TO ACCUSE OR NOT TO ACCUSE? Some Things to Think About. And Some Names. Part 1

Accusations of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct are all the rage right now, with new revelations coming at us faster than we're able to absorb and consider them.

But why now?  And what does it all really mean?  And what are we supposed to think - or do - about it?

I mean, all these offenders, and then all the confessions/accusations of The Me-Too posters - where is this taking us?

King of the Douchebags

On the one hand, of course, are the hardcore predators and repeat offenders - Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey.  (Many would like to add Donald Trump's name to that list; I'll discuss that later on.) These are men who clearly took advantage of their positions to violate the rights of the less powerful by using them sexually and abusing their individual rights, perhaps in ways that constitute serious crimes.  There's no doubt that the downfall of these men is a positive thing, both for the inviduals involved and for society in general.  They represent the most noxious element of celebrity culture, the way certain men have been able to insulate themselves with their power from taking responsibility for their actions.  The rumors about all these men abounded for years, but still they paid no price.  Now they finally have.  I certainly welcome more disclosures of this type that would rid politics, the entertainment industry and every other aspect of American life of these vultures who prey on the vulnerability of others.

Brett Ratner and James Toback hanging out

James Toback and Brett Ratner?  Sure, that's probably right.  Toback is a 300 pound filmmaker/douchebag whose manipulations stink of old school misogyny.  I remember hearing all the stories of him hanging out in supermarkets on New York's upper West Side, waving his scripts around in the air and promising roles to any lady who would blow him; very classy, dude.  How could any woman resist that?  Alec Baldwin has been his recent enabler, for reasons I don't pretend to understand.  Brett Ratner is also out of step with the times and, it seems, fatally drawn to that misogynistic storyline.  But I believe he has genuine talent and still has real passion for moviemaking.  I found him engaging when I saw him speak at a festival.  Maybe it was all bullshit, who knows, but I wouldn't count him out yet.

Agent Adam Venit of WME, as accused by actor Terry Crews?  Absolutely.  I think this is really important, because it spotlights something that happens so much, 85% of the time to young women, the rest to young men - it happened frequently to me when I was a young actor, something I will talk about in Part 2 - but almost never to a 6'3" 240 pound black man like Terry Crews.  The fact that it did this time - and the fact that Adam Venit is certainly one of the stupidest people on earth, because he put his hands on a man who played pro football and who could have literally done to Venit what Venit was already figuratively doing - that is, put Venit's head up his ass - well, thank God this is something that is finally being talked about!  We've all seen it happen, at pretty much every big party we've been to where drinks are being served.  As the party goes on, men's hands slip down from touching the shoulder, then the middle of the back, then the small of the back, and then the butt.  Almost always accompanied by that shit-eating smile, in which the man is saying, there's more where that came from.  Except the young person being touched never asked for it, was never interested, and now the party is ruined for them as they're filled with confusion and trepidation about how to react and what to say.  Well, Terry Crews is standing up for all of you, and I applaud him with all my heart for doing so.  If only we could clone him and have him stand guard at these parties, then maybe these young people - our daughters and sons - could enjoy themselves without constantly being molested.

Louis CK?  See, here's where we start entering a gray area for me.  Here's a comedian whose act is comprised in large part of a catalogue of his darkly-comic misdeeds and angst.  So a comedian who jokes in the bluntest ways possible about masturbation - his constant need to do it, and the great pleasure  he derives from it - is outed by female comics for having masturbated in front of them.  This is bad, it's wrong, not just the act but his evasiveness over the years about whether it happened, and his lack of empathy for the women upon whom he inflicted this violation.  But it's just not surprising.  I can understand and even share the anger that these women felt in this famous comedian forcing them to watch him pleasure himself - he was indeed taking advantage of his fame to do something that these women in no way asked for or wanted to see.  But he didn't touch them or continue to try humiliating them after that.  So personally I believe he deserves censure, but I don't understand why his career has to be over.  Why he's so toxic that he can't be given another chance at some point.  He's not a friend, and he's not my favorite comic, but I think there's more to him than just his fucked-up behavior.  Witness the Sarah Baker-starring episode in Louie about the Fat Girl comic who kept asking Louie out.  And a really impressive body of work, most of which works against putting himself on any celebrity pedestal.  If anything, he comes across in his work as pathetic.  Which is a pretty accurate description of anyone who would compel women who are his friends to watch him jerk off.

