Literature, Media, Politics

#MeToo Casualty Ian Buruma Was the Editor We Needed

In September 2014, I flew to Toronto to record a series of podcast interviews with a few of the city’s cultural figures, mostly writers, all of whom I’d reached out to either because I already admired their work or because they came to my attention through trusted recommendations. The sole exception was also the one interview that fell through: with Jian Ghomeshi, host of Q, the CBC’s most popular radio show. Although I’d only heard a few of his broadcasts, Ghomeshi seemed too famous, and too closely identified with the city that would give these conversations their unifying theme, to ignore. But the arrangements proved unusually complicated, and a week before my flight one of Ghomeshi’s enthusiastic-sounding team—I remember e-mailing with an Ashley, a Debra, and a Cait—informed me that, “Unfortunately, we aren’t able to fit this in his schedule this trip, but please don’t hesitate to let us know if another opportunity presents itself in the future.”

No opportunity to interview Ghomeshi, at least the Ghomeshi Q listeners knew, would ever present itself again. While in Toronto, I mentioned my attempt to a friend who has spent much of his life in close proximity to the Canadian entertainment industry. “Oh, Jian,” he said, shaking his head, his tone a mixture of disappointment and resignation. From his subsequent elaboration I gathered that Ghomeshi was well known for his boorish behavior, especially toward women, during both his career as a broadcaster and his time as a musician before that. Though I’d never heard any rumors to that effect before, it didn’t exactly surprise me: something about the apparent pains he took to be seen publicly projecting just the right sensitive, tolerant attitudes—his ‘virtue signaling,’ as such behavior was not yet widely labeled—struck me as unseemly, in the same way that the loudest and longest moralizing on the part of a certain kind of American politician always seems to precede the revelation of his utter depravity.

The CBC suddenly fired Ghomeshi just a few weeks later, and the following month he turned himself in to the Toronto police, facing four counts of sexual assault and one of the even nastier-sounding “overcoming resistance by choking.” In Canada, this all became Trial of the Century material. But in the rest of the world, where most people first learned of Ghomeshi when he fell from grace, only spared its attention for the charges (three more of which, related to three more women, came in January 2015) and the verdict. Along with his decision to acquit Ghomeshi completely, Justice William Horkins also delivered a damning assessment of the credibility of the women who took the stand against him. “The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable behavior, but was tainted by outright deception,” said Horkins. “The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth.”

“My acquittal left my accusers and many observers profoundly unhappy,” writes Ghomeshi in the October 11 issue of The New York Review of Books, his first public statement on the matter in the four years since his firing. “There was a sentiment among them that, regardless of any legal exoneration, I was almost certainly a world-class prick, probably a sexual bully, and that I needed to be held to account beyond simply losing my career and reputation.” Ghomeshi’s essay, entitled “Reflections from a Hashtag,” was published as one of three pieces on the issue’s theme, “The Fall of Men.” In it he describes the “contemporary mass shaming” he continues to receive years after what has come to look like a Pyrrhic victory in court. “One of my female friends quips that I should get some kind of public recognition as a #MeToo pioneer,” he writes. “There are lots of guys more hated than me now. But I was the guy everyone hated first.”

I found out about Ghomeshi’s essay, which had begun circulating on the internet well before its appearance on the Review‘s front page, when I saw Ian Buruma’s name trending on Twitter. Naturally I feared he had died, a common reason for a sudden spike in tweeting about public figures of a lower profile than Donald Trump or Kim Kardashian, and certainly of the profile of a respected writer on the history and politics of Europe and Asia. And even if he hadn’t, this being the #MeToo era, I wondered if he had suffered that modern variety of professional death caused by an accusation of some kind of personal misconduct. When that happened to Jian Ghomeshi, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., or any of the other fallen men in whose work I had no particular investment, I could look the other way. When it happened to Charlie Rose, ending at a stroke his long-form television conversations that inspired me to launch my own interviewing career, I couldn’t help but take notice. If it were to happen to someone like Buruma, with whose writing I’ve professionally engaged for more than a decade now, I would have to recalibrate the distance I’ve kept from these issues.

My first contact with Buruma came in 2009, when I interviewed him on the public-radio interview show I hosted at the time. I invited him on after having read his work for some years, and I’ve continued to keep up with it, and occasionally reference it in my own writing, ever since. This past summer I reviewed A Tokyo Romance, Buruma’s memoir of his years living in Japan in the 1970s, in the Times Literary Supplement. He had succeeded the late Robert Silvers as editor of the Review the previous year, and his fans, I wrote, would watch with great fascination to see how he adapts to his role at the top of American letters. Telling the story, in his own tribute to Silvers, of how an offhand pitch for an essay on modern Japanese literature in the early 1980s led to his long professional association with the Review, Buruma wrote that his “life as a writer owes everything to Bob’s editorship,” and it seemed he would more or less carry on the legacy of his superhumanly dedicated predecessor, who had edited the magazine since its foundation in 1963.

