Only a week ago, the story broke thanks to Jesse Brown's relentless pursuit of rumours and insinuations. We owe him our thanks.
But it occurred to me and many others who continue to follow this slow-motion, relentless car wreck, that the outpouring of sadness and anger is misplaced. It's not just about Ghomeshi and his appalling (and unacknowledged - by him) practices. It's about how Canadians have suddenly realized that the national treasure known as CBC Radio hasn't been there for quite some time.
Commenting on Ghomeshi in the blog Vulture, Adam Sternbergh, a former CBC-er now in New York says:
It’s that the scandal represents a further undermining of a treasured — possibly the treasured — national cultural institution. It’s a tremor that shakes the fortress and leaves it more unstable. Lots of listeners like and even revere Ghomeshi, but their relationship with CBC Radio is more intrinsic and profound. However it all plays out, the CBC can certainly survive without Jian Ghomeshi. But most of Canada, I’d venture, would not even like to consider the prospect of surviving with a diminished CBC.
CBC Radio still has some bright spots: Michael Enright's substantial The Sunday Edition, Tom Allen's witty and charming Shift, Laurie Brown's hip The Signal and locally, Matt Galloway's passion for Toronto on Metro Morning. So there are still some possibilities. But fewer of them than we deserve and less than there used to be.
Yet CBC Radio has been diminished and has been in decline for a some time. It was easy and unfair when Radio people would quietly mock the troubles that would occasionally beset their colleagues in TV. No one's mocking anyone now.
The reasons for Radio's decline are many and complex: an institutional smugness, governmental indifference, a decline in funding, and a senior management culture that must believe that the state has no real role in public broadcasting.
At the same time, there was a widespread delusion that CBC Radio could still be a "light unto the nation," as it were....that Radio would still be able to create a sense of national community and conversation in this cacophonous digital age. I thought so along with others. We were wrong.
The same questionable and deforming values of ratings and star-status that have been so damaging to CBC TV have also had its effect on CBC Radio. We were in denial.
Over the years, the country has changed. It is not the communitarian culture that it once was 20 years ago. A program like Morningside with Peter Gzowski couldn't exist now. We live in a far too fragmented digital culture.
If Ghomeshi was seen as a possible successor to Gzowski, it was a deeply wished-for scenario. And it almost worked. But in the end, it was a mirage. Our national lament for a missing CBC Radio may be for something no longer be possible. That's what has people so upset.
Some optimists are saying that this dreadful episode will soon pass, that the public will forget Ghomeshi and the CBC can "return to regularly scheduled programming", as the saying goes. That is unlikely to happen.
This is not about one man's libidinous foolishness. It is about the institution that he served so poorly. This is a crisis of truly existential proportions for the CBC. Nothing short of a complete re-invention of public broadcasting in Canada can save it. And if it can't be saved, we have no one to blame but ourselves.