Universally Shared

A Personal Opinion

I may be the only person in Canada who did not care for Peter Gzowski, a much lauded CBC host.

Actually, I only listened to him once, so my assessment may have been spurious, but it might not have been.

Since my feelings about Mr. Gzowski would have absolutely no impact on him, or his admirers, there was no reason to research the issue more thoroughly. Nor would there ever be an opportunity, as I would never have a face-to-face interaction with the man. If the face-to-face interaction were to have taken place, I would have suspended disbelief in him, then and there, in order to see clearly what he was, and was not.

What I listened to was his interview on the subject of Autism, with Donna Williams, who impressed me deeply, and permanently. Her direct intensity lit the day, and continues to light some very dark corners of the universe.

The interview with Peter Gzowski was done under the auspices of CBC radio. Ms. Williams was intelligent, honest, brilliant in fact.

She says on her web site: “He was the voice of Canada.” and “I was taken to CBS radio station to meet with a journalist, Peter Gzowski. He was a toasty man, a voice like an open fire, a manner like a children’s pediatrician. He was rustic, real, and I called him a Gadoodleborger, my term for one who makes bridges between worlds and can be entrusted as a gatekeeper between them, a translator… Clearly Peter could tame cats, he could speak cat, and he enticed me to finish the interview in free fall, going right off the page and into a taped discussion.” I got the impression, from her description of the experience, that she enjoyed the encounter, and respected Mr. Gzowski; which increased my admiration for her.

Although I found the interview compelling, and their chemistry together amazing, Mr. Gzowski did not impress me. As far as I was concerned he was out of his league, Donna Williams was a real, three dimensional human being with integrity, and in my opinion, he was not.

My feelings were based on a single question he asked. I do not remember the specifics of the question, and have searched the web, to no avail, for transcripts of the interview so that I could point out the context and exact words that Mr. Gzowski spoke, that disappointed me so deeply.

The question was asked, and Donna William’s replied with respect, complete confidence, and a deep calm. She told Mr. Gzowski directly, that it had been agreed that he would not ask that question. She did not answer it, and the interview walked around the incident without faltering and continued with the same great chemistry going on between them.

I felt the positive energy continued because of Ms. Williams incredible aplomb, and Mr. Gzowski’s willingness to let go of his “little” transgression and move on.

I was appalled by the transgression. Mr. Gzowski had attempted to invade a personal boundary, and accepted gracefully that he had been halted in that transgression. Ms. Williams was strong enough, and direct enough, to be gentle and insistent in repelling the transgression. But I felt it should never have been attempted in the first place. I still feel it was disrespectful of a trust entered into by both parties before the interview. I admired Ms. Williams for repelling it with grace and compassion, and I was disappointed with Mr. Gzowski, who either didn’t realize he was transgressing a boundary, or realized it, and did it anyway. In my opinion it was a dishonourable thing to do. I never listened to him again.

So many of my friends loved Mr. Gzowski, and I have understood why. For me though, an undeclared and unapologetic transgression of trust will colour everything a person offers to the world.

I celebrate the woman who seamlessly repelled that transgression, and continued on with good will, to make a success of that interview. It may have been the only time he ever did that, and I happened to hear it. Or, possibly, he may have done it other times, to people with less inner strength and confidence than Ms. Williams, who went along with it seamlessly, answering the inappropriate question, accepting the breach as the price for media attention. I will never know.

The last Christmas gift I ever bought for my dear friend Patrick Logier, who was a great admirer of Mr. Gzowski, was one of Mr. Gzowski’s books, in spite of my personal opinion of Mr. Gzowski. I have always accepted that my standard of what constitutes an admirable person is not universally shared.

Worldly Distractions

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Quote

“Never esteem anything as of advantage to you that will make you break your word or lose your self-respect.”
Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
121 AD – 180 AD

9 Comments

  1. Your post is written with such delicacy and civility… reflecting this woman you admire so much. And I agree, she was a pro. Is it such that when it comes to interviews or anything media related, unfortunately the rules are tossed? That questions asked would never be asked at a lovely dinner party because of presumed rules of etiquette?
    I recently finished the book The Aviator’s Wife – a creative non-fiction regarding Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Charles. The atrocious media tactics breached every definition of proprietary – to the extent that photos of their murdered child were printed – made public.

    I’ve read in recent years of occasions when interviewees have *walked* when questions have been asked from a *do not ask list*. Today’s public wants more than just news… they want dirt… and the more personal or intruding or lascivious, the better. They want to catch people off guard – any means to get a juicy sound bite.

    Perhaps I’m missing the intent of your essay, but I suspect I wholeheartedly agree… without even knowing the people cited.

  2. Reenie, that phrase caught me, “the intent of your essay”. Hmm… I don’t think I had an intent other than to express my point of view, my feelings, what I see when I look at the world. I am happy that you connected with it from your own world and personal experience. And I think you have taken my description another step further, and deeper, and broader, by pointing out that these boundary breaching questions are asked the sake of a sound bite.

  3. I meant *intent* in all good ways. 🙂 Your POV. Forgive my typos – I always wilt a bit with my typos. I’ve been typing a lot today. As always, your post was so thoughtful and well written. In my opinion, preset interviewing rules preempt freedom of speech etc.

    I was once interviewed and answered a question with the understanding it was *off the record*. When my statement was printed in a wide-circulation big city newspaper, I was appalled because it was a personal question that I’d answered… regarding the guess-estimate value of my art collection. I was outraged – and it was a bell I couldn’t un-ring.

  4. lol, Reenie, your comments are often thought provoking, and always in a gentle, reflective manner! I enjoy your honesty, and your perspective.

    I have been an interviewer, but not for the media. I doubt I could be a journalist, the people would come before the story, and that would not make for juicy sound bites. My research involved hundreds of personal interviews, and there were strict rules of professional conduct, and extensive guidelines, set out by the funding parties and University. The information collected was confidential, and always remained so.

  5. I guess I’m at a loss as to what made this comment timely? Is Mr Gzowski currently in the news for some reason? (I don’t know either of these people, though I do agree that if it was agreed that a question was out of bounds then the agreement should have been honored.)

  6. Teri, all is well in my world, no worries. I have been inspired by Canadian news events to think about who I listen to, what legitimacy I give them, and why. Mr. Gzowski has no links to anything currently going on in my world, or the world at large, to my knowledge.

  7. Maggie, you’ve stated that it was somewhat odd that Ms Williams still thought well of Mr. Gzowski. Did you ever consider that he might have said to her “I’m going to need to ask you this question.” And she says, “I won’t answer it.” And he then suggests to her to simply say that they’d agreed before not to ask the question? That would explain why she was calm with his having asked, had no rancor for his having asked the question, and why he let her reply slide.

    Just a thought, the exchange may be what was agreed upon, not just his not asking the question.

  8. Anything is possible Teri. You will need to form your own opinion after interacting at length with Ms. Williams work, link in the entry will take you to her blog. Info on Gzowski is everywhere, a very, very popular media figure in his day. 🙂

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