Jian Ghomeshi was trending on Twitter again on Friday.
Do people and things trend there for happy reasons? Maybe, sometimes. This wasn’t such an occasion.
Ghomeshi, the former CBC star who was charged with sexual assault and then acquitted, had dared to write, more than two years after he was found not guilty, an essay about his experience. The New York Review of Books had dared to publish it online and will publish it Sept. 27 in print.
Twitter was outraged; before the piece was even available online, before anyone could read it, the mob was denouncing it. People were enraged that a) he had been given such a platform; and b) that he had availed himself of it.
It reminded me of a line in The House of the Far and Lost, a short story by the American novelist Thomas Wolfe.
He was writing about a ruined family called the Coulsons. His character never knew what the source of their ruination was, he said, because no one would speak about it.
“But the sense of their disgrace, of a shameful inexpiable dishonour, for which there was no pardon, from which there could never be redemption, was overwhelming.”
How is it that there should be no redemption for disgrace? For Ghomeshi? For someone who was acquitted?
The piece itself, called “Reflections From A Hashtag,” is thoughtful, clever, and in places even wry. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now,” he writes. “But I was the guy everyone hated first.”
And so he was.
His criminal trial in February of 2016 was preceded by more than a year of lurid allegations against him, unfolding in the pages of newspapers, chiefly the Toronto Star, as woman after woman (and even a man) came forward with complaints.
His fall from grace — his radio show, Q, had been very popular and he was in demand as a host and speaker — was truly spectacular and he was the first genuinely big name in Canada to fall this way, now so familiar.
The CBC fired him; the then-Toronto Police chief, Bill Blair, all but publicly begged complainants to bring their stories to the police; the then-head of the force’s sex crimes unit, who was an adherent of the #IBelieve movement (as she actually said at the time, “We believe victims when they come in, 100%”) welcomed them with open arms. Unsurprisingly, the four who came forward were treated with kid gloves by detectives.
Ghomeshi was duly charged with four counts of sexual assault and one of choking.
But when the trial itself began, it became clear very quickly that the prosecution had real problems, chiefly that two of the three complainants (the fourth had been severed off and was settled with a peace bond) were outright liars and the third was at best unreliable.
Two of them appeared to have colluded with one another before the trial, exchanging more than 5,000 messages, the most notorious of which said, “It’s time to sink the prick (Ghomeshi)” and “The guy’s a shit show, time to flush.”
In the lovely understated language of the judge, they showed “extreme dedication to bringing down Mr. Ghomeshi.”
In March that year, Ontario Court Judge Bill Horkins acquitted him, in ringing fashion, too, but for all the heft the decision was given in the court of public opinion and the halls of social media, he might not have bothered.
The women still describe themselves — to this very day — as victims or survivors, and their supporters still call Ghomeshi a sexual predator.
As one tweeted Friday, “Stunned that the New York Review of Books would commission Jian Ghomeshi for a cover story. Ghomeshi faced trial for 4 counts of sexual assault and 20+ women come forward w/accounts of abuse, forcing a reckoning w/in Canadian music and media bc EVERYONE KNEW HE WAS A CREEP.”
Ghomeshi acknowledges that, yes, he was.
In a section of his piece that I for one found tedious, he describes in good “doctrinaire activist” form how he “began to use my liberal gender studies education as a shield against checking my own behaviour. I was ostensibly so schooled in how sexism works that I would arrogantly give myself a free pass.”
He admits he was tone-deaf. He admits he feels “deep remorse about how I treated some people in my life.” He admits he was “emotionally thoughtless.” He admits he leveraged his status and power with women. “There are all sorts of old-fashioned words to describe men like this: player, creep, cad, Lothario.”
But, he says, “I cannot confess to accusations that are inaccurate.”
I believe in second chances, even third chances, probably because I’m so flawed. In my private life, I have supported people who were charged, even convicted, of serious crimes.
But Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted of crimes. He is not guilty. How on earth can he not be allowed redemption, or even to have a voice? Good for The New York Review.
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