The trending Buruma, as it turned out, was still alive and free of the taint of sexual impropriety. What got him trending was his decision to publish Ghomeshi’s essay, or rather his justification for doing so as presented in an interview with Slate. “I was interested in the subject,” Buruma said, of “what it was like to be, as it were, at the top of the world, doing more or less what you like, being a jerk in many ways, and then finding your life ruined and being a public villain and pilloried. This seemed like a story that was worth hearing—not necessarily as a defense of what he may have done.” It also points to an increasingly important truth of our times: “Nobody has quite figured out what should happen in cases like his, where you have been legally acquitted but you are still judged as undesirable in public opinion, and how far that should go, how long that should last, and whether people should make a comeback or can make a comeback at all—there are no hard and fast rules. That’s an issue we should be thinking about.”

It’s also an issue that few who responded to the interview have shown any interest in considering. Instead, they have preferred to hold Buruma’s statements on Ghomeshi’s behavior up for ridicule. To name the most frequently sneered-at example: “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.” Worse, Buruma had the effrontery to describe sexual behavior as “a many-faceted business.” The least responsible of the respondents have seized the chance to dig up one of his Guardian pieces from 2002 and willfully misread it as a defense of child pornography; others have questioned Buruma’s competence as an editor, signing off as he did on Ghomeshi’s use of the word ‘several’ to describe how many people have accused him of sexual misconduct, instead of specifying that there were at least twenty.

At the core of these various objections lies the idea that, by publishing Ghomeshi’s essay, the Review deviated from a tacit agreement. That agreement holds that, because the court of law had failed to punish Ghomeshi—still perceived in many quarters as a little better than a violent serial rapist who slipped justice on a technicality—it falls to the court of public opinion to deliver his punishment instead. The Review, an influential publication widely regarded as property of the American Left, was expected to comply by, if not actively attacking the men targeted by the #MeToo movement, then at least refusing to run anything speaking in their favor, and certainly not providing them a ‘platform’ from which they might speak for themselves. In publishing Ghomeshi it effectively went rogue, which in retrospect must have been what those who last year expressed reservations about Buruma’s relative lack of editing experience (not that anyone alive could have touched Silvers in that department) were worried about.

Someone like Buruma might not understand how much more a verdict in the court of Twitter counts than a verdict in a court of law. He might not understand how obsessively he needs to track and follow the impulses of the moment (or, as a tweet by the New Yorker‘s Jia Tolentino put it, not to keep a “pathological distance from the texture of the world”). He might not understand how much deference he needs to show to the power of certain social-media movements. He might not understand how much contrition he needs to show when the public, actual readers of the Review just as well as those who have never laid eyes on a page of it, takes exception to his editorial decisions. He might not understand how wrong it looks simply to be a highly educated straight white man over 60—let alone one who has written extensively on cultures not his own (his own being that of the Anglophone Dutchman), a potentially objectionable act in and of itself—in a position to decide who gets published and who doesn’t.

Perhaps these qualities made the brevity of Buruma’s tenure atop the Review inevitable. He resigned less than a week after he began trending, but if the Ghomeshi contretemps hadn’t unseated him, another issue eventually would have done so. Yet these same qualities also made him just the editor a publication needs in our internet-addled times. Upon his appointment, Buruma described the Review under Silvers as “a monarchy” and speculated that he would make it “a slightly more democratic operation.” He should not have discarded the crown. I’m not the only reader left longing for an editor who displays a lordly disregard for public opinion, readerly opinion, even my own opinion—a longing, in other words, for a gatekeeper, a word rendered dirty in recent years. In current usage it seems to mean something along the lines of an illegitimately privileged individual who denies the less privileged a voice, just as ‘nuance’ has come to mean the deliberate obfuscation of supposedly obvious moral truths.

In an age that has reduced so many editors to leaves in the wind of ideological fads and political fashions, Buruma showed the potential to do the job from almost as Olympian a perspective as Silvers, despite the very different path by which he arrived there. “Japan was the making of me,” Buruma writes in A Tokyo Romance, describing how his experience living there led to his first professional writing gig, which led to his first book deal, which led to a career first writing about Japan and ultimately about a much larger set of themes: culture, religion, identity, conflict, and civilization itself. But something of the Japanese sensibility, and the imperviousness it grants to the sociopolitical squabbles of the West, has stayed with him to this day. As Roland Kelts recently wrote in the TLS, “The sex and race-driven identity politics currently animating and, to my mind, diminishing the literature and cultural products of the West are either muted or non-existent in Japan, where postmodern aesthetics are the outer skin of a modernist backbone,” where creators still think seriously about “personal not political identities, and questions of the soul.”

