'I'm going to keep asking': Anna Maria Tremonti breaks down her #MeToo interview with Harper's publisher

The Current's host says there were important questions she wasn't able to ask about #MeToo, redemption and printing an essay by a man accused of sexual harassment.

'I wanted to have a different conversation,' The Current's host says about interview with Rick MacArthur

The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti had a heated exchange with Harper's Magazine publisher Rick MacArthur in an interview this week. (CBC)
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Anna Maria Tremonti was criticized by Rick MacArthur for having a "Soviet tone" in an interview broadcast on CBC Radio earlier this week. 

Tremonti is the host of The Current. On Tuesday, she interviewed MacArthur, the publisher of Harper's Magazine, about his magazine's decision to publish a personal essay by former WNYC radio host John Hockenberry. 

The exchange between Tremonti and MacArthur was heated at times and made waves on social media. 

Hockenberry was accused of sexual harassment by an author and several of his former colleagues late last year. The publication of his essay, and that of former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi in the New York Review of Books, continues to receive widespread backlash. 

On Monday, The Current invited listeners to call in with their thoughts about where they'd like to see the #MeToo conversation go next.

But first, Tremonti reflected on her conversation with MacArthur with Day 6 host Brent Bambury. 

Former WNYC host John Hockenberry published a personal essay in Harper's Magazine about being accused of sexual harassment. (Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival)

Brent Bambury: What was going through your mind during that interview on live radio?

Anna Maria Tremonti: Well, it wasn't the interview I wanted to have, so I was trying to get it back on track. But the clock was ticking and ... I know I'm going to get kicked out by the computer at the top of the clock, and I wanted to have a different conversation.

BB: OK. But the conversation that you had had a huge effect on your listeners. People reacted and it went viral. Why do you think it had that kind of effect on people?

AMT: Because, I think, of what Mr. MacArthur said about the idea of someone in a wheelchair. And when I asked for clarification he suggested that maybe because you're in a wheelchair you can't really be taking part in sexual harassment. And we went back and forth on that one.

And he was, I thought, defensive. I had a bunch of questions I wanted to ask him and I really wanted to know the thinking behind the editorial decision to actually publish the John Hockenberry essay. And I wanted to know that in its purest sense. What's the process? Why did you do it? Why did you think it was that the time? But we never got to hear that.

Former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

BB: Some listeners have said that it sounded to them as though you weren't actually interested in hearing what MacArthur had to say because of the way that the conversation unfolded. But you just told me that you were interested in him, but you didn't get to ask the question.

AMT: My first question was, in fact, "Why did Harper's decide to publish the essay?" And instead, he started to tell me about what was in the essay and why the essay was complex. And I wanted to hear why he thought it was important to put that voice out there, which is a different kind of thing.

Now in fairness, you can answer the question any way you want. That's your right. And then the listener can decide what they think of your decisions.  

But then I wanted to get back in. He kept talking and I was like, "Hang on, let's talk about …" and I couldn't get back in. And I did want to clarify that point because he said we have to remember he's in a wheelchair and I needed to know what that meant.

People participate in a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Los Angeles, California on November 12, 2017. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)

BB: Were you frustrated in the moment?

AMT: I don't know if frustrated is the word. I do a lot of live interviews and I'm watching a clock. You've got a finite amount of time to discuss a big issue. We give more time to issues than most people, but it's already a little bit of time and so I wanted to go through.

So, you know, he wasn't actually letting me in to have that conversation. And I wasn't interested in me being critical. I wanted to understand because the bigger question for me is, let's talk about redemption. Let's talk about who gets to decide if somebody is redeemed. Who gets to decide if someone has apologized enough? Do we do that collectively? Is it our right to collectively to decide the fate of John Hockenberry or anybody else? I'm really interested in that question.

BB: We're both in the business of getting people to talk and exchange ideas, but so is Rick MacArthur of Harper's magazine. And so was Ian Buruma until he left his job at the New York Review of Books. So what do we have to do to make these conversations more productive?

AMT: Well, I mean, that is my interest. I'm kind of fascinated in the editorial decision. It's not my responsibility or my interest to criticize them. Obviously, other people are doing that and we will hear from them. But I'm more interested in how people think, why they make the decisions, [and] what they're thinking as they make it.

But what we heard in the end was a disconnect. We heard a disconnect between one side and another, and it is that that gap that we need to talk about. What's in middle? We've got to keep talking.


This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

To hear the full conversation with Anna Maria Tremonti, download our podcast or click listen above.