Outrage over sexual assault shouldn’t be a partisan contest. Whether you’re Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Harvey Weinstein or Bob in Accounting, sexual predation is inexcusable. But as bad as their behavior, I’m similarly outraged by those who, because of self-interest, enable miscreants to continue unchecked and law enforcement and news media watchdogs who knowingly fail to do their jobs.
The recent public disclosures concerning Hollywood mogul and Democratic Party mega-donor Harvey Weinstein bring all of these elements together. What’s especially appalling about this is how widely known were Weinstein’s proclivities. According to an expose in The New Yorker, the stories had been widely circulated for more than two decades, but most people – in politics, entertainment and journalism – never came forward because they had business dealings in one way or another with him and feared his power.
Three women have accused him of rape, and, as of now, up to two dozen have reportedly accused him of sexual harassment or assault. It was expected that Republicans would jump all over the story as did Democrats over Ailes or Pennsylvania right-to-life Congressman Tim Murphy who insisted his mistress get an abortion. But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Both sides should have been outraged about all these cases.
It is dispiriting that leading beneficiaries of Weinstein’s largesse would be so slow to respond to the disclosures. While most congressional recipients quickly denounced his behavior and redirected their Weinstein monies to non-profits combating violence against women, the Clintons and Obamas were slow to respond and silent on keeping his contributions.
Hillary Clinton took $5000 from Weinstein and had him host multiple fundraisers for her. She could easily direct that money elsewhere. Husband Bill, who previously earned his stripes as a womanizer, was also a recipient. Weinstein was also reportedly a donor to the Clinton Foundation. Weinstein hosted big bucks fundraisers for Barack Obama. Malia Obama had an internship with Weinstein.
The Democratic National Committee says it will take $30,000 of the $300,000 it received from Weinstein over the years and donate it to groups that elect women. Come on, why not give it to sexual violence charities rather than keep it in the family?
The real “keeping in the family” problem though is a cultural one, which has long tolerated sexual harassment and protected their own. Include here the top levels of NBC and even, at one time, the NY Times. Both knew about the assaultive behavior and chose not to follow up. The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, who two years ago chose not to prosecute a charge against Weinstein even when the woman making the allegation had worn a wire and gotten corroborative evidence. The Board of the Weinstein Company, which had made at least eight settlements with victims of Weinstein in exchange for their silence. (Such settlements normalize harassment and isolate women who might otherwise go public with their stories.) And what about the people at Miramax and the ever-moral Disney company who worked and were invested with Weinstein, but who have only voiced criticism in the last few days? All of them have constituted a conspiracy of silence.
The challenge is not to come forward just when a Harvey Weinstein has lost some of his power in New York and Hollywood or when celebrity targets finally speak out, but to give credence to the claims of ordinary mortals and support their right to defend themselves. Ultimately, this is about changing our culture, ending the wink/wink/nod/nod dismissals of sexual predators just because they are rich or powerful or, as in the case of Donald Trump, inclined to “locker room talk” and other behavior. But, as long as the star of the Access Hollywood tape is in the White House, I don’t think we have reached the inflection point.