Then we have been given this really bizarre political tandem of Roy Moore and Al Franken - two men who couldn't be more different than each other, who literally have nothing in common except that suddenly the latter man becomes the name shouted out when the former is accused.  But this is simply a "false equivalency," as both Bill Maher and Alan Blumenfeld (my friend and unofficial rabbi) have called it.  What after all did Franken do?  While he was on a USO tour as a comedian, not a senator, he had a silly photo taken of himself about to grope his fellow USO traveler, model Leeann Tweeden. The optics may not be great, but it's just the kind of juvenile thing that performers do to while away the long and tedious hours of travel between stops.  Her claims that the photo and an overly-aggressive kiss that Franken gave her in rehearsal have been haunting her for the last 10 years are hard to take on face value, since Leeann Tweeden has put herself in many other situations that would seem more likely to haunt her.  By which I mean all the nude and semi-nude modeling that she did, and all the other ways she chose to make a living from her body.  Now I'm not trying to shame how she made her money, and I understand that she feels like she had control over those situations, while an aggressive kiss during a rehearsal of a written sketch comedy scene is just soooo horrifying.

A Democratic Congresswoman holds up a photo of 4 of Moore's accusers

But even at the worst possible interpretation, it still doesn't compare in any way with dating girls under 17 when you are a 30-something District Attorney in a small town in Alabama.  It just doesn't, no way, no how.  (The idea that any senator should even consider resigning for such an inconsequential reason is deeply offensive.)  Al Franken had no power over Leeann Tweeden, obviously, she certainly had no reason to be in awe of him, nor could he have done anything for her career.  According to the women who have come forward, Roy Moore used his stature as a district attorney to "dazzle" them when they were young girls, then used it to intimidate them into silence after their encounter.   Still and all, if Moore had simply apologized for his misdeeds of 35 years ago, saying that he made mistakes as a young man, then I'm not sure these acts would have all that much relevance.  The fact that he keeps doubling down in his denials makes it evident that he is unqualified to run for high office.  While Al Franken's sincere contrition shows the opposite.

There have been many strange allegations and finger-pointing, but I think the strangest have to be events surrounding the actor Richard Dreyfuss, star of such '70s classic films as Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  First Dreyfuss sends out a proud tweet, standing behind his son Harry's claim that Kevin Spacey traumatized him by groping his genitals - and, basically, daring him to tell anyone, which at first Harry didn't have the nerve to do.  And then, the very next day, Richard Dreyfuss himself was accused of sexual abuse by Jessica Teich, a writer he had worked with 30 years earlier.  Honestly, both accusations sound highly credible, which sort of sums up how complicated this web of conflicting stories and revolving truths has become.   Dreyfuss's immediate response was to say, "At the height of my fame in the late 1970s, I became an asshole," but he refused to admit that her specific charges were true.  Nevertheless, Dreyfuss contributed what may be the best characterization of our current phase.

"There is a sea-change happening right now, which we can look upon as a problem or an opportunity... I hope this is the beginning of a larger conversation we can have as a culture."


UPDATE: NBC News had this story months ago but pulled the plug on reporter Ronan Farrow, who then went to the New Yorker.  Lorne Michaels chose not to refer to the story on the latest SNL.   Is NBC still scared of Harvey - or is it somehow in bed with him?

It was at the Golden Globes, just five years ago - fairly recent in human terms, if eons by Hollywood standards - that Meryl Streep stood in front of the Hollywood elite and the world and thanked "God - Harvey Weinstein - the Punisher, Old Testament, I guess."    Cut to October 9, 2017, and the script has been flipped.  "The disgraceful news about Harvey Weinstein has appalled those of us whose work he championed, and whose good and worthy causes he supported.  The intrepid women who raised their voice to expose his abuse are our heroes."  So, yes, "God" is dead.  Who saw that coming?

Well, Harvey did, at least at the end.  He desperately called the producers, managers and agents who had supported him over the years because of the money he'd made for them and their clients.  But it was too late.  God was toxic, and the hymns to his power went silent.

Harvey Weinstein and Meryl Streep attend the Australian Academy Of Cinema And Television Arts Awards Ceremony on January 27, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by John Shearer/WireImage)

So pigs have flown.  Hell has frozen over.  And Harvey Weinstein stands accused in the court of public opinion (and maybe even in court) of thirty years of violating the trust and the bodies of pretty, young women - even raping them.  The media has delighted in calling this "an open secret" - but I'd heard it from many sources, and if I knew, that so many others did too.  Seth McFarlane's joke in the 2013 Ocar's, about the Best Actress nominees no longer having to make believe to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein - just  listen to the ensuing laughter.  People knew but felt like he was too powerful to confront.  But now that has changed.

Harvey is the subject of not one but two massive exposes, the first by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey in The New York Times, the second by Ronan Farrow (son of Mia) in The New Yorker.  Either one would have been devestating, but coming together like this in two major publications - something I've never seen before - have the force of a Mafia hit from two different families.  Bang bang, Harvey.  You're fucked.

So now he's floating in a lake of his own bodily fluids, along with those other scum of humanity, Cosby, Ailes and O'Reilly.

Harvey and wife, fashion designer Georgina Chapman, who is leaving him.

Not long ago, it was just Rose McGowan speaking out, asking where are all the other victims of Harvey's pawing?   Then the A-listers starting coming out of the closet: first Ashley Judd, then Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Mira Sorvino, Roseanna Arquette, Heather Graham, Cara Delvingne....  Then Gloria Allred showed up - it wouldn't be a sex abuse showdown without her - with a female screenwriter who Harvey abused.  A screenwriter!  Once again, there was the offer of a massage, his going into the bathroom to take a shower and coming out in an untied robe, little Harvey in his hands....

