Jian Ghomeshi now faces court of public opinion in trying to rehabilitate image

With Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault charges behind him, the former CBC Radio host now faces the challenge of trying to re-establish his career and rehabilitate an image damaged by those allegations.

Apology in court and therapy sessions could help restore image

A former senior CBC manager who was fired in connection with the Jian Ghomeshi affair has launched a $700,000 lawsuit against the broadcaster. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

With Jian Ghomeshi's sexual assault charges behind him, the former CBC Radio host now faces the challenge of trying to re-establish his career and rehabilitate an image damaged by those allegations.

Yet despite being found not guilty in March in the sexual assault trial involving three women, and with the final charge dropped by the Crown on Wednesday, the 48-year-old could still have a difficult time moving forward.

"The court of public opinion is now the realm in which Jian Ghomeshi is operating," said Allan Bonner, a Toronto-based crisis communications expert. "I think that a comeback is going to be very very difficult. The idea that a major network would have him back is a little far-fetched and hard to believe."

Ghomeshi would face difficulties getting a minor network to hire him, so far has his star fallen, Bonner said. 

But he made a good first step when he apologized to one of the complainants, Kathryn Borel, for his "sexually inappropriate behaviour," Bonner said. The apology, and a peace bond signed by Ghomeshi, avoided a second sexual assault trial. But both his lawyer and the judge made it clear that this was no admission of any criminal offence or admission of guilt.

Apology 'remarkable and full'

Bonner said that his apology, which he called "remarkable and full" should help move the gauge of public opinion on Ghomeshi. Still, he has a long way to go in that respect, Bonner said, adding that "I think mainstream media ain't for him for a while."

Instead, the former host of the popular CBC radio show Q may end up on the web, writing blogs or hosting podcasts,  any format where people would have private access to his work. The issue for Ghomeshi, much like Bill Cosby, accused of a series of sexual assaults, is that in a public setting, he could repeatedly face protesters.

CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi was the popular host of Q when sexual assault allegations began to appear in the media. (CBC/Canadian Press)

"It's going to be difficult to imagine people publicly endorsing  him and paying money to go see him," Bonner said. "But privately, on the web, he could probably sell songs and podcasts and blogs and at least have a presence."

But even in a podcast setting, where Ghomeshi could in theory duplicate his role as a pop-culture talk show host, he may find it challenging to attract big-name talent.

"I think it's going to be difficult to go back to some of the people he interviewed, and interviewed quite successfully ... and say 'Look, I'm back, I'd like you to come on my podcast.' I think they'd be hesitant to be associated with it."

Toronto-based branding expert Andris Pone agreed with Bonner that Ghomeshi is in a really difficult spot because while he has been acquitted in the legal sense, he's been convicted in the court of public opinion.

"It's hard for people to move forward without some kind of redemption story."

Pone said he doesn't believe Ghomeshi's apology would likely amount to much in the public's view as some might question its sincerity, considering it was part of the terms of the charge against him being dropped.

Therapy demonstrates 'bona fide effort'

But he said the revelation in court that Ghomeshi has been seeing a therapist for the past 18 months could help his image as it "demonstrates that he is making a bona fide effort."

But Pone said the allegations against Ghomeshi have damaged his brand as a sensitive feminist, and he will never be able to position himself in that role again. His is a different situation than say a Mike Tyson, convicted of rape, yet now seemingly back on the media circuit.

"The Tyson brand wasn't as a nice guy. He was a killer," Pone said. "His behaviour wasn't that at odds. People liked him in the first place because he was vicious."

Ghomeshi may have a better chance to find work abroad, or in the U.S., where most have probably never heard of him, Pone said.

"If you haven't experienced the story develop in front of you, I don't think you can have the same visceral reaction to it," he said, adding that people abroad may form an opinion on him based solely on the headlines that he was acquitted.

A protester holds a sign after outside a Toronto courthouse as former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi arrived Wednesday. (Mark Blinch/Canadian Press)

Vancouver-based communications strategist Alyn Edwards said Ghomeshi's apology was the first step to rebuilding his reputation.

"He can always say I apologized and I accept the responsibility for my behaviour, but there was a finding that this was not criminal and I'm moving on with my life. Those are the key messages that I would give him if I was his consultant.

"We've counselled companies to do that, to do the full faceplant mea culpa. We made a mistake. It's called when you mess up, you fess up and you dress up. The apology in court will be viewed by a lot of people as an admission."

While Ghomeshi getting hired again will still be a long shot, Edwards said some media outlets that don't mind bad publicity and controversy could scoop him up.

"Somebody could because they're going to get a lot of publicity, going to get a lot of attention if they hire this man as a broadcaster or in any capacity," Edwards said. "They're going to have to take the good with the bad. They're going to take a lot of heat, a lot of pressure, but obviously they're going to get a lot of ink."

"Some organizations will view this as an amazing opportunity," he said.


Mark Gollom

Senior Reporter

Mark Gollom is a Toronto-based reporter with CBC News. He covers Canadian and U.S. politics and current affairs.