Journalist to journalist: Kevin Donovan in conversation with Jan Wong over Ghomeshi story

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on November 7, 2016

donovan

Jan Wong in conversation with Kevin Donovan about his new book on breaking the Jian Ghomeshi story. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Award-winning journalist Kevin Donovan shared secrets on his investigative book on the Ghomeshi scandal in conversation with St. Thomas University Journalism Professor Jan Wong on Friday, Nov. 4, in Fredericton.

Donovan is a 31-year investigative reporter and editor from The Toronto Star. He has won several awards for his work, and is also the author of a work of crime fiction. After working on such controversial investigations as Rob Ford’s drug addiction, Donovan’s most recent book is Secret Life: The Jian Ghomeshi Investigation.

As it comes in the wake of Ghomeshi’s very recent public trial, Donovan’s book is a “nuanced view” of how the Jian Ghomeshi scrutiny unfolded, according to Karen Pinchin, an editor with Goose Lane Editions. She declared that it should serve as a guide for future journalists on how to investigate and write this type of story.

Jesse Brown of the Canadaland podcast approached The Star in May 2014 with the Ghomeshi allegations and Donovan was assigned the story by his editor. Because Brown had been a critic of CBC, one of the victims had sought him out to reveal her experience with Ghomeshi. Donovan admitted to Wong that he had previously admired Ghomeshi as a journalist and radio host.

Donovan never had any direct communications with Ghomeshi. After Ghomeshi’s now infamous Facebook post after being fired, journalistic “defense of responsible communication on matters of public interest” (established in 2009) made it possible for The Star to begin posting articles about the Ghomeshi investigation.

For Donovan, the Ghomeshi story was different than his previous investigations because it did not have any documents involved, it was mostly allegations in intimate settings and very hard to prove. Because so many people came forward, they were coming in to confirm the others’ stories and to “say it did happen” to them.

Donovan interviewed 17 women and 2 men for this story, and said there were “uncomfortable moments” in the interviews, because of the subject matter. Interviews were done in various places, depending where subjects were comfortable. Through their interviews, Donovan discovered some of Ghomeshi’s quirks and patterns. Donovan revealed to Wong that CBC did not know much about what was in the book.

Ghomeshi’s victims came forward to investigators all the way to the end of the trial. Donovan was careful to ask all the women to be very forthcoming about their experiences so as not to have surprises that would lead to questioning their credibility, as happened during the now-infamous trial.

Donovan worked with experts with regards to the trauma of the victims, and perceived varying degrees of the victims dealing with their situations. Donovan has worked on other stories that might have had profound psychological effects (wars, domestic violence) and, thus, does not feel these effects. He admitted to Wong that he had discussed the Ghomeshi events, and even had a conversation about sexual predators with his own daughter.

Wong’s question about the “train wreck” of Ghomeshi’s court case, pointed out the fact that the lawyers might not have done due diligence, like Donovan. One of the sticking points was the victims’ “post-contact behaviour” and, according to Donovan, there was not support for the victims from the Crown and police. Wong commented that it is the media’s responsibility to talk more about these types of issues, due to “the socialization of women” on how to act in certain situations.

Wong asked Donovan about Ghomeshi’s guilt. Donovan evaded the question by affirming he “believed” his interview subjects and wrote a book about them. For the author, Ghomeshi is a “blend of Donald Trump and Rob Ford” in the type of investigation.

Wong asserted that books like Donovan’s “are important for changing public opinions.” However, Donovan is of the opinion that the trial will have a “chilling effect” on women coming forward to the police. Donovan is currently investigating the plethora of peace bonds that are being issued by courts in cases of sexual assault. His preliminary findings are chilling: they are a way for the courts to avoid making a judgment.

About 150 people attended the event organized by Jan Wong of Saint Thomas University’s Journalism program and Goose Lane Editions (a publishing house looking to publish “big ideas books that can contribute to conversations”, according to Pinchin) and supported by the NB Media Co-op.

Sophie M. Lavoie, an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op, writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op. 

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