The tale of his downfall seems to be the one story that everyone can agree on and feel good about. Ewan McGregor tweeted "It's about time this is coming to light and he is getting his just desserts.  Bye Bully."  And his wife, Georgina Chapman, chimed in that she's divorcing him

Harvey and Jay-Z last year - don't expect to see this again either


Even right-wing Breitbart News has weighed in with this: "Today Weinstein is widely regarded as past his prime. Numerous reports indicate that the 65 year old is in deep financial trouble. Moreover, he has not produced a hit or come near Oscar Gold in nearly five years... Weinstein no longer has the juice to ruin anyone. Without that shield, it looks as though he faces a reckoning that has been a long time in coming."

But will he indeed face a reckoning?

And more importantly, will the predatory and biased culture he represents face a reckoning too?

Is there really a chance that this signals a sea-change in the way business will be conducted in the future, and that gender bias could come under serious review?

Bob and Harvey Weinstein back in the day - will their company survive?

Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr Weinstein. Mr Weinstein has confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances." - Sallie Hofmeister, Spokeswoman for Harvey Weinstein (Source: The New Yorker)

After failing to garner any support from his enablers, Harvey Weinstein scrambled around for a way to re-capture the narrative.

First, he issued this conciliatory apology: "I appreciate the way I've behaved with colleagues in the past caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it."  He followed this up by telling the NY Post, "I've got to deal with my personality. I have got to work on my temper. I've got to dig deep. I know a lot of people would like me to go into a facility, and I may well do just that - I will go anywhere I can to learn more about myself."  (As if the point is for him to learn more about himself - please.)

Harvey and Hillary - he will be a problem for democrats in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

Then he tried this defense: "I came of age in the '60s and '70s, when all the rules about behaviors and workplaces were different. I have since learned it's not an excuse, in the office - or out of it."

Then he tried to reassure everyone that he had heard the criticisms, and he was already changing his ways.

"Though I'm trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. My journey now will be to learn about myself (!) and conquer my demons. Over the last year I''ve asked Lisa Bloom to tutor me and she's put together a team of people. I've brought on therapists, and I plan to take a leave of absence from my company and to deal with the issue head on. I so respect all women and regret what happened."

The aforementioned Lisa Bloom - the daughter of Gloria Allred - chimed in with her own pathetic excuse.  "He's just an old dinosaur learning new ways."

Harvey & Michael Moore - another photo you won't see again any time soon

Then he tried making up a Jay Z quote which doesn't actually exist: '"I'm not the man I thought I was and better be for my children." The same is true for me.  I want a second chance in the community, but I know I've got work to do to earn it."

In the same breath, he turned around and had his attorned Charles Harder (who represented Hulk Hogan in his suit aginst Gawker) state that Weinstein was going to sue The New York Times for not giving him enough time to react to their expose before it was published.  (They gave him two days.)

And he had his spokeswoman issue the statement I previously quoted, "unequivocally" denying any non-consensual sex.  Sorry, but you can't take responsibility and not take responsibility at the same time.  There is no "consensual" sex here, and to say so is continuing to victimize the victims.

None of this confusing array of responses has done anything to stem the tide of allegations, accusations and moral disgust.

It has, however, brought me back to my own experiences as an abuse victim in the Horace Mann Sex Scandal, which was recounted in the New Yorker 2013 expose "The Master," and in the People Magazine article the following year about the predatory teachers at Horace Mann.

I was also represented in our lawsuit against the school by the ubiquitous Gloria Allred.  I received hate mail from supporters of the high school and was directed by others to websites where alumnae from the school wrote terrible things about we victims, claiming we were only in it for the money.  I eventually wrote my own book, The 13th Boy (Cune Press 2014)  But I have to say, it's an emotionally gruelling process, and I don't recommend it if you like sleeping through the night.  I'm glad we went ahead with it, but it was an ultimately disappointing result.

It did teach me a lot, though, about how to read between the lines of media stories and separate truth from lies. And I can tell you this:

Harvey Weinstein will be back sooner rather than later, working through back channels to get himself back in the game and into a position of power.

There is no chance of reforming an abusive pattern of behavior that has been going on for 30-35 years.  There is always the possibility of adapting his predilections to a more acceptable expression, but he will never stop having those abusive impulses.

I hope for the sake of all our futures - and all our daughters (including my 18 year old) - that this society does stop viewing behavior like Weinstein's as acceptable, just because it comes from someone rich and powerful.

I do hope that there's a time just ahead in which people will indeed be judged on the content of their characters.  And their abilities.

I have my doubts, because I know how difficult it is to change entrenched behavior patterns.

But the blowback on Harvey Weinstein is a positive sign, and who knows where it can lead?