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Ghomeshi blew it on communications front too

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When I blogged about the Jian Ghomeshi mess last week, I mentioned that I found it a fascinating study in crisis communications. The developments since then have made it even more compelling, especially the circumstances and misunderstanding that led to the whole thing going public.

Crisis communications 101 has a basic rule. It is don’t lie. In Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post and by other details that have since emerged, it seems pretty obvious he did, to his bosses at the CBC, to Navigator (the crisis communications firm he hired), and to his fans and other Canadians who read his Facebook essay.

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It still isn’t clear whether Navigator wrote that Facebook entry, although the nature of the writing suggests a very strategic, professional touch, so probably so. But I can’t imagine they would have, had they known that the Toronto Star was about to blow it apart with a story in which four women alleged that Ghomeshi abused them.

Any crisis communications consultancy that got blindsided like that has every right to walk away, which is apparently how it went down.

As a crisis communications strategy, if you can call it that, that Facebook entry was, in retrospect as ill-advised as you can get. It was brilliant for that short window between its posting and the Toronto Star story, because it worked in positioning Ghomeshi as the victim of a jilted ex-lover and an ambitious freelance writer. But now it stands as testament of a man who tried to mislead everybody.

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But now, there is even more to suggest how stupid it was.

As a result of this story, I discovered Canadaland, the podcast site of said freelance journalist, a reporter named Jesse Brown. And from what I see he’s a damn good one. The site is a look at the business of journalism in Canada, sort of an on-line Canadian version of CNN’s Reliable Sources, but with an investigative journalism bent.

Brown is the reporter who was actually behind the story getting out.

Understandably nervous because he knew he would be attacked and quite possibly sued, he took what he had, the allegations of four women who say Ghomeshi sexually and physically abused them, to the Toronto Star, which of course has more resources to deal with lawsuit threats. The Star assigned one of their investigative reporters, Kevin Donovan, to work with him. So there was more digging, but the story was put on hold because they couldn’t prove the allegations by the four women they talked to, plus, they wanted to remain anonymous.

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What happened next is incredible. The timeline is important here as it speaks to why the story came out when it did. (The following is paraphrased from Brown’s latest podcast, which also offers up some interesting insight into the working environment on the Q show. You can listen to it here)

In June, Brown and Donovan confronted Ghomeshi and his lawyers with what they had, looking for his side of the story. The response was the threat of a lawsuit. But as well, this prompted Ghomeshi to go to CBC management and tell them that a story may come out that suggests he abused some women in non-consensual sex. He confessed about his strange sexual preferences, but insisted that it was always consensual and that if anyone says differently, it would be a lie.

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Then, as you can imagine, Ghomeshi likely checked the Toronto Star every morning, looking to see if they published anything. It wasn’t there and it wasn’t there.

Jump ahead to October 20th. Brown tells listeners to his podcast that he had information that, in his words, is a “monster story”, a huge revelation that will be worse than embarrassing.

Brown, considering the timing, assumes that this is what prompted Ghomeshi to present CBC management with the evidence that apparently he felt would exonerate him, but in fact that CBC saw what he showed them as the last straw, and fired him that weekend.

But here’s the kicker. Brown says when he was hinting at a monster story, it wasn’t about Ghomeshi at all, it was about CBC reporter Terry Milewski.

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As a result though, Ghomeshi got fired and posted his Facebook confessional, and this is what prompted the Toronto Star to run its story, which started the whole chain of events of more and more women coming forward, a police investigation, and now it has grown even bigger by opening up a whole dialogue about women and sexual abuse. But as Brown says, that Toronto Star story wasn’t imminent. If not for Ghomeshi assuming that October 20th podcast was a reference to him, none of this would ever have surfaced, at least not at this time.

Talk about the power of social and traditional media. This is a great example of the two communication forms complementing each other. And in the process, taking something that is very ugly, and transforming it into something that just might lead to some positive social change around the way women who are sexually abused are treated. Dark clouds and silver linings come to mind.   

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