But the real issue here wasn’t merely Buruma’s decision to publish the essay—a theoretically forgivable editorial mistake. In defending himself, Buruma revealed that he was out of touch, almost uninformed, on a major subject of our time—things an editor cannot afford to be.
Disconcertingly, Buruma believed the Review was doing something intellectually interesting in publishing the Ghomeshi essay, a misjudgment of epic proportions. Talking with Slate, Buruma referred to his “interest” in the story multiple times as a justification for it, asserting that it offered an “angle” we hadn’t heard. At the same time, he demonstrated a lack of interest in the finer points of Ghomeshi’s case.
In the editing process, Buruma let the former broadcaster get away with misleading statements. For example, Ghomeshi claims in his essay that “several” women made allegations against him. In fact, more than 20 did, and the counts included choking, biting, slapping, and more. Ghomeshi also notes that he was acquitted—but not that he offered a public apology as part of the terms of one case that was settled.
Jian Ghomeshi’s legal saga ends
Accuracy aside, the piece Buruma found so “interesting” is, actually, unbearably trite. As a literary personal essay, it is a failure, written in abstract and bland language, drowning under the weight of vague therapeutic bromides, like “This period has also been a tremendous education,” and “Self-involvement will make you deaf to important things you should be hearing. Humility comes with perspective—and listening is a big part of it.”
As a piece attempting to “inject nuance” into the more complex consequences of the #MeToo movement, it is also a failure. To justify such an approach, Ghomeshi would have to provide insight into the compulsions that led him to behave violently, or try answer to what he sees as his central question:
“If the opinion of others is how you define yourself, what happens when all of the outside props of status—the ratings, the followers, the social media likes—are torn away overnight? Who are you?”
Theoretically I suppose this is, as Buruma contends, an “interesting” question, an angle we haven’t heard. But Ghomeshi doesn’t know who he is, and so he can’t answer the question. Instead, he perpetuates a new kind of post-shame bragging, in the form of self-abnegation, as he waxes on and on about how wrong he was, while complaining about “inaccurate stories” and the women who initially supported him and then “backed away, too scared or conflicted or shocked at the headlines to take a public stand”; the friends who “simply have not spoken to me since”; and the fact that in the public pillorying “There were few limits to how far some would go,” including sending racist hate mail.
The piece is what another editor might have called a hot mess.