The only way to burn an apology tour is from the beginning.
The Jian Ghomeshi saga is over, both publicly and legally, with today’s news that he and accuser Kathryn Borel agreed to a peace bond after he sexually assaulted her while they both worked at Q.
This is hardly the end of Ghomeshi, who now, exonerated and only ambiguously chastised, can begin begging the public for redemption. Our memories are short, and in three, maybe five years, we’ll be able to forget what he did. Because he’s trying. He’s seeing a therapist. He’s lost everything. He’s so sorry. Please let him work again.
In court, Ghomeshi read a statement apologizing to Borel, saying he realizes his mistakes, saying he won’t do it again. But like all apology tours, it only works if we let his words — hollow and half-baked — go unchecked. It needs, at the very least, a translation.
“I want to apologize to Ms. Borel for my behavior towards her in the workplace.”
The best tool of a perpetrator of sexual assault or sexual harassment is vagueness. Talking about the details of what you did or had done to you is so murky, so sticky-feeling, that no one really wants to talk specifics. (The specifics here being that Ghomeshi grabbed Kathryn Borel by the hips and smashed his pelvis into her, simulating sex, at their workplace, because he is a sexually aggressive toddler who the CBC was seemingly incapable of saying no to.)
The wording here is so precise in its utter lack of precision — frankly, the whole statement is — it’s nearly impossible to know what happened. The only reason Borel specifically is getting an apology is because it is in Ghomeshi’s interest to do so, to say he’s sorry, get the slap on the wrist, and never deal with it directly again. The other three women who went to court, nevermind all the women with allegations that couldn’t or didn’t go to trial, get nothing. Ghomeshi only acknowledges what he absolutely has to, when his hand is forced.
“In the last 18 months, I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on this incident and the difficulties I caused Ms. Borel, and I have had to come to terms with my own deep regret and embarrassment.”
Ghomeshi slips here, revealing that he’s only been thinking about this for “the last 18 months,” the timeline of when the allegations were first made public. He didn’t think about his actions when he was in the middle of performing them, he didn’t consider the signs that women give off when they don’t want to be touched or spoken to, he didn’t ask if he was making anyone feel uncomfortable or unsafe. He is and was the paragon of privilege. He was freer than most women ever get to be, no matter where they are.
And thank Satan that Ghomeshi has come to terms with his “deep regret” and “embarrassment” over the things he did, for years, with the tacit approval of one of the country’s largest media organizations. It remains unclear if the handful of women who have accused him of assault and harassment, in and out of court, are getting any time to come to terms with his actions.
“I enjoyed a position of privilege in my job at the CBC as the host of a program I loved. I was a person in a position of authority and leadership, and I did not show the respect that I should have to Ms. Borel.”
Jian Ghomeshi has a very nice therapist who will make him read first year undergrad texts on gender and power constructs.
“I did not always lead by example and I failed to understand and truly appreciate the impact of my conduct on Ms. Borel's work environment. That conduct in the workplace was sexually inappropriate. I realize that there is no way for me to know the full impact on her personally and professionally.”
It is quite easy to know how it affected Borel — or anyone — personally or professionally. She wrote an entire article about it for The Guardian more than a year ago. Carla Ciccone wrote about the backlash she faced personally and professionally when she first wrote about Ghomeshi three years ago without even using his name.
For years, women have talked about the way men abuse their power, take their privilege for granted, and one only has to go on the internet, ANY INTERNET, to read about it. It’s a search Ghomeshi was never willing to do.
This isn’t the contrite apology of someone who’s realizing the path of destruction left in his wake; this is a half-assed admission of wrongdoing by someone who’s only upset he got caught. This is a dog with his ears flopped over, refusing to walk into the room because he knows he was caught peeing on the carpet.
“I now recognize that I crossed boundaries inappropriately.”
How did he “now” realize, exactly? How many months did the trial prep need to go on until he realized that he did something wrong? How many women had to come forward? How deep into the cache of his past actions did he have to go before he could connect with the unspeakably abusive behavior he demonstrated at his office? Did he realize it when Reva Seth first wrote about what he did to her, nearly two years ago? Did his mother and his sister have to tell him what he did? Did his friends have to fall away, the women in his life slowly sliding off because they could no longer trust him? Did he have to watch the legal counsel that he paid his life’s worth to retain attack the women he used to date or otherwise liked, trying to out them and trap them in confused details or forgotten correspondence?
