Leading Irish authors sign letter against ‘forced resignation’ of editor over #MeToo essay

John Banville, Colm Tóibín, Roy Foster among over 100 writers to express dismay over departure of New York Review of Books editor Ian Buruma

Ian Buruma, ex-editor of The New York Review of Books: writers say his departure represents ‘an abandonment of the central mission of the review, which is the free exploration of ideas’. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

Ian Buruma, ex-editor of The New York Review of Books: writers say his departure represents ‘an abandonment of the central mission of the review, which is the free exploration of ideas’. Photograph: Vincent Tullo/The New York Times

 

Leading Irish writers John Banville, Colm Tóibín and Roy Foster, along with some of the biggest names in English letters, including Joyce Carol Oates, Ian McEwan and Lorrie Moore, have released a joint letter in which they express dismay at what they call the “forced resignation” of the editor of the New York Review of Books under a #MeToo stormcloud.

Ian Buruma stepped down from the editorship of America’s most prestigious literary magazine earlier this month in the wake of his decision to publish a highly controversial article by former broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. The 3,400-word essay, in which Ghomeshi played down allegations of sexual violence brought against him by 20 women as “inaccurate” under the headline Reflections from a Hashtag, kicked up a storm on social media.

The signatories to the joint letter, who include Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole who wrote an opinion article on the Buruma fallout earlier this week, said they found it “very troubling that the public reaction to a single article – repellent though some of us may have found this article – should have been the occasion for Ian Buruma’s forced resignation”.

The correspondents continued: “Given the principles of open intellectual debate on which the NYRB was founded, his dismissal in these circumstances strikes us as an abandonment of the central mission of the review, which is the free exploration of ideas.”

The letter injects an ethical tension between #MeToo’s push against largely male sexual misconduct and the sometimes conflicting impetus towards freedom of expression right into the heart of the literary world. It also pits many of the NYRB’s most celebrated writers against the magazine’s own publisher, Rea Hederman.

On Monday, Hederman released an official account of the events leading up to Buruma’s dramatic departure. By contrast to the views expressed by the joint letter-writers, and by Buruma himself who has depicted himself as a victim of social media bullying, Hederman said Buruma’s exit had nothing to do with the “Twitter mob”.

It had everything to do, he said, with mistakes and misjudgments made by Buruma.

In a statement circulated to 300 NYRB contributors, Hederman said that Buruma had cast longstanding editorial practice aside and excluded all the magazine’s female staff from the process that led to Ghomeshi’s article being published. The draft of the article was shown to only one male editor on the staff, while six female editors – including four long-term staff members who had worked with Buruma’s predecessors, Bob Silvers and Barbara Epstein – were effectively shunned.

Hederman went on to reject claims by Buruma that the staff rallied behind the decision to publish the article. The statement said that in fact many editors “felt his comment that the staff came together after initial objections to the Ghomeshi piece did not accurately reflect their views”.

It is not clear whether the signatories to the joint letter, who also include Anne Applebaum, Alfred Brendel, Ariel Dorfman, Alan Hollinghurst, Michael Ignatieff, Caryl Phillips and James Wolcott, had had the chance to read Hederman’s account before expressing their collective outrage.

In his statement, Hederman was also critical of the way that Buruma had handled the editing and packaging of the Ghomeshi piece. In particular, the point of view of the 20 women who have come forward to tell stories of abuse against the former broadcaster should have been reflected.

“This might have been achieved either by editing the article more thoroughly, commissioning another piece to run alongside, or by framing Mr Ghomeshi’s article with some form of editorial comment,” he wrote.

Those concerns will be addressed in the upcoming edition of the NYRB. The magazine has confirmed that the issue will include essays by some of the women who have accused Ghomeshi of acts of violence that included slaps, bites, choking and being punched on the head. He was acquitted of five charges of sexual assault in March 2016– Guardian

The full text of the letter

As contributors to the New York Review of Books we are writing to express our dismay at the departure of Ian Buruma from the editorship of the Review.

Ian Buruma has proved to be an outstanding editor-as accomplished in this role as he was as a writer for the Review. Under his guidance the NYRB has maintained the highest intellectual standards, extended its range, and expanded its body of contributors. We find it very troubling that the public reaction to a single article, “Reflections from a Hashtag” – repellent though some of us may have found this article – should have been the occasion for Ian Buruma’s forced resignation. Given the principles of open intellectual debate on which the NYRB was founded, his dismissal in these circumstances strikes us as an abandonment of the central mission of the Review, which is the free exploration of ideas.

  • Gini Alhadeff
  • Anne Appelbaum
  • Lisa Appignanesi
  • John Banville
  • Geremie Barmé
  • Louis Begley
  • Richard Bernstein
  • Alfred Brendel
  • Simon Callow
  • Louisa Chang
  • Joel E. Cohen
  • Henri Cole
  • Linda Colley
  • Robert Cottrell
  • Robert Darnton
  • Janine di Giovanni
  • Morris Dickstein
  • Ariel Dorfman
  • Freeman Dyson
  • Carl Elliott
  • James Fenton
  • Darryl Pinckney
  • Orlando Figes
  • Frances Fitzgerald
  • Tim Flannery
  • Roy Foster
  • Ian Frazier
  • Jonathan Friedland
  • Linda Greenhouse
  • Max Hastings
  • Jacob Heilbrunn
  • Lindsey Hilsum
  • Adam Hochschild
  • Arlie Russell Hochschild
  • Eva Hoffman
  • Alan Hollinghurst
  • Stephen Holmes
  • Michael Ignatieff
  • Sidney Jones
  • Daniel Kevles
  • Laura Kipnis
  • James Kirchick
  • Enrique Krauze
  • Jill Krementz
  • Jackson Lears
  • Hermione Lee
  • Mark Lilla
  • Perry Link
  • Phillip Lopate
  • Alison Lurie
  • Janet Malcolm
  • James Mann
  • Avishai Margalit
  • Ruth Margalit
  • David Margolick
  • Ian McEwan
  • Edward Mendelson
  • Lorrie Moore
  • Benjamin Moser
  • Anka Muhlstein
  • Thomas Nagel
  • Andrew J. Nathan
  • John Nathan
  • Aryeh Neier
  • Fintan O’Toole
  • James Oakes
  • Joyce Carol Oates
  • Tim Page
  • Robert Paxton
  • Caryl Phillips
  • Ahmed Rashid
  • Jonathan Rauch
  • David Rieff
  • Max Rodenbeck
  • Larry Rohter
  • James Rubin
  • Leo Rubinfien
  • John Ryle
  • Luc Sante
  • T.M. Scanlon
  • Margaret Scott
  • James Shapiro
  • Adam Shatz
  • Harry Shearer
  • David Shulman
  • Elisabeth Sifton
  • Timothy Snyder
  • Andrew Solomon
  • George Soros
  • Alessandra Stanley
  • Andrew Sullivan
  • Sam Tanenhaus
  • Dina Temple-Raston
  • Colm Tóibín
  • Helen Vendler
  • Edward Vulliamy
  • Michael Walzer
  • Marina Warner
  • Rosanna Warren
  • Alexander Waugh
  • Lawrence Wechsler
  • Steven Weinberg
  • Tim Weiner
  • Geoffrey Wheatcroft
  • Edmund White
  • Sean Wilentz
  • Simon Winchester
  • James Wolcott
  • Robert Worth
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