Having a stressful day? Easy relief: switch on NPR.
Listening to the familiar voices of Garrison Keillor or Terry Gross or Ira Glass is comforting, even ritualistic. Radio is made up of disembodied voices, free from the faults that come with being human.
This is Jian Ghomeshi, one of those radio hosts.
He hosts–excuse me, used to host, as of two days ago–a radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Q. I discovered it when I was apartment-hunting around Kansas City in the summer of 2013. It was a hot summer, and my car didn’t have air conditioning. My comfort during hours of driving and sweating was listening to Q on NPR.
But Ghomeshi’s voice isn’t one of those disembodied comforts any more.
The CBC fired Ghomeshi this week, after some incriminating “information” was brought to their attention.
Ghomeshi didn’t leave quietly. He’s suing the CBC for $50 million for breach of contract and bad faith. To boot, just a few hours ago, he published an open letter on his Facebook page. Here are some bits and pieces from it:
I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer. …
We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator.
Bold move, getting his story out before CBC could release the findings of its own investigation. According to him, all the freaky bedroom stuff was consensual. According to his “jilted ex-girlfriend,” apparently, it was not. According to Ghomeshi, he was fired due to his private life. According to a whole lot of people, he’s a creep.
I’m not writing about this to gossip. I’m writing because of the implications of this situation. The crux of the story–do we believe Jian Ghomeshi?
If he’s not lying and the CBC fired him for the potential scandal that could grow from his private sex life, that’s obviously problematic. Ghomeshi is a journalist, and it’s a horrible phenomenon when journalists become the story. It’s a scary thought, that my professional life could be damaged by rumors and reputation. Reporter Gary Webb allegedly took his own life after this happened to him.
But what if the ex is not lying?
False accusations of sexual harassment and rape do exist. The percentage of rape accusations that are untrue is an incredibly difficult statistic to pin down, with estimates ranging from 2 percent (largely debunked) to 41 percent (thanks to men’s rights activists, so not a trustworthy number either).
And what about all the women who do endure sexual harassment who don’t speak up? They often choose not to, because their remarks will immediately be written off as false by the accused. They’re labeled as “attention-seeking whores,” demonized, having to relive that moment of violation every time they are verbally attacked. No wonder they don’t want to come out with their stories. Because of the gendered power relations of our culture, people are more inclined to doubt the accuser and believe the possible rapist.
Ghomeshi has already received hundreds of comments of support on his Facebook page. When the ex’s name is revealed, I guarantee you, she’ll receive hundreds of comments of the opposite sort. Hate, definitely. Threats, maybe.
So, I implore you. If you’re going to be skeptical of the ex-girlfriend, be skeptical of Ghomeshi too. He knows a lot about narration and molding stories to fit his frame. He is a journalist, after all.
UPDATE: The Toronto Star is reporting that it conducted extensive interviews with three women who claimed that Ghomeshi was sexually violent with them without their consent. He allegedly hit them and choked them. Another woman, one who worked at the CBC, said that Ghomeshi groped her buttocks and said that he wanted to “hate fuck” her.
None of these women were willing to give their names. They don’t want to be the object of threats and ridicule. In journalism school, we’re taught to never go with sources who speak off the record. It hurts credibility. But I believe protecting sources who are victims is even more important.
Talk about an ethics moment. This is tough.
UPDATE, Oct. 29: Eight women. Eight.