made during his lifetime they were covered up and ignored to the point that it was only after his death that the extent of what he did came to light. That investigation has led to a project called Operation Yewtree. And even while this operation has turned up such predators as Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris, David Lee Travis, all of whom have been convicted. And although Operation Yewtree has resulted in these people being put behind bars and others awaiting trial, other media types like Stephen Fry condemn it. The power of media connections is that strong. The parallels to the Jian Ghomeshi case are hard to ignore and while the CBC certainly must have been aware of his reputation and should have acted earlier, they did well to take action now.
It's currently early morning in Toronto. When central Canada, the bulk of the population, went to bed the court of public opinion seemed squarely and unquestioningly in favour of Ghomeshi. We'll see what the day holds.