Don’t tell the women

So now there’s the Ghomeshi-Buruma backlash, because of course there is. I’ve been expecting it.

Some of the biggest names in English letters, including Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan, Lorrie Morre and Colm Tóibín, have released a joint letter in which they express dismay at what they call the “forced resignation” of the editor of the New York Review of Books under a #MeToo stormcloud.

Ian Buruma stepped down from the editorship of America’s most prestigious literary magazine earlier this month in the wake of his decision to publish a highly controversial article by former broadcaster and alleged sex attacker Jian Ghomeshi. The 3,400-word essay, in which Ghomeshi played down allegations of sexual violence brought against him by 20 women as “inaccurate” under the headline Reflections from a Hashtag, kicked up a storm on social media.

You know…I wonder what would have happened if Ghomeshi had been accused of assault by multiple men? Not “sex play” gone a little overboard but just plain assault. Would Ian Buruma have thought a self-absorbed whine by the accused a good idea then?

The signatories to the joint letter said they found it “very troubling that the public reaction to a single article – repellent though some of us may have found this article – should have been the occasion for Ian Buruma’s forced resignation”.

“Repellent” is meaningless. “Repellent” conceals rather than explaining. It’s not “repellent.” It ignores a large number of women who were beaten up to focus on a self-centered piece by the man who beat them up. It’s about treating men as people and women as things.

The correspondents continued: “Given the principles of open intellectual debate on which the NYRB was founded, his dismissal in these circumstances strikes us as an abandonment of the central mission of the review, which is the free exploration of ideas.”

Like “ideas” about how it’s ok for men to assault women? Those ideas?

But wait, it gets better (worse – much worse).

The letter injects an ethical tension between #MeToo’s push against largely male sexual misconduct and the sometimes conflicting impetus towards freedom of expression right into the heart of the literary world. It also pits many of the NYRB’s most celebrated writers against the magazine’s own publisher, Rea Hederman.

On Monday, Hederman released an official account of the events leading up to Buruma’s dramatic departure. By contrast to the views expressed by the joint letter-writers, and by Buruma himself who has depicted himself as a victim of social media bullying, Hederman said Buruma’s exit had nothing to do with the “Twitter mob”.

It had everything to do, he said, with mistakes and misjudgments made by Buruma.

In a statement circulated to 300 NYRB contributors, Hederman said that Buruma had cast longstanding editorial practice aside and excluded all the magazine’s female staff from the process that led to Ghomeshi’s article being published. The draft of the article was shown to only one male editor on the staff, while six female editors – including four long-term staff members who had worked with Buruma’s predecessors, Bob Silvers and Barbara Epstein – were effectively shunned.


Hederman went on to reject claims by Buruma that the staff rallied behind the decision to publish the article. The statement said that in fact many editors “felt his comment that the staff came together after initial objections to the Ghomeshi piece did not accurately reflect their views.”

I disputed that at the time. Buruma himself simply talked nonsense about it – he said there were disagreements about publishing but also there was consensus. I pointed out that was incoherent; I had no idea he’d fixed it by excluding all the women. Fucking hell.

The contributors who signed the joint letter may not have even known that.

It is not clear whether the signatories to the joint letter, who also include Anne Applebaum, Alfred Brendel, Ariel Dorfman, Alan Hollinghurst, Michael Ignatieff, Caryl Phillips and James Wolcott, had had the chance to read Hederman’s account before expressing their collective outrage.

In his statement, Hederman was also critical of the way that Buruma had handled the editing and packaging of the Ghomeshi piece. In particular, the point of view of the 20 women who have come forward to tell stories of abuse against the former broadcaster should have been reflected.

How about Ian Buruma, Jian Ghomeshi, John Hockenberry, and Brett Kavanaugh all go off to a tiny island somewhere to talk it over for the rest of their lives. I’d add Bill Cosby but he’s just been sentenced to 3 to 10 years in prison.

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