Strike first, strike fast and strike the heart.
This seems to be the tactic taken by the Ghomeshi PR team regarding allegations of abuse against the former Q host.
I have been watching this situation unfold since the get-go and anticipated the wild path this story has taken. From the moment I saw the CBC bulletin show up on my Twitter feed I knew we were in for a wild ride; Ghomeshi’s public statement on his Facebook page created a solid groundwork and the court of public opinion took off running.
See, this scandal meets the trifecta: a loveable public figure, wild allegations and sex; moreover, a largely taboo sexual practice.
After my knee-jerk reaction of “how could they fire him for something that has yet to be proven?” I started to think about everything I had read; not just the statement by Ghomeshi but all of the articles that had popped up near-simultaneously on the internet. I reread a few of the articles wondering what was pulling at the back of my mind, making me want to investigate further – then it hit me – The recurring mention of a public relations firm.
After taking a cursory look into the company (Navigator), I found out that their specialty is crisis management and “image recovery.” The to following text was taken from their website:
Issues Management, Crisis Response and Reputation Recovery
Corporations and individuals sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion. We quickly pull together the right team to manage issues before they escalate into major crises. But when disaster strikes, our clients depend on our custom-built communications plans to minimize reputational damage. We formulate crisp messaging, handle media inquiries and provide media training. Once the crisis has passed, we develop strategies to quickly rebuild and recover.
Activation and Persuasion Campaigns
We help clients deliver on stakeholders’ expectations through participatory, transparent campaigns that track shifting opinion, drive engagement and change behaviour. A variety of qualitative and quantitative research approaches support the development of appropriate hypotheses and nuanced strategies to create a critical mass of public support.
These guys are good. They have helped former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney (re: the Airbus Affair) and former TTC commissioner Adam Giambrone (re: 2010 sex scandal). It is heavily speculated that they helped navigate Maple Leaf through the Listeriosis outbreak of 2008. they have been contracted by Bell Media, Rogers and Labatt just to name a few. They work hard and they get results.
I revisited the 1,500+ word statement by Ghomeshi and realized what I was actually reading – I was reading a carefully crafted, painstakingly precise work of art made to victimize the man, demonize the women, create context and take advantage of lack-of knowledge.
I am not saying that what Ghomeshi wrote was true or false. What I am saying is that he put his story in the hands of professional spin doctors and watched the world shake their fists in rage at the CBC while patting him on the back and telling him it would be alright.
First, Ghomeshi got ahead of the media curve by presenting the “facts.” The intent was simple: make sure everyone hears your side of the truth before anyone else can get a word in edgewise. People are likely to believe what they hear first, especially when it comes from the accused and deals with facts that most people would try to keep very private. I believe that’s why Ghomeshi went into as much detail as he did regarding his personal kink. He crafted the statement to make it sound as if a jilted ex was out for revenge instead of anything he may have done wrong.
This idea leads into my second point; the demonization of the women implicated in this scandal. There has been a lot of talk in the media over the past few years about rape culture and victim blaming (for more information visit slutwalktoronto.com). There are hundreds of reasons that women choose not to press charges but that does not mean their allegations are any less true. Ghomeshi has already proven through his $55 million lawsuit that he is more than willing to use the legal system to his advantage. This further intimidates these women into anonymity, making it harder for us to side with them. On one side of the fence we have a friendly and recognizable face and on the other we have seven masks (plus one courageous actress) screaming assault. Who are you more likely to believe? By keeping these women hiding in the shadows Ghomeshi is helping to further the idea that these women are just trying to ruin him. People like to believe that others will automatically press charges if something illegal happened – no charges equals no real wrongdoing in many facets of the pubic eye.
Context is also a huge thing. He made his kink relatable by pulling in pop culture references, calling it “Fifty Shades of Grey light.” Many people bought and read (and enjoyed) that book and by using this analogy he was able to use the story to his advantage. The message in this statement was, very simply, “You liked the book, right? You didn’t think it was bad what Mr. Grey was doing? I am doing less than that, so clearly I can’t be that bad!” And we bought it, hook, line and sinker. He created a scenario in which we might find these things alright or even a bit titillating. He played on our own sexual curiousity.
That leads me into my final observation – the blatant play on the general populous’s lack of knowledge regarding BDSM practices. Many people will take what he says on face value as they have no context (minus Fifty Shades) regarding this sexual kink. Most wouldn’t do any research past the end of Ghomeshi’s statement and would not understand that what these women are alleging goes well beyond anything that would be considered light BDSM and into some practices that are considered highly dangerous and improper by people in the scene (ex. the alleged aggressive choking and hard face hitting). If you are interested in reading some more about BDSM in regards to this case, I suggest PhD student Andrea Zanin’s post, Poor Persecuted Pervert (NSFW!!!). Ghomeshi is relying on the fact that we will be uncomfortable enough with the taboo issue that we will not look further than his post.
I don’t know whether Ghomeshi is innocent or guilty. I don’t know what is fact and what is fiction. I don’t know if we will ever find out the truth.
I do know that his strike fast and hide tactic (since his statement Ghomeshi has kept complete social media silence) was carefully planned, plotted and executed to gain mass support before the other side had a chance to speak. We were duped by a bit of PR genius designed to keep the speculations flying and allow Ghomeshi to slip out of sight until the dust starts to settle.