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Fallout Continues For CBC In Wake Of Ghomeshi Sex Assault Scandal


There have been sharp questions recently about how the media covers violence against women in high-profile cases - think about Ray Rice, for instance, or the allegations against Bill Cosby. Many say when a celebrity is involved, journalists often fail to adequately investigate those accusations. In Canada, the CBC faces upheaval over a sexual assault scandal involving one of its own stars. As NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: The CBC has become front-page news in recent months, an institution forced to cover itself repeatedly, as in this documentary on the accusations against former host Jian Ghomeshi.


UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: On October 23, CBC bosses were called to his lawyer's office and shown disturbing images from his private life.

FOLKENFLIK: The CBC fired Ghomeshi, who now faces accusations of beating women he had dated and criminal charges too. Those reports have shaken many Canadians. Chrystia Freeland is a member of the Canadian Parliament. She spoke with NPR just off the floor of the House of Commons.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: The CBC is really an essential voice and link in Canada.

FOLKENFLIK: Freeland was previously a news executive at Reuters and a columnist for The Washington Post.

FREELAND: It's our national broadcaster. It's supported financially by the government and it's not an exaggeration to say that the CBC is one of the institutions that holds Canada together.

FOLKENFLIK: Despite budget cuts and loss of advertising revenues at the CBC, Freeland says the network still helps bind English-speaking and French-speaking cultures. She says radio is even more important than television.

FREELAND: That is what has been in the background of Canadian kitchens, in Canadian trucks, in Canadian tractors, for a long, long time.

FOLKENFLIK: Given Ghomeshi's prominence, Freeland says this scandal may prove a tipping point on sexual violence against women. Jian Ghomeshi came to fame in Canada with a popular boy band in the 1990s. With the program "Q," he reached a new generation of listeners for the CBC with a mix of pop culture and politics. He was irreverent, but not coarse, something like a younger and more overtly hip Terry Gross. It was carried on 150 American radio stations, too. Kathryn Borel was among the first to join Ghomeshi's team in 2007 as a young producer. By the time she first met him, as Borel puts it, she had heard of his reputation as a ladies man.

KATHRYN BOREL: I remember it being quite hot and so he had asked me out for coffee and I remember taking my blazer off and him making an offhanded comment about the tightness of my tank top, and it seemed a little bit out of place but...

FOLKENFLIK: But Borel says she dismissed it. It was, after all, her first full-time job at the CBC. As time went on, Ghomeshi overshared in late-night calls about a breakup and then, Borel says, began sexually harassing her - massaging her shoulders, grinding against her. Once, she says, after she yawned at a meeting, Ghomeshi declared in the most vulgar way that he wanted to have sex with Borel hatefully. Borel says a colleague told her that was just the host's playful way.

BOREL: Like, that did not feel friendly. It felt mean and it felt spiteful and it felt a little dangerous and so I immediately started doubting the validity of the feeling that I had in my body, which was a bad one.

FOLKENFLIK: Borel tells NPR nothing ensued from her complaints to the CBC. Instead, she says, she was told to figure out how to make the workplace less toxic.

BOREL: I had gained about 25 pounds. I was drinking a lot. I was missing days of work. I was, you know, lying in bed to just eat plates of spaghetti and cry - your run-of-the-mill depressive behavior.

FOLKENFLIK: Borel left the country. She's now a screenwriter in southern California. Two former colleagues at "Q" - Mark Whiteway and Roberto Veri - back up her accounts in separate interviews with NPR. Borel says the CBC's inaction on her harassment mirrored its paralysis in dealing with even more serious accusations against its celebrity host. For much of 2014, reporters for The Toronto Star had pressed the CBC about allegations Ghomeshi had physically mistreated the women he met socially. In October, Ghomeshi sought to defend himself to executives by showing them pictures from his smart phone. He initially denied The Star's reports and has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges, but Ghomeshi is currently not commenting to NPR or anyone else. This CBC radio chief Chris Boyce from that documentary about the pictures he saw on that smart phone.


CHRIS BOYCE: To be very clear, we saw evidence that he had caused physical injury to a woman. This was very different than the story he had told us up until that point, you know, being interested in rough sex or, you know, sex that was not vanilla, as he referred to it.

FOLKENFLIK: The CBC then fired Ghomeshi, but critics say the network did not act soon enough and failed to acknowledge what it had learned until The Star published its exposes.

JEFFREY DVORKIN: The management culture at the CBC is in chaos.

FOLKENFLIK: Jeffrey Dvorkin is a former chief news executive for CBC radio.

DVORKIN: They deny that they knew what - that it was going on, yet as the revelations start to unroll, it seems clear that management did know something about what was going on and tried to cover it up.

FOLKENFLIK: A CBC spokesman says the network is deferring all comment until the completion of an external investigation of how it treated Ghomeshi. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Folkenflik was described by Geraldo Rivera of Fox News as "a really weak-kneed, backstabbing, sweaty-palmed reporter." Others have been kinder. The Columbia Journalism Review, for example, once gave him a "laurel" for reporting that immediately led the U.S. military to institute safety measures for journalists in Baghdad.
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