The Fifth Estate documentary about Jian Ghomeshi opens with the now-disgraced host reciting his trademark refrain: "Well hi there." His raspy voice is no longer Canada's comforting morning soundtrack. It's a chilling reminder of a duplicitous man who charmed Barbara Walters in public and allegedly choked and beat women in private. Now that Ghomeshi has been charged with four counts of sexual assault, his voice is full of contradictions.
But if the CBC has its way, Canadians will no longer experience Ghomeshi-induced cognitive dissonance. This week, the public broadcaster announced it will remove most of the Q archives from its website (it should be noted that CBC always pulls archives after two years to make room for new content). Officials claim the Mother Corp wants to focus on the future of the show. But the CBC should not be deciding on behalf of Canadians whether or not we can listen to Q archives.
Implicit in that decision is the flawed moral judgment that it is wrong to acknowledge the accomplishments of alleged criminals.
Since the advent of celebrity, fans have grappled with how to view work made by stars-turned-criminals, or simply A-listers with repellant attitudes (what's up Mel Gibson). Should we dismiss the artists but treasure the art? There's no easy answer. CBC's media relations chief Chuck Thompson acknowledged as much in an interview with the Toronto Star: "There is no obvious right or wrong approach here." That's why personal choice - the very thing the CBC is taking from viewers - must be preserved. If you can't stomach R. Kelly's "Ignition" after his child pornography indictment or watch a Roman Polanski movie, that should be your choice. But for those who can tolerate Ghomeshi's voice, the Q archives posses great value.
I get it: the CBC wants to erase this era. Out of website, out of mind. But to understand society's ugly contradictions we need to see gaping wounds, not cover them with Band-Aid solutions. The fact is, criminals are complex and come in many disguises. In addition to committing horrible acts, they can make good art. They can be likeable and trustworthy (in fact, most sexual assault perpetrators prey on victims they know). If these allegations prove true, archives of Ghomeshi's ability to charm and disarm an interviewee could provide insight. The Q archives could be used by psychologists, police, lawyers and sex assault victims to better understand the personalities and behaviours of perpetrators.
They have already been used by journalists. Jesse Brown, the freelancer who broke the Ghomeshi allegations along with the Toronto Star, wrote about how Q interviews have helped the media uncover more layers to the story. "Anne Kingston's recent Maclean's story reveals how Ghomeshi avoided covering misogyny and sexual abuse once he knew he was being accused of the same," he writes. "The Star relied on Q's archives to document how Ghomeshi used Q to promote musicians represented by his own agent, and how Q took a $5,000 payment from a record label in exchange for coverage."
Archives can be a doorway into a person's mind, but they should also remind us that most great art is bigger than one person.
Though Ghomeshi may have been Q's heart and soul, the program was not a one-man show. There were many brains behind the scenes and guests behind the mic that made the program stand out. And Q revolutionized arts and culture coverage in Canada. It featured in-depth interviews more typical of political talk shows. It mixed indie bands with A-list celebrities and intellectuals. The archives are a resource that journalists and producers can use to make better radio. The program can still be appreciated as a radio pioneer, just as The Cosby Show can still be remembered for breaking racial boundaries.
The CBC should let listeners make their own decision about Ghomeshi re-runs. Because we're adults. If hearing "Hi there" makes you feel like you're condoning alleged crimes, don't listen to old Q episodes. The rest of us should be trusted to mine the archives with a critical eye.
*This post previously appeared in the Ottawa Citizen