Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dangerous Precedents in the Ghomeshi Scandal.

The stories trickling out about CBC's Jian Ghomeshi's alleged pattern of abuse toward women are  deeply disturbing. They paint a picture of a troubled sexual scavenger whose actions involving a teddy bear appear objectively, demented. For many Canadians, it is as though a favourite cousin or uncle has been accused of living a secret life as a predator. The role of the CBC is as a kind of cultural glue for our increasingly diverse and disparate national identity, and these stories are casting a pall over the narrative of a national family.

As more women come out of the woodwork to accuse him, it makes defending him as an individual impossible. But while this issue is unfolding, it must be witnessed and recognized that Canada's press institutions have so far handled the matter reprehensibly - and the consequences of their actions (not Ghomeshi's) may be the source of lasting harm to the country.

Christie Blatchford pointed out in a recent column that if a woman makes a formal complaint to police about sexual assault, a publication ban on their identity is almost guaranteed. Even for women who did not know this detail (or men, I didn't) a lawyer would certainly have advised them of this.

Even when we may be sympathetic to the women about the legal system's treatment of plaintiffs in sexual assault cases, it is a fact that the women who allege abuse by Ghomeshi have recourse to civil remedies.

It is critical to observe that not one of the increasing number of them had chosen to do so, and to note this for a very specific reason.

Instead of choosing to exercise their legal rights, some of them resorted to a whisper campaign that ultimately led to the firing of Ghomeshi. Even if the whispers are true, and Ghomeshi is as awful as they say - the CBC, the Star and to a lesser extent the national dailies in their infinite cant, have set the ugly precedent of legitimizing the tactic of addressing grievances through a whisper campaign. 

When we hold up legitimate plaintiffs as powerless victims so that the public may engage in its own hysterical catharsis, we engage in the most despicable form of mob justice. When we reward people with fame for abandoning civil recourse and instead, donning the tear soaked kerchief of victimhood, we empower and give voice to the cynical political opportunists who leverage the crisis for their own (authoritarian) agendas.

We also squelch debate, because victimhood is not an individual interest or a rational position. It is an internal, personalized identity of which criticism is forbidden - under penalty of public shaming, threats, shunning, and general defamation.

By publishing anonymous allegations, knowing full well that there were alternatives available to the plaintiffs, what the CBC and the Star have done is provide formal recognition and legitimacy to the utterly toxic and practically illegal (via defamation, libel, etc) practice of destroying someones reputation through malicious, unfalsifiable gossip. That it has been aimed at someone who looks like they may be guilty of some pretty awful stuff does not make it ok. In fact, it makes it all the more disturbing because the helpless victimhood narrative becomes a post-hoc justification for some pretty loathsome scheming. 

I do not dispute that the women coming forward now with allegations against Ghomeshi have sincere accusations, and are entitled to recourse within the law. What I disagree with is how the Toronto Star and the CBC have discredited themselves as public interest vehicles. By printing anonymous allegations, they have lent undue credibility to a vicious bullying tactic, and unleashed the golem of moral panic and public hysteria.

One does not have to defend Ghomeshi to feel utterly sickened by the wailing vanity parade of victimhood that Canada's press institutions have orchestrated, and to have legitimate fear for the future of a country whose guardians of truth have so completely debased themselves.