The Media Today

How not to tackle the attempted returns of disgraced men

September 20, 2018

That some of the men accused of harassment and abuse would eventually return to the public eye was never in doubt. Months ago, Katie J.M. Baker acknowledged in The New York Times that attempted comebacks were inevitable, and asked, “What do we do with these men?” The past week has provided examples of what not to do with them, and that includes handing over control of the pages of respected publications to their attempts at rehabilitation.

The decision to publish an essay by disgraced Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi in the New York Review of Books appears to have cost the magazine’s editor, Ian Buruma, his job. Facing intense criticism for putting Ghomeshi’s “Reflections from a hashtag” on NYRB’s cover, Buruma said in Slate that the man’s past—which included allegations of sexual abuse and harassment by more than 20 women—wasn’t his “concern.” On Wednesday, Buruma left his position, though it is unclear whether he resigned, was asked to resign, or was fired.

NYRB wasn’t alone in getting pushback to such a piece. In its October 11 issue, Harper’s will carry an essay by former public radio host John Hockenberry, who was alleged to have carried out a pattern of sexual harassment in the workplace. The magazine’s publisher, Rick MacArthur, suggested in an interview with the CBC that his staff was supportive of the decision to publish the piece, but recently departed managing editor Hasan Altaf pushed back against that claim, telling HuffPost, “No one in editorial was in support of the Hockenberry article.”

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The men who feel they have been unfairly treated following accusations of harassment or abuse are entitled to their perspective, but nothing demands that editors turn over the pages of their publications to these figures. It has been less than a year since The New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story, opening the floodgates through which hundreds of women have spoken up about their treatment by powerful men. The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino summarized the message that is conveyed when publications decide to highlight the words of those accused: “Women have had their ‘moment,’ their unprecedented time in the spotlight of cultural favor,” she writes. “The gravitational pull of male power is exerting itself, turning our attention back to the place where it has been trained to linger: the hero’s journey of men.”

CJR’s Nausicaa Renner noted the difference in form that allows men accused of harassment or assault to pontificate in personal essays, while women who make allegations are quoted in rigorously reported third-person articles. “The confession, when made by men showing a sensitive side, is a literary device to display a newly whole, unified character who is stronger thanks to introspection. Women, however, have the reverse experience: to ensure that their accounts are bulletproof, they are quoted, rather than given space to describe their experience in their own words,” Renner writes. “Their abuse is not entitled to be literary, only their abusers.

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Writing on the plays for public sympathy by Hockenberry and Ghomeshi, The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple argues that, “first-person pieces, it turns out, often require more editing, more supervision than conventionally reported pieces,” Wemple writes. “Don’t hand over your publication’s keys to your essayist. That’s what Medium is for.”

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Below, more on the reaction to the attempted returns of fallen men.

  • On the comebacks: Responding to Hockenberry’s essay, and the slow reemergence of other #MeToo men, The New York Times’s Michelle Goldberg writes, “I feel sorry for a lot of these men, but I don’t think they feel sorry for women, or think about women’s experience much at all. And maybe that’s why the discussion about #MeToo and forgiveness never seems to go anywhere, because men aren’t proposing paths for restitution. They’re asking why women won’t give them absolution.”
  • Buruma’s defense: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner gives a masterclass in aggressive questioning in his interview with Buruma that ran shortly after Ghomeshi’s piece was published.
  • A failure of leadership: “What Buruma and the NYRB leadership failed to grasp was that men like Ghomeshi aren’t entitled to a nicely packaged redemption arc,” wrote The Washington Post’s Mili Mitra.


Other notable stories:

  • For Esquire, Ioan Grillo tells the story of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez’s “vibrant life and tragic death.” Valdez, who was killed in May 2017, spent years reporting on cartels. “His favored subjects were the unseen faces of the cartel wars: the members of brass bands who played ballads to men in crocodile-skin boots and women with diamond-studded fingernails; children on dirt roads who dreamed of being hit men; crying mothers whose sons had been murdered,” Grillo writes.
  • Billionaire owners of the new Gilded Age may seem like saviors to struggling publications they purchase, writes The New York Times’s David Gelles, “but there are also fresh concerns, some based on recent experience, that these individuals are assuming an unhealthy amount of influence.
  • For CJR, D. Victoria Baranetsky, the general counsel at The Center for Investigative Reporting, writes about a question data journalists find themselves regularly asking: “Will I go to prison for violating the terms of service?” She writes that Silicon Valley companies have failed to create exceptions for journalists who use data scraped from social networks to do their reporting, and that it’s time for lawmakers to get involved.
  • BuzzFeed News is cutting back on its podcast ambitions, reports The Wall Street Journal’s Ben Mullin. The company is cutting its in-house podcast production team and shutting down several of its podcasts as it focuses on video expansion, Mullin writes.
  • Sean Hannity will interview President Trump Thursday evening in Las Vegas, where Trump is holding a rally.
  • The New York Times’s Jon Caramanica laments the “death” of the celebrity profile, and argues that “what’s replaced it isn’t satisfying: either outright silence, or more often, unidirectional narratives offered through social media. Monologue, not dialogue. It threatens to upend the role of the celebrity press.”

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Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.