Whatever else in Buruma’s background qualifies him to edit an internationally minded (and, in its way, modernist) magazine like the Review, the fact remains that he has produced a body of some of the clearest, most incisive writing and thinking on East and West of the past century, one that rivals the work of any intellectual alive. He is my better, probably your better, and certainly the better of those who have most loudly hailed his resignation, yet the pile-on has driven even otherwise intelligent commentators to childish insults. Around the same time as the Review posted “Reflections from a Hashtag,” Harper’s posted a thematically similar essay entitled “Exile” by John Hockenberry, another public radio host brought low by #MeToo. On an episode of his podcast Canadaland (entitled “Nice Work, Twitter Mob!”), media critic Jesse Brown discusses and finds wanting the explanation for running it offered by Harper’s publisher Rick MacArthur, going on to include Buruma’s remarks on Ghomeshi’s piece. “He also sounded so stupid,” Brown says. “Like, these are supposed to be the smartest guys.” Then, from co-host Anne Kingston: “All of this conversation has exposed the fact that these august publications are being run by out-of-touch, kind of creepy guys.”

In a way, Brown is right: Buruma did do something foolish—not so much running Ghomeshi’s essay or  defending its publication, but submitting to the interview that sealed his fate in the first place. That the editor of the New York Review of Books would consider himself answerable to Slate‘s inquisitor beggars belief. The utter impossibility of imagining Silvers doing the same makes it look almost like an affront to the dignity of the office. But, having resigned, Buruma has at least shown a highly admirable unwillingness to issue yet another example of that increasingly frequent, abject, and emblematic form of our times, the public apology. He did, however, remark on the irony of the situation in a brief interview with the Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland soon after the controversy erupted: “I published a theme issue about #MeToo-offenders who had not been convicted in a court of law but by social media. And now I myself am publicly pilloried.” Even so, he added, “I still stand behind my decision to publish.”

Buruma stepped down, he said, because of the fears of the Review and its publisher: “They are afraid of the reactions on the campuses, where this is an inflammatory topic. Because of this, I feel forced to resign—in fact it is a capitulation to social media and university presses.” That they felt such pressure despite the paucity of evidence of an imminent university-press advertising boycott (driven, presumably, by the sensitivities of the students before whom the universities prostrate themselves) reveals a startling frailty on the part of the Review, a publication known in recent years for its comparatively rude financial health, especially by the standards of the America’s sickly herd of general-interest magazines. If #MeToo is the spectacle of a long-overdue reckoning for men in power, it’s just as much the spectacle of the drawn-out demise of the traditional media, the most threatened members of which now lash out at anything that might prolong their lives a moment longer. Their mortal peril drives them back, repeatedly and ever more desperately, to the old basely reliable subjects: sex, crime, and above all sex crime.

To my mind, the sheer sordidness of Ghomeshi’s trial and the stories surrounding it would have made for sufficient arguments against running “Reflections from a Hashtag.” Yet, according to the piece’s harshest critics, it wasn’t sordid enough: Ghomeshi had an obligation, they argue, to go into detail about the specific brutalities he was accused of perpetrating. In an ideal world, there would be no reason for the details of an individual’s sexual behavior to enter the public sphere at all, let alone a court of law. But we hardly live in an ideal world. “Now that newspapers have abandoned euphemism to describe what these people did in what they believed was private, their sexual proclivities, flooded by light, have become obscene,” Rochelle Gurstein observed in the Baffler last summer. “The latter has especially been the case with the #MeToo movement: any reader of the latest, minutely detailed article about sexual harassment that the New York Times specializes in quickly finds that he or she has been turned into a voyeur. It is no wonder, then, that the world we inhabit together feels ever more ugly, coarse, and trivial.”

But ugliness, coarseness, and triviality are no objects to many in the younger generation of writers and editors—my generation of writers and editors—replacing Buruma’s generation, bringing down the average age of media professionals by the day. Professionally forged in online environments that demand thousands of words per week on any subject that can draw a click’s worth of attention, no matter how inconsequential, they’ve hardly needed to develop a sense of the distinction between theme of the age and flash in the pan. They’ve grown up—in the West in general and America in particular—with the conception of an educated person as someone possessed, not of a particular body of knowledge, but an approved suite of opinions. An unquestioned belief in moral progress—summed up with near-parodic completeness by the self-justifying phrase “the right side of history”—licenses the view of anyone born earlier than themselves as to that extent barbaric by definition. All this has put a premium on a new variety of journalistic shamelessness, evidenced by the acclaim recently lavished on the figures most enthusiastically prepared to wade into the muck, including some roundly disdained in their profession just a few years ago.

“Ian Buruma has proved to be an outstanding editor—as accomplished in this role as he was as a writer for the Review,” declared a letter to the editors, signed by 110 of the magazine’s contributors, and published on Tuesday. “Under his guidance the NYRB has maintained the highest intellectual standards, extended its range, and expanded its body of contributors.” Calling it “very troubling” that the negative public reaction to a single article should occasion his departure, the text concludes that, “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.” The signatories include Anne Applebaum, Ian McEwan, Joyce Carl Oates, Colm Tóibín, Janet Malcolm, Michael Ignatieff, and George Soros, accomplished figures all—and all over 50, a fair few even over 80, the generations now blithely told told to “step aside” by twentysomethings, filled with indignation and unconcerned for, if not actively hostile to, the free exploration of ideas, as well as the grown-ups who humiliate themselves seeking their favor.

