Sexual McCarthyism – Why Every Public Figure Needs to be Concerned

…what should stop every adult in their shoes — and not just men — is the immediate finding of guilt…

It started with Harvey Weinstein. Then it was James Toback, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Louis CK, George Takei, Jeremy Piven among more than a dozen of well-known and not-so-well-known producers, directors, and actors in Hollywood.

Then came the journalists. Tech blogger Robert Scoble, Vox Media Editorial Director Lockhart Steele, fashion photographer Terry Richardson, former editor at The New Republic Leon Wieseltier, CBS’s Rick Najera, NBC News contributor Mark Halperin, president and publisher of The New Republic Hamilton Fish, former NYT editor and head of news at NPR Michael Oreskes, among others.

Next it was politicians. Though we’ve heard about “indiscretions” for decades from presidents John F. Kennedy, to Bill Clinton, US Rep Gary Condit, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, US House Rep Anthony Weiner, former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert, we’ve been subject to a new round of allegations with claims against President Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Kentucky Speaker of the House Jeff Hoover, Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore, and seemingly new accusations and revelations every day.

Sexual misconduct in the workplace has been an issue for decades. Anita Hill, Susan Fowler at Uber, Gretchen Carlson, among many, many more.

High-profile criminal cases such as the Brock Turner case from Stanford, the “Mattress Girl” case at Columbia have raised doubt as to both the veracity and handling of claims of inappropriate and/or criminal conduct on American college campuses.

We’ve moved from the days where women were hardly believed to a time when at least in the court of public opinion, an allegation is nearly as good as fact.

There is no question that many of the individuals named above have been involved in inappropriate and in some cases criminal sexual activity. In some cases the acts are not just sexual in nature, but have involved sexual acts against children which takes things to a whole different level of disturbing skeeviness.

No rational person would deny that victims should be heard, their cases investigated, nor that improper or illegal behavior should not have consequences. But what should stop every adult in their shoes — and not just men — is the immediate finding of guilt in the news media and on social media.

Allegations are spread around the world within hours. Lives and livelihoods are put on hold or torn apart with a few paragraphs or even 140 characters. The speed at which this happens, repeatedly, is astounding.

Many on the right of our political spectrum were bemused at first when it appeared that the liberal left in Hollywood who had shouted so loudly about the allegations against then-candidate Trump had begun eating their own with the Weinstein scandal.

It was pretty easy to roll your eyes at Ashley Judd’s admission of tolerating and ignoring behavior to get ahead as an actress while screaming about President Trump wearing a pink pussy hat, or throwing a hissy fit about a TSA agent calling her Sweetheart.

Every new allegation came along with declarations of accusers being “brave” for speaking out about their experiences. Social media became riddled with the hashtag #MeToo, as a declaration of solidarity in having experienced sexual assault.

More and more allegations flowed, some of them getting older and older, 10, 20, 30 years or more ago. Anyone questioning why these women were just now speaking out have been quickly condemned. The allegations can’t have any motive beyond a sisterhood of support and caring for future victims yet to be violated.

We have seen a wide range of responses from the accused. Some have acknowledged and admitted their wrong-doing and stepped away from positions of power. Others have been more truculent in their responses while still moving aside.

Then there are those who deny the allegations, yet their claims fall on deaf ears. Why do these individuals have less of a voice than their accusers? Why are we willing to destroy careers and reputations decades after the fact?

One of the more recent accusations involving some of the oldest alleged misdeeds is that of  the Alabama Republican Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore. Moore prevailed in a hotly contested primary election and runoff election against junior Senator Luther Strange who had the initial support of President Trump.

Millions of dollars flowed into the campaigns, with establishment Republicans backing Strange, who was appointed to the seat after the confirmation of former Senator Jeff Sessions to the US Attorney General post.

Despite a long, storied, and controversial career in Alabama politics and the judiciary, only once Moore secured the Republican primary did the allegations begin to surface. In over 40 years in politics, no allegations were made of criminal conduct or inappropriate conduct beyond the small town rumor mill.

Yet here we are with self-styled liberal caped crusader Gloria Allred holding a press conference with a woman accusing Moore of assaulting her in 1977 when she was 16 years old. Nineteen seventy-seven. That’s 40 years ago, when even my middle-aged self was in the sixth grade.

Wiping away non-existent tears, Beverly Young Nelson allowed herself to be paraded before the cameras with a sordid story of a 30-odd year-old man making advances, and if she is to believed, assaults against her as a 16-year-old waitress.

As tends to be the case when Allred swoops in, there’s no possibility of a criminal complaint in this case, the statute ran well over 35 years ago. Further, Allred asserts that her “client” has no interest in filing a civil suit. Why then, is this story being proffered now, other than as a means to discredit the Republican candidate?

Those who opposed Moore in the elections have been quick to jump on the bandwagon demanding he step down as candidate, or even assert that if he is elected by the will of the Alabama voters, that he be removed from his seat by the Senate.

There is no question that it is politically expedient to declare belief of every accuser’s story, particularly if it involves someone unpopular with the Swamp in DC.

If the talk of the town in Etowah County Alabama, which has popped up locally from time to time, is to be believed, then Moore is may very well be guilty of at least skeevy behavior, if not criminal behavior if it were reported in a timeline manner.

Guilty or not, what should scare every public figure in America is the realization that Roy Moore, Jeremy Piven, and others who deny the allegations made against them have no forum to dispute these stories but in the press.

Criminal actions cannot be brought, either through the expiration of any statute of limitations or the conduct not rising to the level of criminal offense. Civil suits are not being filed by these purported victims, where the allegations would be tested against established standards of law.

Most readers are too young to remember the “Red Scare” that was the result of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s mission to rid our country of alleged communist supporters resulting in hearings by the House Un-American Activities Committee. If there is any awareness of it at all, it is often as a quaint relic of the early cold war. What people forget is how many lives, livelihoods and reputations were forever tarnished by these accusations, which coincidentally also impacted primarily Hollywood and government officials or employees.

Like the Salem witch trials, McCarthyism was the result of hysteria sweeping a community with what may have been suspicion rooted in some small grain of truth exploding into a runaway train of accusations and fallout.

How many of today’s accused truly are innocent? How much was perhaps a poor choice, but not  abuse of power or influence? We won’t ever know for sure, but there will inevitably be some.

We are better than this. It is not brave to lob accusations at someone decades later and then disappear back into the woodwork as most of Allred’s “clients” have over the years.

It is not brave to write articles trumpeting the alleged misdeeds of politicians who are members of the opposing political party while ignoring the misdeeds of members of your own party (Can we talk again about Juantia Brodderick?).

It is not brave to pass around these allegations with glee across social media, where truth is not a necessary component of going viral.

We should be afraid, very afraid, that we ourselves will be subjected to such treatment with no resources to fight it, and no recourse to be had.

We must examine ourselves and our motives in staying quiet for so long, while in many cases benefiting from being acquainted with or working with the individuals we accuse.

Any chance we have as a society to truly no longer tolerate sexually abusive behavior is to respond to it when it happens. Open secrets only exist where people put personal profit ahead of what’s right. Those who turn a blind eye are just as complicit and guilty as any perpetrator.

Take your stand when it happens, not when it is politically expedient. That is brave, and that should be supported.

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