She’s following the first rule of crisis PR: When things look really bad, blame it on your now-dead boyfriend who just committed suicide.
Argento’s going to force #MeToo observers to wrestle with a hard question. Why should they give other sexual-assault victims the benefit of the doubt on their accusations but not her alleged victim? Is it a matter of numbers, i.e. there are 100 women accusing Harvey Weinstein versus one lone man accusing Argento? Or is it a matter of Argento supposedly being more credible because she’s spoken out passionately on victims’ behalf?
Neither one works. It can’t be that extolling #MeToo is a talismanic presumption of innocence on assault charges in the court of public opinion or else every pervert in the world will suddenly be a cheerleader for #MeToo. And it can’t be a pure numbers game, or else anyone who’s accused of assaulting “just” one person is exempt from the “Believe the victims!” rallying cry.
If you want to beat back an accusation, explain with particulars why it’s false. She doesn’t do that here. What she does — and tell me if this sounds familiar — is attack the alleged victim as a greedy blackmailing liar looking for an easy payday.
I just received this statement from @AsiaArgento in response to the NYT story published late Sunday evening. pic.twitter.com/jAOo7TAULX
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) August 21, 2018
Bennett was “undergoing severe economic problems,” she says (the NYT story yesterday noted that he had sued his parents over his earnings a few years before), and therefore she and Bourdain decided to “deal compassionately” with his demand for money. So they cut him a check for … $380,000, which was a lot of money to Bourdain and Argento. One of the shocking details revealed after his death a few months ago was that he wasn’t worth nearly as much as most people thought a TV star and author might be. His estate was valued at all of $1.2 million.
Which means, if it’s true that Bourdain picked up the tab for Bennett’s payoff, he gave the kid a quarter of his net worth. Does that seem likely?
There’s also the small matter of this still-unexplained detail from the NYT story:
Later that day she posted a close-up of their faces on Instagram with the caption, “Happiest day of my life reunion with @jimmymbennett xox,” and added that “jimmy is going to be in my next movie and that is a fact, dig that jack.” That post and others were included with the notice of intent, along with three photos apparently taken by Mr. Bennett that depict him and Ms. Argento in bed, their unclothed torsos exposed. (Only one of the photos taken in bed shows both their faces.)
“I never had any sexual relationship with Bennett,” she says in today’s statement. Does she normally lounge in bed with her top off with platonic male friends?
But wait. The plot thickens. TMZ says it has texts between her and Bourdain discussing Bennett’s settlement demands. In them, Argento makes it sound like Bennett was the aggressor. Is that the truth or just a lie anyone would tell to a boyfriend wanting to know why there’s a photo of you half-naked in bed with a 17-year-old?
Bourdain and Argento — who were dating for over a year before Bourdain’s death — texted each other about Jimmy Bennett, referring to him as a “donkey” and Bourdain writing that paying him is “no admission of anything, no attempt to buy a cover up, simply an offer to help an obviously tortured soul whose desperate and trying to jack you for money.”…
Asia, at one point, seems to contradict her claim she never had a sexual relationship with Bennett, saying, “It wasn’t raped (sic) but I was frozen. He was on top of me. After he told me I had been his sexual fantasy since he was 12.”…
Asia [goes on to say], “I will never buy his silence for something that isn’t true since I am also broke.” Yet she claims in other texts that he was the sexual aggressor.
Why didn’t she give those texts to the Times when they contacted her for comment before running their story? Why didn’t she give any comment, knowing that one of the most widely read papers in the world was about to blow her up? She didn’t need 36 hours to come up with a statement that says, in sum, “He forced himself on me, blackmailed me, and Tony thought we’d be better off making it go away.”
One big point in Argento’s favor: Unlike with many #MeToo accounts, nowhere in the Times’s story is there evidence that Bennett told anyone about his encounter with her or how supposedly troubled he was by it. That’s always a major point of credibility in stories like these, something that reporters like Ronan Farrow who are well practiced at it always make a point of including. E.g., “The victim says she told her sister and a friend about the attack the night that it happened, years ago. Both confirmed for me independently that that was true.” The only hint of an independent witness in the Times piece is the mention of a relative who went with Bennett to the hotel where he met Argento in 2013, on the day of their alleged sexual encounter. “Ms. Argento asked the family member to leave so she could be alone with the actor” and then came on to him, says the NYT, citing a claim Bennett made in his lawsuit notice to Argento. Is that true? Who was the family member? Did the family member notice any change in Bennett’s behavior afterward? Did Bennett not have any friends in whom he confided at the time that, oh, by the way, movie-star Asia Argento statutory-raped him? A little contemporaneous corroboration would go a long way.