It always seems like the serious meltdowns in politics break on my day off. That was the case once again with the Roy Moore allegations involving a 14-year-old child from many decades ago. The alleged, sordid details are all over political media so we don’t need yet another rundown of them here, but suffice it to say that this an ugly story no matter where the truth resides.
Watching the lava flow of hot takes breaking out on social media, in the papers and on cable news over the past day or so, there seems to be a common theme emerging (or, rather, a pair of them) which is distressing to say the least. We have one camp of people who claim that the original Washington Post story, combined with a few bits of follow-up material, are sufficient for a conviction in the court of public opinion and Roy should be run out of town on a rail, preferably covering in roofing material and chicken plumage. Another group has already determined that this was a politically motivated hit job by the WaPo, the accuser is lying and everyone should get behind Moore on this.
Examples of the latter camp are fully as numerous as the first, and the Senate GOP seems to be lining up to force Moore out. MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace (whose work I enjoy quite a bit) decided to skip the entire process of inspection and simply declared Moore a pedophile on Morning Joe.
Here's my hunch-we discussed the story for 3 hours – I read many quotes where people said "alleged" – but I clearly called him a pedophile. https://t.co/7N5c7cAvJQ
— Nicolle Wallace (@NicolleDWallace) November 10, 2017
Both of these positions have a series of glaring flaws in them which I’m seriously hoping can be at least acknowledged, allowing a bit of reason to prevail. But before I get to that, I should nod to the reality that at least one of those camps will assume that anyone who doesn’t immediately call for Moore’s ouster is an “apologist” who is applying a different standard to him than to Weinstein, Spacey, Polanski and company. Allow me to refer you back to the final paragraphs of this column which I wrote long, long before Roy Moore’s name entered the sexual assault culture conversation when we were only talking about Hollywood liberals.
[T]he thing to keep in mind here is that, as the accusations fly, we can’t allow the cloud of valid claims and possible, or at least as yet unsubstantiated allegations to merge into some sort of fog of war and not fully validate them. We’re still talking about crimes here. Very real, exceedingly dangerous crimes. And it doesn’t matter if the charges are brought against some masked pervert in an alley with a knife or a well-heeled, internationally famous movie executive with a showcase full of awards. Each allegation must be taken seriously and investigated properly by law enforcement while the rights of both the accuser and the accused are guarded throughout the process.
So there’s the unpleasant part of the discussion which invites you all to throw rotten fruit at the stage. The #MeToo effect has brought an important reality forward and opened the door for more justice and a chance to clean up the filthy human sewers churning below many industries. But we must also be mindful not to allow this to turn into justice under mob rule, even if you happen to be rooting for the mob this month. Next time the shoe may be on the other foot. So with that in mind, Woody Allen was probably the worst possible person in all of Hollywood to speak out about this, but in his own way, he was delivering a reminder of something we shouldn’t collectively forget.
With that out of the way, allow me to address the key differences between some of these cases and why it matters, particularly in terms of Roy Moore and others. In a few of the cases which have come to light thus far, recent incidents have been alleged which law enforcement can investigate and, if appropriate, prosecute. For those, we should allow law enforcement to do their job if the accused is denying the accounts. But for many others, they’ll never see the inside of a courtroom due to the statute of limitations. In those cases, all we really have to fall back on is the court of public opinion, which is dangerous ground in terms of reaching a positive conclusion and safeguarding the rights of all concerned.
The easiest way to resolve any of these accusations is if the accused party immediately admits some or all of the claims, apologizes, goes into a sexual addiction rehab clinic or, in the case of Kevin Spacey, says that they simply don’t remember but it might have happened. (If you were going around sexually assaulting children I think you’d remember. And if you know you weren’t you’d be strenuously denying it.) When that happens, I think we can safely unleash the condemnation of the public and let the perpetrator deal with the consequences.
But what happens when the accused flatly denies the charges, as is the case with Roy Moore and a few of the Hollywood types swept up in this? If we’re never going to have a court case where the rule of law can make a determination, we need to piece together whatever bits of data are available. One factor, while not good enough for a courtroom, is whether or not it’s a single instance or if there’s a “known” history of complaints from multiple victims.
In the case of Roy Moore, many of you are referencing the “three other girls” in the Washington Post story, implying that there were multiple victims. But the other women uniformly claim that Moore had “pursued” a romantic relationship when they were above the legal age of consent and that he never attempted to force himself upon them. Granted, the idea of a guy in his thirties trying to date a sixteen-year-old is definitely creepy in my book (at a minimum) and if that was our sixteen-year-old daughter I’m sure a lot of us would be reaching for a shotgun. But it was still legal and lacking in any claims that he assaulted the girls, so this is really a case of one accuser.
What of that “everybody knew it” syndrome? Moore has been in the public eye for a long time with many, many political enemies. If this was out there, and he was doing it to a lot of women, wouldn’t it have come up before now? And while not dispositive in any sense, anyone being honest about this should be hard-pressed to ignore the fact that the story broke after the primary runoff and only a few weeks from a general election. That doesn’t impugn the woman making the claims since she was approached by the Washington Post, not the other way around, but if this was such a “known thing” for the past forty years, how did the Washington Post only get around to asking the question now?
Supposedly there is a date from that time period when the accuser was at a courthouse on the same day that Moore was known to be in the same building. Curious and worth a deeper look, but hardly definitive unless he was known to be speaking with her at the time. And the fact that she knows that he had an “unpaved driveway” at his home? Pardon my saying, but none of this adds up to the ocean of evidence we’ve seen in the Weinstein and Spacey cases, among others.
So am I saying Roy Moore is innocent? Absolutely not. For all I know he’s guilty of precisely what is accuser is claiming. Or perhaps he really never did know her. I don’t know. And the main point I’m making here is… you don’t either unless you were there. We simply need more information. Unfortunately, that’s not stopping a lot of people with very visible platforms from making up their minds already. Steve Bannon is declaring Moore free of guilt and blaming the Washington Post. Conversely, Max Boot at USA Today declares this a reason for the entire GOP to disband, going further in arguing that, the presumption of innocence applies to criminal defendants, not political candidates.
Can we all pause for a moment, re-read that last statement from Max and be just a little bit… horrified? The presumption of innocence is indeed a cornerstone in criminal cases, but his conclusion means that any accusation which isn’t immediately refutable with solid evidence which would stand up in court is sufficient to derail a political campaign, end someone’s career, wreck their marriage or any of the other penalties which arise from a conviction in the court of public opinion. Is that truly the standard we’re going to aspire to?
And if it is, and we’re going to apply it to Roy Moore, will we also apply it to George Takei? As Rachel wrote this morning, he’s been accused of awful things by a male model and actor. Much like Moore, this is a single accuser who provided very detailed accounts of when, where and how it happened. (And many are saying those details lend credence to the accusations against Moore.) But he has flatly denied the claims, similarly saying that he has no memory of meeting the actor. And yet that interview he did with Howard Stern (which is available in Rachel’s article) certainly makes it sound as if forced, unwanted sexual contact was nothing new for him. Shall we convict Takei now as well?
This will all take time to sort out, assuming that there is enough information out there to come to a mostly definitive conclusion. And if that means it takes until after the Senate election, so be it. There are still ways to remove a sitting Senator found to be culpable in such things. But the point is, if you’ve already made up your mind one way or the other, you’re engaging in mob behavior without sufficient evidence to justify your conclusions. And that’s not healthy for society, to say nothing of this one specific case.