My undergraduate degree is in journalism. I am also a lawyer (non-practicing). I am very familiar with issues surrounding where journalism and the law intersect, and when all of these sexual harassment allegations began surfacing, the lawyer in me seized up. Is this going to be a new form of McCarthyism? Will women wipe men out of the workplace?! WHERE’S THE DUE PROCESS?
The lawyer in me is a goddamn idiot.
Look: Last year, a woman on Twitter accused Devin Faraci of assaulting her, which quickly led to Faraci’s resignation. The human within me applauded. The lawyer in me was like, “Oh shit.” In fact, had Faraci not owned up immediately to the allegation, there could have been a potential lawsuit. It was a “she said/he said” situation from a decade ago that effectively ruined a man’s career, and looking at that from a purely legal standpoint, I see a bar, drunk people, unreliable witnesses, and a massive loss of wages. That’s a recipe for disaster from the legal standpoint.
Likewise, when the first accuser came out against Harry Knowles, I feared for her, and for Kate Erbland, who reported the accusations. If you don’t get your shit lined up perfectly in those situations, you can get creamed legally. The woman could have been sued; Indiewire could have been sued and shut down.
But that’s also what makes it so ridiculous for a lot of men — Woody Allen, for instance — to suggest that women are out to get them, and that the good will get rolled up with the bad. Today, in fact, Stephen Galloway over on The Hollywood Reporter, suggested that a witch hunt was brewing and that journalists are beginning to blur the line between gossip and fact, although Galloway offers no real evidence of that happening at a major publication.
I get it, though. There are probably a lot of men in power who are thinking, “What’s stopping someone from making a false accusation and ruining my career?” Or, “Shit, what about that night I got shit-faced and made a pass at a co-worker? Am I going to get fired and pilloried for that?”
Here’s my advice to you, men in power: Shut the fuck up. If you have a history of harassment, then yes: You should worry. If you have assaulted someone, then yes: You should worry. But don’t worry about being falsely accused. Don’t worry about your innocent flirting being mistaken for something more malicious, unless of course that flirting wasn’t so innocent and involved a lot of nonconsensual activity. If you had too much to drink and kissed someone at a New Year’s Eve party, don’t fret. If you had too much to drink and kissed your assistant at a New Year’s Party and she asked you to stop, and then you kissed her again and stuck your hand down her pants, then maybe you should worry. Why? Because that’s assault, motherfucker.
But fears of a witch hunt? That’s dumb. There are a few things at play here. First of all, they’re never isolated incidents, are they? There has yet to be a situation where, say, an actor tried to sleep with an underage boy 25 years ago that didn’t prove to be part of a much larger pattern of harassment and assault. Every single time. Men who harass and have gotten away with it (which is, like, all of them up until recently) feel emboldened, and they do it again. And again. And again. Harvey is up to over 60 allegations; the accusations against Spacey and Mark Halperin are mounting; and over 300(!) women have now come forward accusing James Toback of sexual misconduct, assault, or rape.
Second of all, there is a legal threshold. The journalists who report on these incidents might venture to report on a casting rumor for the latest Marvel project, but they are not going to put their own neck and career on the line to ruin someone’s life for a day’s worth of page views — you don’t report on an incident unless it’s corroborated and verified, and unless you know there’s more to the story. I mean, Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein have already threatened to sue The New York Times, for instance. And it’s not just the publications, either. Brett Ratner is suing a woman for alleging in a Facebook post that he raped her 12 years ago. Remember Aaron Glaser? He sued a comedian for $38 million after she referred to him as a “rapist” on social media.
Men are still using the legal system in an effort to discourage women from telling their stories. No one — either on the publication side, or the accusation side — is going to risk an expensive lawsuit to make a false allegation, people.
Here’s what Galloway writes in THR:
I’m terrified that, in our righteous quest to do good, we’re sweeping up the innocent as well as the guilty. We’re accepting allegations in the place of solid proof. We’re conflating those guilty of more minor crimes with perpetrators of egregious and even criminal behavior.
Define “minor”? Are we talking about Dustin Hoffman here, who repeatedly harassed and groped a teenage intern 30 years ago? Or the Dustin Hoffman that groped Meryl Streep? Or the Dustin Hoffman who tried to persuade a playwright to go back to his hotel with him, and then refused to finance her play when she refused? Does that rise to the level of what Harvey Weinstein has done? No. But then again, Harvey Weinstein has been ousted from the company he founded and is facing criminal charges, while Dustin Hoffman presented an award over the weekend. Dustin Hoffman is going to get a lot of bad press. Harvey Weinstein may go to jail. The system still errs on the side of the man (see also: Casey Affleck).
Is the fear that the innocent will be swept up with the guilty based on what’s actually happening, Galloway? Or what could happen? Because so far, I have seen no evidence of the former. I have seen a lot of men come out and say, “I am sorry. That does not reflect who I am.” We have also seen some men come out and say, “That didn’t happen,” and “she is lying” to 10, 12, or 15 accusers. Are we to assume that 6, 8, or 10 women conspired? I mean, due process is crucial, but so is common sense, and while some of these men may lose their jobs, none of them will be thrown in jail without due process.
A male blogger last week was fired from his job for suggesting on Twitter that women — instead of sleeping their way to the top — would now start accusing and implicating their way up the ladder (he has since apologized). That suggestion is not only sexist as hell, but it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. These aren’t women (and men) trying to take down someone — there’s too much risk involved. They are women (and men) sharing their stories in the hopes of thwarting future assaults, and a lot of people don’t realize how f**king difficult that is, especially when an accuser names names. There’s the risk that people won’t believe you. There’s the risk that people will treat you differently. There’s also the real risk of being shunned, alienated, or sued for all you are fucking worth. How many women were silenced by Harvey Weinstein? How many women’s careers were derailed? I mean, come on, Stephen Galloway. You’re a journalist. You know what’s at stake. I mean, movie writers get flooded with death threats for even suggesting that the latest D.C. project is flawed. Do you really think they’re going to risk their livelihood to report a false assault allegation?
There are still way too many barriers in place to suggest that a “witch hunt” is feasible. It’s not a rational concern. It’s a concern borne out of unfounded fears. But instead of chalking allegations up to “gossip,” it might serve you better to treat the gossip as a lead, do some investigating, and see if there’s something to it. After all, as we have clearly seen, celebrity gossip can often be a window to the truth.