“The idea of civilization that Bob personified is now under siege,” Buruma wrote in his remembrance of Silvers, and how right he now looks. Even the very word, ‘civilization,’ gives off to no small proportion of the generation born after about 1970 the stench of imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and any number of other weaponized abstractions. But Buruma’s books, which I can only hope he will continue to write, demonstrate that he truly understands civilization, its nature, its value, and its fragility, an asset that far outweighs the incongruous naivety apparent in trying to initiate a conversation on personal responsibility and redemption with a self-serving essay by a disgraced CBC host. “We have lost him just when he was most needed,” Buruma wrote of Silvers, but the Review has also lost Buruma when he was most needed. All of our serious publications, at least the ones that have managed to stay above the undifferentiated 21st-century fray of righteousness and panic, need editors like him. This media environment, as a few minutes’ scrolling through Twitter, Facebook, and now even major publications reveals, will not produce them.


Colin Marshall hosted the public radio show and podcast The Marketplace of Ideas and Notebook on Cities and Culture. Now based in Seoul, he’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles. You can follow him on Twitter @colinmarshall


    • bodydrawings says

      Can you imagine the New Republic publishing this article now?

      • I don’t really follow TNR. But I think most of the mainstream media, at least here in the US, have kind of lost their moral compass on the broader issue. To paraphrase a Jeffrey Tayler article here on Quillette, there’s no way the same elements of the political left would remain silent if Red State Republicans (I’m in the US) had the same social and religious convictions that shocking numbers of Muslims do. I’m not an ideologue, but I’m kind of saddened that in the West it seems that conservatives generally see this issue with moral clarity, whereas fewer liberals do.

  1. From the article: “Buruma stepped down, he said, because of the fears of the Review and its publisher: ‘They are afraid of the reactions on the campuses, where this is an inflammatory topic.’ “ 

    Hold on a second, pal. Did you just say that the august New York Review of Books is afraid of a bunch of helicopter-parented, safe-spaced, micro-aggressed, and hair-triggered children who can’t form a single sentence without mouthing some banal, empirically-unsupported, and SJW-approved catch phrase or bumper sticker bromide like “diversity is strength” or “rape culture” or “white privilege”?

    Hell. Handbasket. We’re going to.

  2. E. Olson says

    I thought the leftists who are behind the “me too” movement were also against capital punishment and generally for reduced jail time, but it seems that any male accused of “improper” behavior towards females and found guilty by the court of Social Media is to have their career, earnings, and professional reputation terminated without possibility of redemption or forgiveness, and without any consideration that he might actually be totally innocent of the “improper” behavior – because women never lie. Yet even worse is the increasing frequency and severity of punishment for anyone attempting to commute this career death sentence by daring to give voice to the possibility of innocence or mitigating circumstances.

  3. donald j tongle says

    Strange how little leftists like Burma seem to understand about leftism, and what pitiable fools they reveal themselves to be when they obediently line themselves up again the wall.

    I guess in their mind he also serves who only is “forced to resign.”

  4. I did read elsewhere that there was pressure from advertisers.

    As a decades-long subscriber it’s my impression that many of the Review ads are by university presses which might account for the alleged concern with “campus” reactions.

    • That was in Claire’s -From the editor-, indeed, that’s what was explained by him in the Dutch journal -Vrij Nederland-!

    • Jack B Nimble says

      @James Graham

      This twitter thread by J. Heer is a must-read, because he floats another theory on Buruma [a staff revolt, not an advertiser boycott]:

      Look, Buruma took over from the founding editor at NYRB, a nearly-impossible job even for someone with top-notch editing skills and experience. Sadly, Buruma wasn’t up to the job. But we shouldn’t think that an accomplished writer would automatically be a good editor, just as we don’t think that a skilled violin maker is automatically a good violinist.

  5. Still waiting for some of these people to grow a pair, look the perpetually offended straight in the eye and reply ‘so?’ when accused of these ridiculous ‘crimes’. The backlash should be fun though…

  6. Leonard de Jong says

    This strains credulity to it`s limits. Buruma, as intelligent and accomplished as he is, did not insist that Ghomeshi submit to a formal interview by an assigned writer or reporter. As such he was seduced by the low hanging fruit offered by Ghomeshi`s notoriety and did his readers a disservice by printing an article that in no way demonstrates any editorial oversight. The mobs and the Me Too Movement are an embarrassment to reason, sanity and due process, but for Buruma to complain that various external and internal pressures and realities forced his departure evades his own failure as an editor. Did he feel pressure? Of course. Pretty hard to fend off calls for his head when he served it up to to them on a platter. Much to my dismay, the Quillette seems as willing to misdirect as the SJWs and leftists are.

