The New York Review of Books' controversial "The Fall Of Men" issue has led to the fall of at least one man: editor Ian Buruma, who was widely criticized for publishing and then defending an essay written by disgraced Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi, has left his position at the magazine.
The decision about Buruma, a longtime contributor to the magazine who became editor just after Labor Day last year following the death of longtime editor Robert Silvers (who founded the NYRB in 1963 with Barbara Epstein), came this morning amidst a flurry of meetings at the magazine. It's unclear whether Buruma decided to resign or was fired.
The piece that seems to have been the lynchpin for Buruma's exit was Ghomeshi's first-person essay titled "Reflections From A Hashtag." Ghomeshi was a popular Canadian radio host who was accused of sexual misconduct, including punching, biting, slapping and choking, by more than 20 women. He was acquitted of multiple sexual assault charges in 2016; he also avoided criminal charges in a separate trial by signing a “peace bond” and apologizing to his victim.
In the piece, which is already online and appears as the cover story in the magazine’s Oct. 11th edition, Ghomeshi complained that he had endured "enough humiliation for a lifetime," and was "constantly competing with a villainous version of myself online." NYRB was immediately criticized for publishing the piece, which as the NY Times summarized, allowed Ghomeshi to take on "a self-pitying tone, and soft pedaling of the accusations against him, which included slapping and choking, and had ultimately been brought by more than 20 women, rather than 'several' as Mr. Ghomeshi wrote."
Questions about the genesis and purpose of the piece were posed to Buruma in an interview by Slate writer Isaac Chotiner. He strongly defended the piece even as he revealed a shocking lack of knowledge about the criticisms and Ghomeshi's alleged crimes.
"The reason I was interested in publishing it is precisely to help people think this sort of thing through. I am not talking about people who broke the law. I am not talking about rapists. I am talking about people who behaved badly sexually, abusing their power in one way or another, and then the question is how should that be sanctioned," Buruma told Slate. "What is much murkier is when people are not found to have broken the law but have misbehaved in other ways nonetheless. How do you deal with such cases? Should that last forever?"
Then there was this:
There are numerous allegations of sexual assault against Ghomeshi, including punching women in the head. That seems pretty far on the spectrum of bad behavior.
I’m no judge of the rights and wrongs of every allegation. How can I be? All I know is that in a court of law he was acquitted, and there is no proof he committed a crime. The exact nature of his behavior—how much consent was involved—I have no idea, nor is it really my concern. My concern is what happens to somebody who has not been found guilty in any criminal sense but who perhaps deserves social opprobrium, but how long should that last, what form it should take, etc.
I am not going to defend his behavior, and I don’t know if what all these women are saying is true. Perhaps it is. Perhaps it isn’t. My interest in running this piece, as I said, is the point of view of somebody who has been pilloried in public opinion and what somebody like that feels about it. It was not run as a piece to exonerate him or to somehow mitigate the nature of his behavior.
You say it’s not your “concern,” but it is your concern. If you knew the allegations were true, I assume you would not have run the piece.
Well, it depends what the allegations are. What you were saying just now was rather vague.
Punching women against their will.
Those are the allegations, but as we both know, sexual behavior is a many-faceted business. Take something like biting. Biting can be an aggressive or even criminal act. It can also be construed differently in different circumstances. I am not a judge of exactly what he did. All I know is that he was acquitted and he is now subject to public opprobrium and is a sort of persona non grata in consequence. The interest in the article for me is what it feels like in that position and what we should think about.
— Julia Carrie Wong (@juliacarriew) September 14, 2018
It's astounding how profoundly Ian Buruma (& some other men) think "anything short of being convicted of rape in a criminal proceeding" is shrug-worthy. That's the only thing that "counts," everything else is a grey area & doesn't matter much--or at all. I hear this a lot. STILL. https://t.co/Rg7c2jxc6h
— Mo Ryan (@moryan) September 14, 2018
Wanna know how male abusers get their comebacks? By having sexist male editors feel bad for them! @ian_buruma characterizes Ghomeshi's behavior - accusations of sexual assault & punching - as "being a jerk", among other gems
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) September 14, 2018
If, as Ian Buruma insists, the Ghomeshi case amounts to “sexual behavior is a many-faceted business,” why didn’t he run companion essays by the women who were punched, choked, or assaulted? Why is his intellectual curiosity confined to Ghomeshi?
— Laila Lalami (@LailaLalami) September 14, 2018
In the wake of this, there were several critical essays about the piece and interview, bemoaning the attempted redemption essays from the likes of Ghomeshi and John Hockenberry, and the gatekeepers like Buruma who were welcoming them.
In an interview with the NY Times last year after taking over as editor, Buruma described the previous regime at NYRB as a monarchy, "and I think perhaps it will be a slightly more democratic operation [now]. Certainly I think I’ll be more collaborative. One great strength of The Review at the moment is that it has a number of very, very bright young editors who know more about certain things than I do."
Hey, now he can write his OWN lengthy meditation on being a victim of the purge! https://t.co/lzYbfwZ5Ib
— Rebecca Traister (@rtraister) September 19, 2018
So does this work like Highlander and now @IChotiner is the editor of the NYRB
— Michael Roston (@michaelroston) September 19, 2018
Who should be in charge of the New York Review of Books now? Jenny Slate. pic.twitter.com/y0eCybIKiv
— Slade (@Slade) September 19, 2018