Journalism students at the University of Western Ontario were cautioned against pursuing internships at Jian Ghomeshi’s popular CBC radio show Q due to concerns about “inappropriate” behaviour toward young women by the now-fired host, according to a former student at the school and a journalism professor.
Jeremy Copeland, a journalism lecturer at Western, said the concerns stemmed from a 2012 incident in which Ghomeshi allegedly “prey(ed) on a young grad who wanted to work (at Q).” Because of this, he recently stopped a female student from pursuing an internship at Q.
Students were told two years ago that internships at Q were “off limits” due to concerns about inappropriate behaviour by Ghomeshi, a former Western student told the Toronto Star.
Students were not given specifics, but were told that there was concern about “overly flirty” behaviour by Ghomeshi when dealing with female university students, the former student said.
The journalism program did stop sending interns to Q after one intern (a male student) was placed at the show in 2008, said Thomas Carmichael, dean of the faculty of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario. But he said the reason was to do with the nature of the internship.
“We insist that our interns do entry-level journalism work, and the report on that internship indicated that the student was asked to run everyday errands not connected to journalism,” he said in an email. “Consequently, we decided not to pursue further placements at Q.”
Carmichael did not respond to followup questions about whether concerns about Ghomeshi’s inappropriate behaviour toward female students played a role in stopping internships at Q.
The student involved in the alleged 2012 incident, a recent graduate who shared her story with Copeland and other professors at Western, agreed to speak with the Star on condition of anonymity because she is concerned about a possible negative impact on her career.
She alleges that after she attended a taping of Q at the downtown Toronto studio in Dec. 2012, Ghomeshi inappropriately touched and texted her.
She had asked Q’s executive producer for an invite to a taping, she said. She said she hoped to land a job with CBC.
Seeing a new face in the control room, Ghomeshi invited her into the studio after the show, she said.
Alone in the room, the two chatted about Q and guests Ghomeshi had interviewed. The conversation was friendly and she assumed they were networking — despite a comment about how good she looked, she said.
“I was under the impression . . . he thinks I’m smart, he thinks I’d be a good fit for working at Q,” she said.
When conversation wrapped up, she alleges Ghomeshi said, “Aren’t you going to give me a hug?”
“He gave me a bear hug and he lifted me up,” she said, adding the situation was “weird” but she thought perhaps he was just friendly. She had heard rumours he was flirty, she said.
But when she turned to leave a second time, she alleges Ghomeshi came up behind her, placing his hands on her waist and pressing his body against her backside.
“As I’m walking towards the door, he was behind me, kind of hugging me from behind and walking with me,” she said. “That’s when I thought, whoa, this is kind of a bit much.”
She said she does not know if anyone else witnessed the incident.
As they walked, with Ghomeshi still holding her, he mentioned she should laugh at his jokes, she said.
She left and returned to work, still shaken and unable to focus.
One hour later, she received a text from Ghomeshi asking her to meet up for a “non-work related drink,” she said. He added a winky face — ;) — to the message, she said.
“I didn’t want to date him, but then I thought this would maybe be a good opportunity to speak to him about the industry,” she said, responding by text and telling him a “friendly meet up” would be OK.
“If you could help me get a job that would be cool, too,” she added.
Ghomeshi texted back saying he wasn’t interested in a personal friendship and didn’t want to be used as “conduit to a job,” she said. The text messages stopped shortly after, she said.
In the months to follow, she continued second-guessing her handling of the situation. She wondered if perhaps he had misinterpreted her sarcasm as flirting.
She gave up trying to get a job at Q, she said.
It was only when the Star reported allegations from women against Ghomeshi that she felt a final sense of relief, she said. “Thank God I didn’t agree to meeting up with him,” the woman, now 28, told the Star Sunday.
She now says his behaviour was inappropriate and unacceptable in the workplace, and adds that she told former professors about the incident because she was still friendly with them, not because she expected Western to do anything.
Copeland, who learned about the alleged incident from the graduate, said he finds it “disturbing.”
“For her to go down there and have that happen, have someone abuse his authority and position to hit on her in a very strong way, crossing her boundaries, is unacceptable and unprofessional behaviour.”
Copeland has taught television journalism part-time at Western since 2010, full-time since 2012 and is one of the faculty members who supervises internships.
So when he learned in the fall that a student had listed Q among her top three choices for an internship this coming winter, he brought up his concerns at a faculty meeting to discuss internships, he said. It was agreed that the student should not be placed at Q, he said.
The former student who told the Star that Q was declared “off-limits” said the show had previously been a very popular choice for interns who wanted to get experience in radio. She said that some students had a “fan girl feeling” toward Ghomeshi, who was seen as a “celebrity.”
“Professors had a protective feeling” toward their students, she said. (Copeland had not told students that Q was “off-limits” — the meeting this fall was the first time he raised concerns about Ghomeshi).
Students were not given specifics but were told that there was concern about “overly flirty” behaviour by Ghomeshi when he dealt with female university students, the former student said.
Ghomeshi was fired on Oct. 26, after his CBC bosses saw “graphic evidence that Jian had caused physical injury to a woman,” CBC has said in an internal memo.
Since then the Toronto Star and other media outlets have published the accounts of nine women accusing Ghomeshi of harassment, physical abuse and sexual assault. One of the women, a CBC employee, alleges that on one occasion on his way out of the Q studio, Ghomeshi approached her from behind and cupped her buttocks.
Police are now investigating allegations made by three women including Trailer Park Boys actress Lucy DeCoutere.
Ghomeshi has said that he will meet the allegations “directly” and has maintained in a Facebook post and through a $55-million lawsuit against the CBC that all his sexual interactions have been consensual.
Other women who allege they were attacked by Ghomeshi continue to come forward. The Star has now heard of incidents dating back to his time as member of the band Moxy Früvous, and more allegations from his time as host of >play on CBC television and from his time as host of Q.
Generally, the women coming forward with new stories allege that Ghomeshi asked them on dates and, without their consent, attacked them, usually by grabbing them around the throat, squeezing their throat and striking them on the face. The Star is continuing to investigate.
In the wake of the allegations — and a recently noticed tweet from April that reads “Hi there @jianghomeshi. Remember louring me to ur house under false pretences? Bruises dont lie. Signed, every female Carleton U media grad” — journalism schools have been going through records of past internships at Q to ensure students were not subjected to any inappropriate behaviour.
No concerns had been flagged about Q internships in the journalism programs at Carleton University and Ryerson University, program heads say. “We have placed interns at Q in the past and we have never had any indication that there was a problem with one of our interns,” said Ivor Shapiro, chair of the Ryerson School of Journalism.
“I’ve spoken to all of our faculty supervisors who supervised internships at the CBC over the past 10 years and nobody had an inkling of a problem.”
“Our school didn’t have a policy, either officially or unofficially, of avoiding field placements at Q,” said Susan Harada, head of the journalism department at Carleton University.