    • Martin28 says

      If it had kept to the accepted social justice narrative no one would have complained. Plus, if it had been a formal interview, the assigned writer would have had to stick to the social justice narrative, or that person would have had their own character assassinated along with Buruma. So this was not about editorial failures. It was about the zealotry of the mob and The New York Times siding with the mob, every time.

  7. Innominata says

    “the right side of history”


    Speaking as a left-handed person (we are only 10% of the population, a tiny minority), I find this phrase extremely troubling and offensive. It otherizes me and denies the authenticity of my lived experience.

    The author should not be giving a platform to such hateful and exclusionary language, even if the phrase was coined by someone else. Such structural violence has no place in an ambidextrous world.

    The tyranny of rightness is everywhere. Salutes. Handwriting. Golf clubs. Door knobs. Handshakes. My leftness is denied every day and erased from right-handed spaces.

    Righties don’t even think about their privilege, that the whole world is set up for them to succeed while we with the WRONG handedness struggle to use a goddamn pair of scissors and end up with bruises on our thumb crotch.

    The handism of our language is by far the worse:

    “A left-handed compliment”
    “I’d give my left nut”
    “He has two left feet”
    “Left hand shame” *
    “What a SINISTER person” **
    And the pervasive characterization of people who cannot think about political matters without falling into over-emotional hysteria and gagging those they disagree with as being “on the Left.”

    The stereotype of the left-handed person as clumsy, disposable, inherently evil, cursed, and animalistic love machines who are way better in bed than others just because of their handedness*** must be seen for the structural oppression it is and rooted out.


    *the act of pleasuring yourself with your left hand to get variety.
    **That’s OUR word. You may refer to it as the “S” word. Or better yet, don’t refer to it at all. Just shut up and listen to lefty voices for a change.
    ***Google it.

    • chowderhead says

      Right handed people for left hand shame! I’m all over that shit…

    • @ Innominata

      Thank-you so much. I learned a lot from what you just wrote. Especially that part about lefties being “animalistic love machines who are way better in bed than others.” That must be so awful for you.

      • Innominata says

        The objectification never stops. We are not meat! We have feelings! Several of them!

        Women leer at me and bite their lips every time I pick up a pen in public. Gross men wearing gold chains approach me when I’m playing tennis and ask if I’ve ever considered doing “lefty porn.”

        And then supposedly reputable publications perpetuate the stereotype:

    • Martin28 says

      @ Innominata

      As a right-handed person I never thought about this before, but by God, you are RIGHT. Er, sorry …

      • TarsTarkas says

        There’s something sinister about this whole thread . . .

    • Bernard Hill says

      ….me too ! This is just so, so, so, true, about the lived experience of scissors discrimination!

    • RadixLecti says

      I only use my left hand to brush my teeth and use a computer mouse. I realise now that I am privileged while I’m writing or throwing a ball, but oppressed during the above two activities.

      Your comment fails to take into account the intersectional nature of my handed existence. Please resign.

      • BillyJoe says

        Exactly right…um…correct. I put my left eye to the camera, and my left ear to the telephone, but I write with my right hand and kick with my right foot. And, if I get the chance, I’m going to kick my right foot into his left testicle for disregarding my intersectionality.

    • @Innominata
      Seriously, I love your comments. I read through these threads and often agree with most and some make me want to grind my teeth but yours is the comedic relief!!

  8. Ian Buruma lost his job based on the same qualities by which he won it.

    That is, a judgement rendered by the gatekeepers of opinion, which once measured him and declared him acceptable, measured him again and found he wasn’t.

    What, after all, are the job requirements for an editor? Is there some test like a civil service exam? The requirements are to know the right theories, shake the right hands, and be intuitively in step with the latest intellectual fashion and trends.

    Colin Marshal yearns for a brave editor who defies popular opinion, but doesn’t seem to consider the possibility that we have them- they just decided against Colin’s desired outcome.

    • Peter from Oz says

      As much as I detest SJWs and all the lefty twatters, I have to say that I agree with you. The NYRB is a left wing publication. it therefore has to please its left wing readers. Printing an article by Ghomeshi was bound to displease those readers, because it rubbed their noses in the fact that they are complete and utter arseholes who really need to be shunned by society.
      When you lift the veil and show the modern left for what it is, you will suffer the full might of their anger. This will be even more ferocious if you are one of them.
      SInistra delenda est

  9. Circuses and Bread says

    @kevin herman

    Ideological purges are as much a part of politics as corruption is. See the early history of the communist party in the Soviet Union or the McCarthy era if you want some famous examples. It seems that whenever some faction gets enough political power in a society, they feel the need to silence any potential opposition. Just part of how politics works.

    I hope you’re not seriously suggesting some sort of political “solution” to this. What are people going to do? Sign a petition? Write strongly worded letters to politicians? We’d accomplish more by lining up in front of a brick wall and beating our heads against it.

