Last night, Deadline published an exclusive “interview” with actor Michael Douglas. I’m saying “interview” because really it’s a statement, with a few leading questions interjected by the publication. Apparently a story is brewing in Hollywood, and as Deadline puts it, Douglas “finds himself accused of something tawdry he said that he didn’t do: masturbate in front of a former employee.” So instead of waiting for The Hollywood Reporter or Variety to print his accuser’s claims, Douglas took control of the narrative and scooped them himself.
Here are the accusations of Douglas’s former employee, as detailed through the lens of Michael Douglas:
Right before the holidays in December, the day my son got early acceptance to the college he wants to go to, when we were all ecstatic, I got a message from my attorney that The Hollywood Reporter wanted to do a story about an employee that worked for me approximately 32 years ago. She claims that, One, I used colorful language in front of her, not at her, but that I used colorful language. Two, she claims that in conversations I had in front of her, on the phone, that I spoke raunchily, or dirtily with friends of mine, in private conversations. I fired her eventually, for the work she was doing, but Three, she claims that I blackballed her from the industry and stopped her from getting another job.
And then, Four, she claims that I masturbated in front of her. My attorney was asked, ‘do I have any comment?’ I said, yeah, let me speak to the reporter. I tried to think to reach back thirty plus years to try to remember. I remembered this woman: sophisticated intelligent, good sense of humor. A novelist, who has written books and published novels and was an active feminist, and proud of it. My head was reeling. I just couldn’t put this together. I’ve had no contact with her, in thirty-plus years. I talked to the reporter and said, ‘listen, as far as using colorful language in front her, I apologize. None of it was directed at her; she didn’t say it was. It was my office and that was the tone that I set and as far as conversations with friends.’ I work out of my house, my apartment in New York at the time, to the best of my recollection. As to colorful language, she may have overheard private conversations, and if she was offended, she could have excused herself. As far as blackballing her, that was completely untrue. She was a lady who was involved in development at my company, and we just didn’t have a good development record in the time she was there, so I just moved on. I never blackballed her. If people from the industry called me to ask about her, I would have been honest, but I never blackballed her.
Finally, masturbating in front of her? I don’t know where to begin. This is a complete lie, fabrication, no truth to it whatsoever.
Look — It’s hard to form an opinion about an accusation that the accuser hasn’t even had the opportunity to state herself. Is this the natural progression of the #MeToo movement? Rather than listening to women, are men going to take away their agency in their own sexual misconduct allegations? While this may seem like a drop in the bucket in terms of the sorts of horror stories we’ve heard over the past few months, I think the more interesting takeaway is the insight into all of the scrambling that is going on behind the scenes right now. Publications jockeying with each other to pursue accusations. Lawyers are on standby. And powerful figures are waiting to see what’s going to come to light next — about their colleagues or even themselves.
DEADLINE: It almost seems like those man in jeopardy movies you used to make in the ’80s. What’s it feel like to be targeted, based on someone making an allegation, and if a journalist can find several friends of hers who say she mentioned it to them, that is the bar for publication?
DOUGLAS: It’s extremely painful. I pride myself on my reputation in this business, not to mention the long history of my father and everything else. I don’t have skeletons in my closet, or anyone else who’s coming out or saying this. I’m bewildered why, after 32 years, this is coming out, now. As I say, I will fess up to colorful language, but the issue of masturbating in front of her? That rung is something I’ve only heard about the last year. It’s not an expression that related to the ’80s. So I thought it stunk. And I tried to figure out, why the hell would somebody do this? The part that hurt the worst is having to share something like this to your wife and your children. My kids are really upset, has to go to school worrying this is going to be in some article about me, being a sexual harasser. They’re scared and very uncomfortable.
My wife has a long career, and as a woman, she has been very supportive. So what is this? The woman, it turns out, is a blogger. We’ve had to do some quick research, and she has mentioned my name sometimes in her blogs. Nothing terrible. It leads me to believe she either has or is trying to get a book deal. I can’t believe that someone would cause someone else pain like this. Maybe she is disgruntled her career didn’t go the way she hoped and she is holding this grudge. It has caused tremendous stress to me for something I believe I have nothing to regret or feel responsible for.
I’m certainly regretful if she was offended by the language in the ’80s, but this other thing, she would not be getting a story in a trade paper with these other issues. The one that she raises, is the reason for that story.
Do the accused have a right to defend themselves? Yes. And of COURSE there is the possibility that this one time, this ONE woman is making up a story to get publicity — or at least that is Douglas’s claim, that she may be using this allegation to sell a book. Again, we have to take his word for it, because we still have no idea who this mysterious former employee even is, or heard her tale in her own words. But even if that is the case, does it somehow negate the net positive effect of empowering women who have been silent for so long about the abuses they’ve endured? If we’re committed to listening to women, we need to listen to all of them — and we will also listen to the accused. As we’ve discussed before, this is all being hashed out in the court of public opinion right now. The “evidence” isn’t always up to court standards. But how do we weigh the pain of being falsely accused against the pain of experiencing abuse and remaining silent about it out of fear? Or the new possibility Douglas’s gambit has opened up: preparing yourself to come forward, only to be preemptively silenced by your abuser?
The fact is, we are still in a largely uncharted territory of accountability and honesty here, and everyone — the accusers, the accused, the media and the public — is learning how to navigate the laws of this brave new world together. Douglas’s tactic is a fresh one, and maybe it will prove to be the right one for him in this moment. Maybe he is shutting down an opportunistic accusation before it has a chance to derail his life. Maybe he is just going to draw more scrutiny. Or maybe this woman won’t be his only accuser. Time will tell.
But we all need to recognize that what Douglas just did could set a dangerous precedent. Because before last night, the Silence Breakers we’ve been celebrating were worried about being called liars AFTER they stepped forward. Now they have to worry about being called liars before they’ve even shared their story.