Hayward: The Sexual Harassment Meltdown of 2017

Disgraced US film producer Harvey Weinstein is facing a $10 million lawsuit from an actress who alleges he sexually harassed her during the making of the Netflix series Marco Polo
AFP Yann COATSALIOU

No doubt one of the things 2017 will be remembered for was the cascade of sexual harassment allegations and resignations rolling through the worlds of entertainment and politics, beginning with the spectacular fall of once-untouchable Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Partisan opportunists should not be allowed to distract us from the devastating indictment of centralized power and the hypocrisy of the political class delivered by the “#MeToo” story.

Weinstein’s serial abuse of women in Hollywood has become the stuff of dark legend, and the extent of his efforts to silence his victims is astounding. A great deal of the motion picture industry was corrupted by Weinstein over the years, ranging from high-profile actors who knowingly kept his secrets to mafia-style intimidation tactics involving numerous giant film corporations and talent agencies. In fact, a lawsuit has been filed against Weinstein under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) because his operation so clearly follows the model of organized crime.

Weinstein was powerful enough to destroy the careers of anyone who threatened him, allegedly causing a few up-and-coming star actresses to vanish from the silver screen by privately blacklisting them with top directors. Former employees of his Miramax movie company have described it as a “brainwashing cult,” the “cult of Harvey,” a kingdom ruled by a mercurial tyrant whose sexual predation and cover-ups destroyed countless careers and drove some of his employees to alcoholism and nervous breakdowns.

The Weinstein horror is a story about the abuse of power on a breathtaking scale, conducted with the assistance of an industry that regards itself as morally superior to ordinary Americans and never stops telling them how to live their lives, spend their money, and vote. The industry that shapes American culture more than any other force was a vast spider web with a bloated predator lurking at its heart.

Look down the list of participants in Weinstein’s conspiracy of silence, or the list of other Hollywood figures accused of harassment and assault after Weinstein went down and the floodgates opened, and you’ll see any number of people who have lectured Americans on morality, attacked industries they disapproved of, and even testified to Congress as star witnesses.

The sexual harassment scandal rapidly spread to the other vital organs of centralized power in America: politics and journalism. One trusted journalist and respected political leader after another went down. Many of them held prominent positions of high public trust for decades before their predatory behavior was revealed. Many of them were arrogant moralizers who postured as champions of the little guy and defenders of the little gal.

The American people were unquestionably lied to by their media Gatekeepers of Truth to protect these powerful predators. Stories were spiked at news organizations to shield them. More stories we’ll never know about are probably buried in unmarked graves behind television studios and newspaper offices. Journalism and entertainment were corrupted for generations for the sake of enabling harassment, the way light bends around a black hole.

As for the political predators, some of them were in power for generations, too. Taxpayers are still struggling to digest the revelation of a congressional slush fund to quietly settle sexual harassment complaints. Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts suddenly let slip that women in the Washington press corps knew who the predators were, and did what they could to avoid getting cornered by them, but kept them secret from the public for years.

These political and journalistic campaigns of intimidation against victims and witnesses were less breathtaking in scale than Weinstein’s but followed the same model of powerful men threatening fragile careers if a strict code of silence was not observed. As with Hollywood studios, the halls of power in Washington and the newsrooms of New York are places where a few quiet words from a powerful man can destroy the career a woman has worked hard and sacrificed much to build.

The number of people who knew about these terrible “open secrets” for ages, but kept silent even after the rise of social media, is astonishing in retrospect. The Alabama Senate race turned on allegations of a different sort of sexual misconduct, but a common factor with the other stories was the remarkable number of people who knew about the situation for years but said nothing. The great national outpouring of disgust over Weinstein and the other scandals made many voters skeptical of Republican candidate Roy Moore’s denials and unwilling to dismiss his objectionable activities from three decades ago as “old news.” At the moment, there probably isn’t any “old” news about rich and powerful men (and a few women!) abusing their authority to satisfy their sexual urges.

There is an aspect of the sexual harassment nuclear meltdown that we have not yet come to terms with as a society. We celebrate those who are stepping forward today as heroes, but we are reluctant to dwell on the fact that they kept their silence for so long. Today it’s “#MeToo”—but where were you then? Why didn’t you say something and spare countless women who came after you from suffering at the hands of a powerful predator?

It’s telling that Time’s “Person of the Year” award was given to the “Silence Breakers,” the women who have spoken up since the Weinstein scandal exploded, but no mention was made of the man who actually defied Weinstein’s power and broke the silence, journalist Ronan Farrow. (As a consolation prize, Time’s editors were nice enough to mention Farrow as one of several “determined journalists” who did “phenomenal reporting” in 2017 when they explained why they gave Person of the Year to someone else. Farrow wasn’t even the first, second, or third name they mentioned!)

Of course, no one wants to be unkind to women who were victimized and terrorized by monsters like Weinstein, so we’re naturally reluctant to criticize them even slightly for being intimidated into silence by tyrants who could easily have destroyed their livelihoods. It’s much easier to turn our ire against millionaire stars who participated in Weinstein’s conspiracy of silence but were not directly assaulted themselves.

