A PR disaster
It explored the intersections of interesting and emerging cultural trends. Like why a star has to lose his job because of what he does in his private life. Like what are the limits of consent in sexual relationships. Like when pandering to your friends on Facebook can help you and when it can be absolutely disastrous.
As someone who charmed us with his quick intelligence on radio, Gomeshi (so far at least) seems to be the clueless author of his own downfall in real life. Imagine if he had said nothing at all. That's what the CBC, at least initially, offered to do for him. He could take an indefinite leave from the show he helped create, for reasons unexplained. Just go to the sidelines for a while and let us all think, who knows, he must be dealing with the recent death of his beloved father.
Instead -- and it can only be hubris -- he chose to go on the offence. In a remarkable 1,600-word Facebook exercise in TMI, Gomeshi tried to paint himself as a victim of a vindictive "jilted ex-girlfriend," gave details of his preference for BDSM sex and claimed it was always consensual, attacked his employer for prudishness and cowardice, and said he was launching a $55 million lawsuit for defamation and breach of trust.
Initially, it seemed to work. His fans sent messages of support -- including one, remarkably, from Green party leader Elizabeth May, who quickly had to backtrack when the other side of the story -- involving the physical abuse of women -- emerged. And that emerged because of Gomeshi's decision to go public.
The Toronto Star, which had spent months investigating four women's complaints about his sexual violence, was holding its story in abeyance because, editor Michael Cooke explained, there was no proof. It's not clear if it would ever have published it. But that changed when Gomeshi went public with his side of the case. Said Cooke in an editor's note accompanying yesterday's story: "In view of Mr. Ghomeshi’s extraordinary statement on Facebook on Sunday evening, and his high public profile in Canada, we now believe it is in the public interest to detail those allegations, which appear to have led directly to his sudden firing from the CBC."
Now we had evidence that four women claimed to have suffered non-consensual abuse. Suddenly the supportive messages on Gomeshi's Facebook page included ones like this: "Jian I think you're lying." And this: "Sexual abuse is a terrible thing,I will wait for more concrete evidence before making a decision ,but not much respect left for Jian."
So why did he decide to argue his case in the open court of Facebook? One answer may be Navigator. Gomeshi hired the high-stakes, high-priced reputation management company which specializes in helping public figures under attack. One of its tactics is to use social media to get out in front of the story. If Navigator approved or helped craft Gomeshi's Facebook piece, it made a colossal mistake. It flushed out the Star story and led to a furious and very open debate about Gomeshi's character, the good, the bad and the ugly. At the end of Monday, his public image was considerably worse than when the day began.
If Gomeshi did it on his own, Navigator should cut him loose as a hopeless client who went rogue.
We can all lament the demise of a charismatic radio interviewer who defined our popular culture in incisive ways. But we will not learn any lessons in damage control from Jian Gomeshi or Navigator. This is a textbook example of how not to do it.