It started with Harvey Weinstein, one of the most notorious pigs in the entertainment industry.
The people heard the allegations and believed them, and Weinstein was convicted in the court of public opinion. Which, in my own personal private opinion (not necessarily the opinion of The Not Fake News, in case of lawsuit) was all well and good. We all knew about Harvey, and for years nobody did anything, and now something’s being done. Fair enough, and about time too.
This was by no means the first time anything like this has surfaced; Bill Cosby’s trial has been quite public, and The Donald himself brazened out a chain of accusations during his campaign. But the concatenation of callouts has led to an emboldenment of those who feel they were similarly wronged, and powerful men across the country have begun tumbling from their pedestals not by ones and twos but by dozens.
If you’re paying close attention here, you’ll notice that I’m expressing this in such a way that no accusers are being specifically named, only the accused. This is a general practice, done so that people aren’t vilified merely for making an accusation — more on that in a moment. But it’s worth observing that one net effect of this is to make the story be about the accused and their loss of prestige instead of about the event or the accuser. Many times, due to the availability of facts and the private nature of some of the offenses we’re talking about, this is the only story that can be told — but we must remember that it’s not the whole story, that we’re discussing events of personal trauma and tragedy for any victims.
Back to the general practice: The proper court for the airing of these alleged transgressions is a court of law; we here in the arena of opinion don’t have access to enough details — read “evidence” — to determine the final truth in these matters, and certainly not enough to condemn either accused or accuser. Because the accused is a public figure, and because becoming a public persona is a voluntary choice, courts usually presume that celebrities aren’t as deserving of privacy protection as others — and there’s justice in that position.
But if we’re to remember the personal tragedies of the victims, we must also remember the damage done to any person thus accused — not upon conviction, but instantly on receipt of the accusation. This is but just.
When we do this, we also must bear in mind the relative value of each: A person’s reputation is, in many cases, the most of what they have, and significant damage to it due to (for example) a false or exaggerated accusation could destroy their lives — suicides are not unknown. Likewise, the consequences of being the victim of a sexual assault are often at least as extreme. To rape is a crime; to falsely accuse is likewise a crime. And so we all must be incredibly cautious about offering judgment or justification, certainly of the victim, but also of the accused.
Having said that, I’m not (again for any lawyers, personally) worried about Harvey Weinstein. He’s been a creepy Hollywood producer for many years, and these allegations appear to have an overwhelming basis in reality. One could say the same about James Toback, Chris Savino, Mark Halperin, and (the latest) Matt Lauer: It’s fairly safe to make a (again, personal) presumption of guilt if only because of the sheer volume of accusations against them. What the courts refer to as a pattern of behavior becomes apparent, even to us with our limited view of the facts.
Kevin Spacey was accused by fellow actor Anthony Rapp of an unwanted sexual advance — not in a criminal charge or lawsuit, but rather in an interview on BuzzFeed. But it was not until several other accusations emerged, and a plausible foundation for a pattern of behavior began to emerge, that his various associates — notably Netflix — began to cut ties with him. None of this has had its day in court, and it seems unlikely at this point that anything he either did or has been accused of doing will result in any charges being filed. Should we keep an open mind about him? Well… All else aside, it’s probable that Netflix at least has acted properly. And that makes it unlikely that House Of Cards will come to a satisfactory end.
But there are other cases involving a single accuser, or perhaps a single act with possible issues of context or circumstance. And there, it’s more difficult to make this sort of a determination — or at least it should be more difficult.
I’m talking about Roy Moore, and Al Franken, and God help us about Garrison Keillor. Yes, the latest News from Lake Wobegon is that one of the most self-conscious and shy public figures on the planet may have touched someone inappropriately — not, according to him, in any sexual manner, but there does seem to be a lawyer involved. And Minnesota Public Radio is cutting ties with him. More on that in a moment.
Now, I’m no fan of Roy Moore. The man’s a living, breathing case against people in power substituting religion for thought. He’s an object lesson to the Right about who not to be. But beyond that, the allegations against him seem weak, and in one instance potentially contrived for political reasons. I still wouldn’t vote for him, but the accusation would have little to do with that; if charges are filed and a conviction levied, he’d be removed from his Senate seat — and, if not, what right do we have to try him? But that’s my opinion, and it’s personal.
Al Franken, likewise, is someone I don’t particularly like. I find his politics similarly devoid of thought; his dogma isn’t a religion, but rather adherence to a party credo, the which is demonstrated by his inflexibility on matters of policy. And yet the one offense, while indisputable, falls within a range of behavior which may well have been acceptable — not from a Senator, it’s true, but from a comedian on a USO tour, which he was at the time. There’s a pattern of behavior, but it appears on the surface to be avuncular rather than predatory — appears to me, that is. There’s an investigation, and until it reaches a conclusion, I see no reason for the man to step down. But again, that’s my opinion, and no doubt there are others that are better-informed. There certainly will be once the investigation concludes.
But Garrison Keillor? For the love of God, the man’s a monument to hands-off anti-touch awkwardness. His co-workers are shocked; everyone who knows him stands in disbelief. There is no pattern of offensive behavior; to the contrary, there’s a pattern indicating this is a person who refuses to participate even in group hugs unless compelled, and even then he seems extremely uncomfortable with them. It’s not that I think he’s incapable of error; his flaws, however, lie in the opposite direction. This is one case where circumstance dictates that the burden of proof must lie heavily on his accuser.
Which is why Minnesota Public Radio has, in my opinion, done something both unwise and improper by refusing to stand behind him. They have caved to a public pressure that they haven’t even felt yet, one they’re unlikely ever to feel, in truth, because Keillor is beloved by millions while public radio is… well, is not. Granted, he hasn’t given them anything much to stand behind in his statement — except his reputation, but that’s solid enough.
It’s been said that victims of sexual misconduct outnumber those who have never experienced it. For the person who has been wronged, it’s important to be able to face these events, to take power over their lives, and often times to confront the person who caused their trauma. Such is the province of therapists and psychologists, and I bow to their experience.
But we the public likewise have a duty. We can abhor the acts, but we must not rush to judgment simply because a person has been accused. We can and should support victims in their recovery from emotional trauma — and we can do so without summarily stripping from everyone accused their dignity and livelihood solely because they were the target of a BuzzFeed interview.
This is why we have courts.
I leave you with this, a link to someone who was far better at journalism and commentary than I can ever hope to be, and on a similar subject. Watch, and consider — and then, if you believe I’m wrong, tell me.
Note: I myself was at least once subjected to something of a sexual nature that I don’t care to discuss. This gives me zero moral authority on the subject, merely some anecdotal experience. I have certainly caused emotional and psychological trauma to others; though I don’t recall any of it being sexual, I’m not guiltless in this life. This likewise gives me only a bit of perspective. I hope it has been of use here.