It’s been seven months since the first allegations that Jian Ghomeshi is a sexually abusive creep surfaced, and six since he surrendered to police after being charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of choking. Now, one reporter who investigated him is writing a “tell-all” book, which the second reporter and Ghomeshi’s alleged victims fear could compromise their privacy.
Toronto Star investigative reporter Kevin Donovan is releasing his book in June. It’s titled Jian Ghomeshi — Secret Life, and promises to reveal new background about Ghomeshi, using interviews with women in his life as well as former colleagues. The book’s publisher is Kobo; vice president Pieter Swinkels told the Star it’s a “thought-provoking story that forces us to look again at social, cultural and gender roles.”
Sure, or it may just be a cautionary tale about not choking and non-consensually beating your sexual partners. Allegedly. But Jesse Brown, a media critic on Canadaland and the main reporter who blew open the Ghomeshi scandal, writes in the Guardian that some of Ghomeshi’s accusers are “filled with dread” over the impending publication of the book, because Donovan has refused to disclose what details he’s using about them. None of the women have chosen to be publicly identified; Brown writes that he took extraordinary care to keep their information private:
Before my articles with Donovan were published, I went over parts of them with our sources to make sure that we didn’t accidentally include identifying details. Donovan has refused to give his assurance that he’ll do the same with his upcoming book and, though Canadian courts routinely ban the publication of the names of complainants in sexual assault cases like these, such bans don’t cover the publication of the names or identifying details of any individuals whose cases didn’t result in criminal charges, and the precise definition of identifying details is determined on a case-by-case basis.
He won’t call up these women and tell them what intimate details from their lives he plans to publish to ensure those details do not inadvertently identify them. Instead, he’s assured me that he will not include any identifying details about them, and said that if any source has a concern, they should call him about it.
They have plenty of concerns, but take little comfort in his offer – which requires them to guess which details he may have used. They worry that, in guessing, that they could accidentally divulge new information that they haven’t shared with him before, and their concerns ultimately won’t be respected – a circumstance which at least one woman has already experienced during Donovan’s original reporting. And from what I learned during my time working with him, I think they are right to be worried.
Brown accuses Donovan of displaying “ambivalence” about the Ghomeshi story, as well as, he says, “a tendency that he knew better than our sources what was best for them and a troubling editorial attitude toward who would be deemed a credible enough victim.” He says that the Star and Donovan originally passed on the story, sitting on it for four months before coming back to Brown and saying they’d publish it. He blames Donovan for the phrasing that Ghomeshi’s accusers were “educated and employed,” wording that upset people who thought it indicated they wouldn’t have been believed if they were poor, jobless or less educated. (Brown says he’d wanted to use the word “credible,” but that Donovan vetoed it.)
Relations clearly soured quickly between Brown and Donovan. Brown says he “ended his partnership” with the Star and that soon after he got panicked texts from one of the victims, saying she was concerned that Donovan was planning on publishing details about her that added nothing to the story but could, she felt, substantially compromise her privacy.
In previous interviews, Brown has been polite, if not tremendously enthusiastic, about his working relationship with Donovan; in February, the Post City Toronto asked about their relationship. Brown responded, “I have tremendous respect for Kevin Donovan as a serious investigative reporter with an incredible track record. He’s a machine. And he was absolutely the right partner for that story. We have very different approaches but for whatever reason the partnership worked and the story got published.”
It seems that Brown is trying to get his misgivings about the book on the record early, and perhaps even encourage Donovan and his publishers to re-think the information they’ve used. He writes:
Kevin Donovan assures me that his book won’t expose our sources and I think he believes that. I respect his decades’ worth of work, but his view that it’s for him to decide what will and what won’t endanger vulnerable women is dangerous and wrong. There’s no way he can know better than them what small detail might expose their identities and re-victimize them; there’s no reason not to enlist their help to make sure that this doesn’t happen. If it does and they are exposed by his book, then I will be partly responsible for having asked them to trust Donovan in the first place. His publishers, Kobo and ECW press, who told me on Tuesday simply that “The manuscript doesn’t identify anyone who asked to remain anonymous”and that “We will honour the commitments Kevin has made”, will also bear blame. It’s not too late for them all to take simple, decent steps to prevent this.
Donovan hasn’t publicly addressed Brown’s concerns.
Update, 3 p.m.: Jezebel contacted Donovan for comment. He writes:
Thanks for reaching out. I believe I have a very good reputation built up over 30 years related to sources. I have been protecting sources on important stories for a long time. I would never publish information that would identify any source, in an article or a book.
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