When you finally have to admit you’re a predator, that you take the bodies of others for granted, that you think your pleasure and satisfaction and power is paramount to everyone else’s safety — is this the point at which you recognize that you crossed a boundary?
“A workplace should not have any sexualized tone.”
He is nearly 50 years old and just figured this out.
“I failed to understand how my words and actions would put a coworker who was younger than me, and in a junior position to mine, in an uncomfortable place. I did not appreciate the damage that I caused, and I recognize that no workplace friendship or creative environment excuses this sort of behavior, especially when there is a power imbalance as there was with Ms. Borel.”
Though Borel was a producer on Q and Ghomeshi was the on-air talent, a power-imbalance like theirs is one that doesn’t naturally occur. Ghomeshi created the imbalance by harassing and assaulting Borel, and by being inappropriate with the rest of his staff.
The world is built on uneven footing, sure, but Ghomeshi used it to his advantage, and it had little to do with Borel’s position or her age and everything to do with her gender. Your boss is your boss, but your boss also dictates how that power structure plays out. Ghomeshi exploited it to feel tall. There’s a reason why the bulk of the allegations around Ghomeshi’s behavior in the workplace — aggressive, condescending, sexually explicit — comes predominantly from women.
“This incident was thoughtless and I was insensitive to her perspective and how demeaning my conduct was towards her. I understand this now. This is a challenging business to be in and I did not need to make it more difficult for Ms. Borel. The past 18 months have been an education for me. I have reflected deeply and have been working hard to address the attitudes that led me, at the time, to think that this was acceptable.”
Journalism is a challenging business, but beyond that, it’s a business that consistently demonstrates it’s comfortable with permitting abuse from powerful, successful, well-liked men. Plenty of industries are like this, but for journalism in particular, the hierarchy is built for telling the young, the underrepresented, the underpaid that they have to struggle to pay their dues, to slowly climb up the ladder. Abuse is required reading.
This is a large-scale case, one so loud that no one could ignore it. But these issues permeate the business on every level: Interns who are harassed at work parties, mid-level employees with sexually explicit bosses, female managers who have their own harassing male EICs to contend with.
Journalism breeds predators because journalists tell ourselves and each other that the job is hard and you have to deal with it to win. We tell women that it’s a male-dominated industry, that there’s only room for a few, so don’t fuss or else they’ll find someone else who will do the job without complaint. It’s a system we built to be flawed, and thus, it’s not surprising when someone like Ghomeshi can take advantage of it for years.
Ghomeshi says he has been reflecting on the attitudes that made him think his behavior was acceptable, but for most of us — plenty of men included — there’s no need to get an “education” on how you can touch women. We all seem to know, but Ghomeshi needs his life to burn down before he can figure it out. The CBC, meanwhile, needed their star to present graphic images of an abused woman before they were willing to get rid of him.
“I apologize to my family for letting them down, and in particular for the impact that all of this has had on my dear mother and sister. I apologize for the burden my actions have places on those dear friends who have stood by me throughout this difficult time. I regret my behavior at work with all of my heart and I hope that I can find forgiveness from those for whom my actions took such a toll.”
The trials are over now and Ghomeshi can start the process of rebuilding, of asking for forgiveness from the public if not his accusers. His deal for his second book with Penguin Canada was cancelled after the allegations came out. But another thirsty editor will give him just enough pages to atone publicly, to write about his journey, the death of his father and the timing of the allegations, how he has rebuilt himself to be a better man. This will be his fourth act, the one that comes after Moxy Fruvous and after Play and after Q: Jian Ghomeshi, the reintegrated, rehabilitated Improved Man of Canadian media.
Mike Tyson did it after he was convicted of rape, and now he’s a funny punchline in movies or bad television shows where celebrities lip sync for no reason. In his best case scenario, Woody Allen married his adopted daughter, morphed her into whatever he wanted in a partner, and only his family seems capable of calling him out for being a monster. He has a new movie premiering at Cannes.
Borel accepted the peace bond rather than go to court because, “A trial would have maintained his lie.” The courts are proven to be an ineffective way for women to deal with their abusers, and Ghomeshi's best friend in the public will be complacency. The very least the we can do, then, is to hold him accountable, refuse to add to his coffers, and to poison whatever is left of him, clawing his way back into our periphery.