As a society, we have sworn to do better in the future, and part of that effort must include making it easier for victims to come forward. That goal will not be made easier to reach by criticizing anyone from the last wave of victims for holding their tongues so long. It’s also important to appreciate just how thoroughly the most powerful of these predators could destroy a woman who threatened them, with weapons ranging from gigantic lawsuits to character assassination. The stakes were much higher for many of these women, and for witnesses to the abuse, than merely losing a really good job.

How do we do better next time? Reflexively crediting all accusations from every accuser—the standard resigning Senator Al Franken demanded for young men in college, but was suddenly reluctant to embrace for himself—is a recipe for abuse and a violation of due process. There are already murmurs that the sexual harassment crusade might be going too far, calls to regain a sense of proportion about which allegations are serious, credible, and actionable. The American people don’t need front-row seats to an endless blood sport in which activists use sketchy harassment allegations to knock out politicians they don’t like.

There are well-founded concerns about political opportunists latching on to the sexual harassment crusade, especially after the Alabama Senate race put the scent of political blood in the water. The suspiciously-timed raft of left-wing op-eds admitting that Bill Clinton is a sexual predator who should have been punished more seriously for his crimes felt distinctly opportunistic—a battening down of the hatches before Democrats sail into a new “War on Women” political narrative and fire broadsides at every male Republican in sight.

Some speculate this was a generational shift brought about by young left-wingers finally learning the full story of the Clinton presidency, venting their disgust at the hypocritical old-guard feminists who gave Bill Clinton a pass, and proving they are more serious about the dignity of individual women than the political hacks of the Nineties. Others wonder if the “Second Look at Bill” boomlet was more about purging the Clinton influence from the Democratic Party and keeping names like Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, and Juanita Broaddrick from complicating the Democrats’ 2018 midterm election narrative.

Part of that narrative will clearly involve resurrecting the harassment narrative against President Trump. Ronan Farrow wasn’t mentioned in Time’s “Person of the Year” article, but Donald Trump somehow slipped in there over a dozen times, even though the charge against him was merely that he used some crude language in a conversation. Three women who accused him of more serious misconduct suddenly reappeared in the media in December, even though there were no new developments and no fresh evidence to support their charges.

President Trump denies these allegations, and his defenders say they were litigated thoroughly in the court of public opinion during the 2016 election. Democrats think the “#MeToo” scandals are an opportunity for a little double jeopardy. They hope to build a narrative sturdy enough to tarnish the GOP at large, and loop in a few policy proposals they can run on in 2018’s sequel to the blockbuster 2012 “War on Women” extravaganza.

Voters will be expected not to dwell on the fact that so many of the worst predators revealed in the sexual harassment meltdown were staunch men of the left and big Democratic Party donors, and to forget that Democratic Party leadership was quick to scribble out sexual harassment free passes for liberal “icons,” a tradition that stretches back to Chappaquiddick.

Lost in all this political maneuvering is the lesson Americans really should learn from the sexual harassment meltdown: the dangers of centralized power.

This is not a scandal that coincidentally just happened to affect entertainment media, journalism, and politics. Those are the three pillars of centralized power in the United States, and they are symbiotic. They depend on each other for story content, influence, political contributions, access to newsmakers, and the ability to silence accusers. In what other industries would so many politically active, outspoken, charismatic, and financially secure women keep quiet about a tidal wave of crimes that strike at the very heart of feminist convictions?

Power is the bait that lures victims, the fuel for arrogance, and the milk that nourishes the sense of childish entitlement displayed by so many of the men who walked out of the shower naked in front of female subordinates, or pushed buttons to lock them in offices until they paid proper tribute to the big star. Power is the prize that makes influential people abandon their principles in pursuit of some greater good.

Power long ago became the substitute for personal honor and moral judgment in our political class, which most definitely includes top journalists and the culture-makers of Hollywood. They share a common belief that policy positions are the true measure of morality. As a “feminist” infamously put it at the height of the Lewinsky scandal, Bill Clinton was entitled to a few blowjobs for keeping abortion legal. To this day, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, some insist that Democrats with solid left-wing voting records simply cannot be misogynists or racists. There is a reason Harvey Weinstein’s first response to the exposure of his misdeeds was to declare war against the National Rifle Association.

Why does anyone in their right mind think it’s a good idea to give the political class even more control over our lives after discovering it’s filled with predators, opportunistic hypocrites, eager sycophants willing to keep the darkest of secrets, and egomaniacs who view ordinary men and women as disposable fodder for their appetites?

Of course, we’ll be told “#MeToo” is an indictment of all men everywhere, not the titans of the peculiar industries that actually produced and enabled the scandal. We’ll be told even greater government power over the lives of ordinary people is the only way to prevent future abuses. Don’t believe it for an instant. The sexual harassment meltdown is eternal proof that power is the problem, not the solution.

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