    If we really do care about freedom of speech expression, we’ll find ways to preserve it outside of organized politics.

    • I gotta hand it to you, Circus — you are remarkably consistent (and persistent) in the application of that central thesis of yours. You should call your movement something like Populist Apoliticalism or Social Apatheticism. You know, something that’s got a higher and classier tone than A New Radical Indifference.

  10. Circuses and Bread says

    I don’t understand why there is angst over this. The editor in question was presumably an at-will employee who dissatisfied his employer and was let go. As was his employer’s right.

    Perhaps this was some sort of ideological purge. For the sake of discussion, let’s say that it was. How is that new or unusual within political circles? Purges are the natural state of affairs within politics. Someone is always looking to put one over against the other guy, or trying to silence opposing viewpoints. That’s just politics doing what it has always done.

    • TarsTarkas says

      It isn’t politics. It’s about free speech. When the only things that can be spoken, written, or published are those things the mob finds acceptable, or that hew to the narrative, or that uncover some dastardly plot to exonerate the accused, then free speech is dead. To survive you will have to self-censor yourself and as a result reduce your conversation to slogans, doublespeak, techtalk, and meaningless phrases. And even then the SJW’s will continue to search tirelessly for potential future wrongspeech in what you say. The Who wrote a very good song about that kind of world.

    • Conan the Agrarian says

      “I don’t understand why there is angst over this”

      I don’t pretend to know for sure, but here’s a take: it’s not about Buruma. Mobs of poorly informed and emotional people can now act out in unpredictable ways online, and it’s freaking many folks out.

      I don’t think many realized when social media came along that it was going to allow for the hysterical to join a lynching from their smartphone at home on the couch. That wasn’t the sell.

      Psychologists say there is a profile of person who gets easily caught up in mob behavior. Joining a mob in the past meant leaving your house, joining physically with others, and often showing your face. All that took effort and risk, and it wasn’t efficient. Not all the mob-prone people made it to the town square. There were checks on them.

      Now, those mob-prone people are self-selecting and really efficient. They go to Twitter, Facebook, etc., compulsively looking to get worked up. They can do it without showing their face–sometimes completely anonymously. They get the rush of really screwing somebody over, and they don’t even have to put on their shoes.

      The anonymity is not healthy. People ensconced in their cars say and do things they’d never do walking around. People on Twitter are ten times worse. The natural moderating influence of the calmer people in their milieu is stripped away.

      You probably heard about that ordinary woman in England a year or more ago who made a tasteless joke on Twitter some took as racist before boarding a flight to South Africa, and was infamous around the world (and fired by her employer) by the time she landed. I get the sense a lot of people are looking at stories like hers and the pressure that was put on Buruma’s bosses and asking, “What kind of world are we living in know?”

      I wonder myself. It’s unsettling that stupid, hysterical people are helped to communicate and coordinate so efficiently. That used to be the prerogative of the intelligent, disciplined, mature, and those selected for leadership.

      Twitter seems to be at heart a lynching and outrage platform styled as clean and cute with a little blue bird to distract from the hideousness of it’s design and effects. All the research I read says that emotional arousal skyrockets on Twitter. In sum, Twitter turns educated, reasonable adults into petulant, gibbering 5-year-olds who don’t think, just react. And one in five Americans is on it.

      • @Conan the Agrarian
        A large part of me agrees with you on the anonymity issue but then I remember the Federalists Papers were originally published under the name “Publius” as was “Common Sense by Thomas Pain. So… let’s not throw the baby out and all that.

      • Trish C says

        Mobs of emotional people have always decided who will get and keep certain high profile position, it is just that prior to recent events these mobs were composed of people with testicles. Now that primacy is threatened, mobs of emotional men are freaking out that they may actually experience consequences for their behaviour toward women. They might be deprived of their dominance. So scared.

    • You begin to move in the right direction here, Circuses.

      What Quillette “classical liberals” seem utterly unable to recognize is that this was a commercial decision, made in a capitalist environment, by managers concerned with advertising income.

      “Classical liberals” of the Quillette faction celebrate the correctness of capitalism as it reinforces the right of individuals to increase their property and thereby their power, But when it determines an outcome that “classical snowflakes” can whine about and chant “bad left bad left bad left” like sheep, they suddenly forget their “classical liberalism” and want to brand business decisions as ideological purges.

      Not all that bright, really.

      • Peter Kriens says

        @sjw51 I do not see a lot of people having a problem with the technical decision, after all Buruma quit and was not fired? Everything looks like a hammer when you got a nail?

        This is an article about how a very small group of intolerant people can through social media leverage a far outsized power. This is novel.

        However, capitalism just works fine. Look at how the IDW knows how to gather thousands of people that want to listen to long reasoned conversations without straw men, innuendo, or incivility and assuming that the other is evil instead of maybe having some knowledge you don’t have.

