Notes on Ghomeshi

Colby Cosh on what happened when Jian Ghomeshi ran out of options
Workers scrape a wall which had a publicity photo of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi in the broadcasting corporation’s Toronto offices on Monday October 27, 2014. The CBC announced its decision to cut ties to the popular broadcaster Sunday because of "information" it received about him. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Workers scrape a wall which had a publicity photo of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi in the broadcasting corporation's Toronto offices on Monday October 27, 2014. (Chris Young, The Canadian Press)
Workers scrape a wall which had a publicity photo of former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi in the broadcasting corporation’s Toronto offices on Monday October 27, 2014. (Chris Young, The Canadian Press)

Hey, guys: is “person loses good media job for potentially unfair reason” really the news story of the century? Where exactly have you all been living for the past 10 years?

One reason the Jian Ghomeshi story was particularly jarring was that Ghomeshi was fired by the unionized, market-proof CBC—a nearly unprecedented event. But, in a weird way, this goes to show how the cocoon mentality of CBC talent, which expects to remain in harness for life in spite of anything shy of orphanage arson, has settled upon even explicit opponents of the Corp. They see Ghomeshi as having been “destroyed” because he might have had to go find another job, possibly one in the icky world of private broadcasting.

Even those of us who’ve had two dozen colleagues lose their living for no better reason than “You were hired last,” or “Tough break being born in the wrong year” are somehow willing to accept this premise. It’s a bit of a mystery. Although I grant that commercial broadcasting does look to me like a low-to-medium level of Hell, even without comparing it to the cushy CBC.

The idea propounded by Ghomeshi and his lawyers that a person cannot be fired for information he brings to his employers first is certainly laughable. Think about how this would work out for you if you tried it yourself: “You guys know I’m usually super high when I do the corrosion tests on the heat exchanger, right? Ha ha, now you can’t sack me.” This principle goes double if the employee in question is asking for laborious, expensive help in defending his reputation against accusations relating to his private conduct—although we of course learned within hours that Ghomeshi’s problems lay partly within the workplace.

Related reading: Sex, lies and the CBC

Ghomeshi admits—it is a point he emphasized on Sunday—that none of the people he had problems with had complained to the CBC. His negotiations with the Corp’s human-relations department happened at his own behest; he wanted help heading off a wave of Internet “mud” that, at the time, existed in his own imagination. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to many people that making lots of work for HR can get you fired, particularly as an on-air personality for a broadcasting company, in itself; that whether you are fired for a publicity problem, as a broadcaster, depends partly on your general replaceability and your value to the company; that Ghomeshi’s accusers didn’t have any contact with the CBC; and that it is perfectly legitimate for them not to come forward with their names while they collaborate with an investigation intended to find out, primarily, whether other women had had the same sort of experience with Ghomeshi that they did.

They obviously did not have any intention of subjecting him to some sort of court martial, and neither, apparently, did the Corp, until he decided to insist on one. Ghomeshi was offered a chance to walk away, go across the street, and find a comfortable cage in a drive-time Morning Zoo. Some people were initially impressed that he refused to do this and went on Facebook to burn the world’s entire supply of bridges instead. It sort of looked like integrity, if you squinted. But it now appears that the correct interpretation, one which should have been entertained from the start, is that Ghomeshi was rapidly running out of options, even unthinkable ones, within his trade.

Related reading: Why it’s harder to believe the worst of a host

A lot of people expressed admiration for the help Ghomeshi apparently received from a public relations firm in preparing his pre-emptive Facebook statement. Oh, what artisans! They “got out in front of the story”! I daresay some of those people now realize they ought to have demurred from applauding a transparent attempt to (a) play a sexual identity card in the face of accusations of disrespectful behaviour and assault; (b) create a conspiracy theory in which one Ghomeshi enemy somehow managed to rub brain-fogging perfume on a limitless number of other disgruntled women (who then appeared on cue); and (c) cultivate mock outrage about chatter concerning the lives of celebrities, as a person whose career was built entirely on chattering with celebrities about their lives. As a bonus, Ghomeshi then immediately (d) launched a hopeless-looking lawsuit which, by some strange coincidence, seemed most carefully designed not to win money or achieve justice, but to signal extreme litigiousness to non-parties.

I’m willing to believe that Ghomeshi’s publicists were doing their best within the limits of the instructions from their client. Probably they have made the job of rehabilitation harder for the next set of publicists. But you had better believe there will be a next set, along with religious, moral, or psychological experts willing to testify that Jian has sought help, done some super serious introspection, and really changed deep down in his heart. I wonder if we will remember the contrived attempt to play the crucified Jesus of kinksters: the “I’ve done nothing wrong” and the “I have nothing to hide” and the “truth will conquer all.”