A dearth of virtue and the death of hypocrisy
WASHINGTON — Hypocrisy, one of the most damnable sins, has been rendered obsolete. When everybody’s a skunk, nobody smells the stench. Or, more to the point, when everyone’s slurping from the same trough, who’s a pig?
Today, hypocrisy is the smirk on Harvey Weinstein’s face as he pursues therapy and asks forgiveness for his sexual transgressions. Well, I suppose one could say, at least he’s not a hypocrite! Indeed, he isn’t. Weinstein openly admits to bad behavior toward women, though he denies ever having had nonconsensual sex. I needn’t bore you with the banality of his alleged gross exhibitionism and other impositions.
Weinstein, whose whiskered jowls and corpulent corpus are perfectly cast for the villainous character he plays in life, is but the latest in a lineup of high-profile (alleged) predators, including Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and, long before, Bill Clinton. It bears mentioning that most of these men have never been formally charged or tried for sexual crimes in a court of law but recently been convicted in a trial by Twitter where the presumption of guilt overrides any considerations of due process. This isn’t to defend any of them, but shouldn’t we save a little of our outrage for these truncated expressions of “justice”?
Exceptions to the extra-legal rule are Clinton, who was impeached by the House of Representatives (and acquitted in the Senate) for perjury and obstruction of justice related to lying about sex with an intern; and Cosby, who had his day in court on a sexual assault charge that resulted in a deadlocked jury. The 80-year-old comedian faces a new trial next April.
Ailes, of course, left the company he created two weeks after former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson sued him for sexual harassment. They reached a settlement amount of $20 million, and he died soon thereafter. Justice doesn’t get any plainer than that. O’Reilly left the same company after revelations that he had settled with five women who accused him of sexual harassment, though the dethroned king of cable news has said the claims had no merit. Even so, one needn’t strain to recognize hypocrisy lurking in the corridors of the network that promoted family values while its boss and its highest earner were (allegedly) demanding sexual favors on the side. Settlements don’t necessarily confirm guilt, but numbers of women and dollars might.
Both Hollywood and the broadcast world are especially tough on women. Fox’s blend of sex(y) and news should have been scandalous (and was to many serious journalists), but Ailes knew his audience of mostly white, middle-aged men and sold them what they apparently wanted — ample leg and hint of bosom topped off with bee-stung lips and baby-doll eyes. No matter how many advanced degrees the Fox women have, Ailes set the stage for female objectification and created a prime-time bonanza that relied upon implicit and complicit exploitation. As long as everyone was living large, nobody complained.
Moreover, “everyone” sorta knew about these men, at least by reputation and rumor. Not everyone, obviously. Greta Van Susteren, who left Fox soon after Ailes, told me again last Thursday that she never had any idea what was going on. But many did, apparently, and they looked away, including some of the alleged victims, who kept silent for fear of retribution or, perhaps, because they were ultimately willing to suffer humiliation in exchange for advancement. This seems an obvious, if painful, truth.
If you want to move up, as Weinstein allegedly put it to his targets, “this is the way it works.” If women didn’t want to play nasty with the boss, who could conjure dreams or nightmares with a phone call, they were finished.
To say that these women, some barely in their 20s at the time, should have just-said-no and walked out is to misunderstand the power dynamic between a young, inexperienced woman and a powerful, physically imposing boss. It is also to wish for a different world, which, as it turns out, is coming right along. The alleged predators in each of these cases belong to a fading generation and the James Bondian, ’60s free-love, Playboy era. Soon enough, they, too, will be joining Hugh Hefner and Ailes.
And the future’s power brokers will be at least equally women, who, in the aftermath of these buffoonish bullies, won’t hesitate to speak up and speak out, setting an example for others not yet so brave. The panty party is over.
Now, about Twitter and the future of justice.