        Look at how the current press is struggling and how many people are dissatisfied with the incivility of the public discourse and the taboos in the conversations. In a free society I am sure this void will be filled, I think Lehmann already does that to a certain extent with Quillette. History shows that intolerants can keep the control util suddenly they can’t. Remember that the majority of the population is pretty centric.

        I am curious how a relatively small group that starts to control the public discourse by shaming and boycotting would be handed?

        • Peter Kriiens: If you seriously believe a small group of intolerant people on social media pressured Buruma into quitting then you have my sympathies.

          Otherwise you are just the perfect illustration of what I described above. When a decision is made to satisfy advertisers who are worried about perception, you are witnessing “the customer is always right” capitalism at work.

          There really is nothing more to be said. All the handwaving about free speech and intolerance is just that- handwaving by whiners who celebrate capitalism on one hand and have an ideological incentive to deny its obvious tendencies on the other.

          Quillette specializes in this “right hand not knowing what the other right hand is doing” discourse. The commercialization of higher education and its contemporary manifestation as just a particular consumer product aimed at a particular market gets lamented as PostModern Marxist Gulag Apocalypse when in fact it’s just the market having its way with universities.

          Odd really.

  11. Diana Davison (you tube), explains this well.
    As far as I know, his lawsuit against CBC is ongoing

  12. Jacqui says

    I saw nothing wrong with the publication of the Ghomeshi essay. He was, after all, acquitted. It was mildly interesting and added another layer to the story. Its sad that publications feel so much pressure to cave to the mob. No one seems to have any backbone or sense these days.

  13. Quillette fan says

    Thanks for writing this article. I rely on every issue of the New York Review of Books (along with the Times Literary Supplement) as my main intellectual nourishment. Their level of analysis, cosmopolitan sensibility, and intellectual independence keep me aware, humbled by complexity, and engaged with the life of the mind. And I’m a much better writer because I am steeped in the prose of these two journals. The loss would be stupendous if the NYRB succumbs to the stylistics and hysteria of online media. … To comment on the substance of the Ghomeshi essay, I found it a plausible “cri de coeur.” Precisely because I respect the rule of law, and I notice he was found innocent of most charges (and allowed to settle one of his charges out of court), I felt free to enter his arguments as a sympathetic reader. The essay is his attempt at rehabilitation. To reject it out of hand (and to hound the editor who published it) smacks of the same punitive and moralistic mentality that leftists criticize so roundly (and rightly) when it comes from the mouths of right-wing district attorneys and state sheriffs.

  14. ga gamba says

    What is it with these men like Buruma who have no backbone to stand up for their decisions? “I still stand behind my decision to publish.” Ah, if that’s the case then you don’t back down. Appears his father failed to teach him two of the most important words in life: “Screw you.” Better to go down with a fight; you just might sink the USS St. Lo with you. But to meekly resign and disappear? Bollocks to that.

    Anyway, left destroys left, so chalk that up as a win. Every one of these events further diminishes them.

  15. Everyone seems to have lost sight of the fact that the primary purpose of NYRB is to make a profit. No profit, no NYRB. The magazine is aimed at a niche left-wing market. Offend your market, you’ll go broke, no matter how intellectually rigorous your product. So by that yardstick, I would conclude Buruma was not a “good” editor.

  16. Personal memory of a manuscript about a travelog on the Amazon I once wrote, in the hope of a book. The head editor’s first remark, during a visit: On the first page, you already start with cynism to your potential readersh , that’s not done, we can’t accept that. I quickly skipped the sentence, but the book was never edited, nevertheless!

    • never -published-, I meant of course, and it is cynicism iso cynism.

  17. c young says

    The new victimhood culture requires that Ghomeshi and Buruma are unpersoned. They can not be allowed to own their own narratives, much less publish them.

    Why not? Because the sole basis for any moral judgement according to this new culture, is your victimhood narrative. That narrative cannot be questioned because their is no objective ground to question it from.

    Privately educated, 0.1%-er, granted every imaginable privilege? You can still gain moral supremacy by obsessing over some minor slight, Afua Hirsch-style. Publishing is victory.

    If Ghomeshi (and probably Buruma now) are allowed to publish their own narrative, they will have a claim on elevated moral status. There’s only one solution – block them from the public space forever.

    The victimhood culture must consign inconvenient victims to the memory hole.

  18. My baby loves a bunch of authors says

    If only Moxy Fruvous were alive today…..

  19. Maybe, another reason that Buruma quit his job at some lousy USA journal on books and reviews,is that he is a real full blooded Friesian (all real Friesians have their name ended with an A), not used to mobbing and nonsense and stuff. In that case, you just say: good bye!

