What do we do when #MeToo cases aren't clear-cut?

Part of the complicated fallout from #MeToo seems to be a lack of due process in responding to accusations. We’ve all heard stories of #MeToo overreach and backlash. Many people who work in the media or academia or entertainment, like me, have witnessed at least one person who has gone through some version of this. There are cases in which, whatever the accusers’ motivations, their claims are not found to be true or the punishment is out of proportion to the offense. Often the accused are convicted in the court of Twitter or ushered out by human resources and left to suffer the material and psychic losses. Public condemnation, even in the absence of evidence, can be enough to damage a life.

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One high-profile example involves the novelist Junot Díaz, who was accused in 2018 of sexual misconduct by one writer and more generally of misogynistic behavior by several writers on Twitter. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he teaches writing, found no evidence of misconduct toward students or staff members. The Pulitzer Prize Board, for which he served as chair, found no reason to remove him after a five-month review by an independent law firm. But not before his reputation was sullied.

There is no court of appeals if the offending party believes he was wrongly or unfairly accused. Langella said he was told by lawyers and advisers to follow the now standard cycle of abject public apology: “Do the talk shows, show contrition, feign humility. Say you’ve learned a lot.” This seems to be the preferred route, but it’s by no means assured, nor does it always sit well with those who believe their actions don’t warrant the punishment.

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