This past weekend I found myself wrestling, very likely in vain, with some of the ethical questions arising from the snake pit that the sexual assault stories coming out of Hollywood and the media have become. There was a time – I think it was as far back as this summer – when anyone responsibly reporting on criminal activity held to a standard which was slightly looser than the requirements of the criminal justice system, but not all that much looser. In that linked article I found myself already nodding my head and agreeing that some compromises are required, particularly when dealing with allegations dating back so far that they will never come before a judge and any evidence beyond the decades-old recollections of the principals and their associates is long since gone. But while I set forth some of those exceptions in the essay, that doesn’t mean that I was left with an easy feeling.
Last night John Ziegler published a piece at Mediaite which did a far better job of encapsulating some of these concerns and it seriously gave me pause. The title alone addresses the swamp we are on the verge of descending toward: Is No One Seriously Concerned About Media’s New Standards on Reporting Abuse Allegations?
John covers some of the same cases we’ve been writing about here, and it may turn out that each and every allegation is true. But some of them may not be. Others may be left perpetually in he said she said territory, leaving us with no choice but to pick a side when answering the thundering cry of, “Do you believe her or are you a slut-shamer?” Ziegler goes on to point out that some of these questions are particularly problematic because we’re dealing with the media, both news and entertainment.
Knowing how incompetent and corrupt I believe most of the news media is, I get extremely nervous when a story like this gets legs so strong that facts and logic are often left in the dust. At a certain point, when critical mass is reached, it is very easy for very dangerous new “rules” to be set and for innocent people to get badly damaged…
Part of why I get anxious in these situations is that I know that no one in the media has the guts to roam outside of the herd on a story like this one which is so toxic that one small misstep can easily result in being run over by the thundering stampede of “virtue signaling” cowards. Therefore, no one wants to be the guy (especially if they are a white man with no “PC protection”) who warns about all of the bad precedents that are now being set on an almost daily basis.
It used to be the standard in the news media that people accused of crimes were always described using the word “alleged” until they either confessed or were convicted. We’ve had cases where people were literally filmed committing crimes and the same standard was applied. Today, as John notes, the New York Daily News put the images of eleven men on the front cover with no other descriptor than “Perv Nation.”
There’s an equally important question lurking under the surface which has to do with precisely who is being accused and doing the accusing. With the exception of a few politicians, they’ve all come from the worlds of Hollywood and the mainstream media. Ziegler asks an important question I was trying to tackle over the weekend as well. Surely there’s nothing unique about these occupations which makes them attract all the serious scumbags like a magnet while most of the rest of the country is full of virtuous men who are pure as the driven snow.
I am quite sure that male bosses in other industries have also been using their power to coerce subordinates into sexual situations, so why haven’t we heard about more about those allegations? I can imagine news reporters now taking calls alleging old abuse against some unknown persons without any real public power and telling the accusers, “sorry, please call back if you ever get abused by someone at least marginally famous.”
Is abuse any less harmful to the waitress being put in compromising situations by customers at a Hooters restaurant? It sure seems like these stories are still ignored mostly because no one really cares, or is remotely surprised, if, for instance, the local strip club owner is harassing their employees. Basically the media is saying, “look, we can’t possibly handle all of these stories, so were are only going to go with the ones we think people will believe and that will get ratings.”
I remember reading a number of stories indicating that a significant number, if not an actual majority of women who work as exotic dancers (fine… strippers) wind up being raped if they stay in the business for a few years. And I don’t mean subjected to offensive language or even assaulted in the form of being groped, pinched, etc. I mean raped. (Or, as Whoopi Goldberg would say, rape raped.) Are there thousands of calls coming in from these women? Or for that matter, all of the secretaries, paralegals, computer programmers, nannies and mail carriers who have been sexually assaulted and otherwise abused by people higher up the food chain than them? If so, are the police investigating? Is anyone reporting on it? Or are those just not the sorts of crimes that, as John said, people will believe and that will get ratings?
Maybe the volume actually is so large that the media can’t possibly cover all the stories. Who knows if the police have the resources to prosecute them all. But it would really help if we were covering at least some people, both victims and accusers, who weren’t famous and ready to produce gasps from the audience.
I know this is a lot to digest so I’ll just leave it at that. But we should be thinking long and hard about these questions moving forward. We’re not just on the cusp of a slippery slope here. The ride is already in motion and picking up speed, and a lot of people will wind up in very bad shape when it goes off the rails.