  20. Peter Kriens says

    I did some reading up on Gomesh and was stunned that not only was he acquitted, the judge actually was extremely harsh towards the complainants (of whom 2 colluded):

    The success of this prosecution depended entirely on the Court being able to accept each complainant as a sincere, honest and accurate witness. Each complainant was revealed at trial to be lacking in these important attributes.The evidence of each complainant suffered not just from inconsistencies and questionable behaviour, but was tainted by outright deception. The harsh reality is that once a witness has been shown to be deceptive and manipulative in giving their evidence, that witness can no longer expect the Court to consider them to be a trusted source of the truth. I am forced to conclude that it is impossible for the Court to have sufficient faith in the reliability or sincerity of these complainants.

    The 4th complainant made a peace bond, which does not admit guilt, but her story looks exaggerated. Wish she had gone to court as well.

    Still twitter acts as if he is a rapist.

    • But, Peter, you can’t blame her too much, she is just doing what others around her, family, friends, involved,maybe attorneys, tell her to do or to try, It’s just a Fellini movie! Oh, oh!

  21. Rather than stain my mind with sorting out all the details offered in this article, I will save my engagement from another useless cognitive exercise, since these ostensible “issues” are just more confirmation that liberalism is corrupting, and not just of sensibility. The sexual revolution of the sixties practically ensured that children and women would suffer exploitation and abuse, that pornography would become triumphantly available for degrading consumption, and that the ideological victories of the left would be among the most immoral… the nature of the discussion in the article as well as the comments demonstrates the extent to which no one seems aware that Rome is burning…

  22. galarant says

    Let’s not forget that it was the NYRB under Buruma which published that excreble review of 12 Rules for Life entitled “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism”

    So he can rot as far as I’m concerned. This is just another satisfying example of the Left eating its own.

    • It has also to do with culture and stuff, galarant, Buruma has no history of Mc Carthyism and witchery, his origins are the Friesian rural, flat, honest, plain land, cows and grass all over, nothing else, a decent country where people trust one another, a man a man, a word a word, so different from that decadent and rotten US system, with all those attorneys, and claim culture, horrible, disgusting, he just gave up, let it go, I,m gone, see you later, alligator!!!

  23. David Walsh says

    A slogan of radical feminism is “The personal is political”. There is no private life any more and the NYT joins with glee in recounting the sexual details of those brought low by MeToo. It recalls the Thought Police of “1984”

    When the court of law fails to convict, the mob pronounces its own verdict. A Reign of Terror is loosed.

  24. Sheaffer Williams says

    They’ve grown up—in the West in general and America in particular—with the conception of an educated person as someone possessed, not of a particular body of knowledge, but an approved suite of opinions. An unquestioned belief in moral progress—summed up with near-parodic completeness by the self-justifying phrase “the right side of history”—licenses the view of anyone born earlier than themselves as to that extent barbaric by definition.

    Nailed it!

  25. I’m confused and perhaps this audience might help to clarify my problem because it just seems to me that #metoo and these allegations and such, the “believe all women” thing — isn’t this just a Leftist way of returning us to the 1940s? Back then, a white woman could accuse any old black man of rape and he was instantly judged guilty and lynched. That is what I see here. Any woman accuses any man of rape and he’s instantly lynched. And we know how well that worked out for the 1940s! Women don’t lie about sexual assault, so clearly, all those black men hanged by their necks deserved it? I just don’t see how this is not just the Left seeking to return us to that except that the women have simply not accused a black man yet. I just can’t imagine how twisted the world would be if any of the accused-without-evidence were black men and the accusers were white. It would be straight out of 1900-1960. But you know, the GOP is the racist group??!?

    • Today, in a talk program on Dutch TV, there was a proposal to not throw the accusations immediately into twitter, newspaper or TV, but let it me looked at by a third person in seclusion, and judged after some research into the matter, before to have it in the open, and stigmatise somebody for life (because, it doesn’t matter much whether you are guilty or not in such cases). Alas, that’s not how it is going to go, of course, in our Free Western World, we love the spectacular, the likes of audience and onviewers, is the West busy to annihilate itself? And who is, globally, coming out as the winner??

  26. Pingback: What is Authoritarian about Social Justice? | Chamblee54

  27. Rob G says

    Reading Reflections from a Hashtag was painful, but not as painful as the detail of Justice William B. Horkins’ 26 page decision on why he acquitted Jian Ghomeshi in the first place:

    “My conclusion that the evidence in this case raises a reasonable doubt is not the same as deciding in any positive way that these events never happened. At the end of this trial, a reasonable doubt exists because it is impossible to determine, with any acceptable degree of certainty or comfort, what is true and what is false. The standard of proof in a criminal case requires sufficient clarity in the evidence to allow a confident acceptance of the essential facts. In these proceedings the bedrock foundation of the Crown’s case is tainted and incapable of supporting any clear determination of the truth.”

    “I have no hesitation in concluding that the quality of the evidence in this case is incapable of displacing the presumption of innocence. The evidence fails to prove the allegations beyond a reasonable doubt.”

    Had Justice Horkins not been faced with what he termed at one point “an evolving set of facts” the outcome for Ghomeshi could have been considerably different.

    And Ian Buruma would not have been pressured into walking the plank.

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