Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story referred to allegations of improper conduct made against Elie Wiesel. The Washington Post has removed those references and Wiesel’s photograph from the piece because the account of his accuser could not be challenged by Wiesel, who died in 2016. In addition, The Post should have taken steps to corroborate the claim before reporting it, and failed to do so in this case.
The sound you hear is a million men shaking in their wingtips and cowboy boots — men who are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, the kind of enveloping unease and fear that they’ve triggered in women, to some degree, for years. The flip side of the #MeToo campaign, in which legions of women on social media have revealed their experience with abuse, is something like #YouToo?, in which every day another prominent man is frogmarched into the spotlight for his behavior.
On Wednesday night, as the capital was going to bed, CNN lobbed the latest #YouToo?: Five anonymous women saying that they were propositioned, harassed and assaulted by the prominent political journalist Mark Halperin when he worked at ABC News.
Halperin, now at MSNBC and best known for his 2008 campaign book, “Game Change,” acknowledged to CNN that “I did pursue relationships with women that I worked with, including some junior to me,” adding, “I now understand from these accounts that my behavior was inappropriate and caused others pain.”
Now he understands. Does the “now” merely arise from the fact that his actions are now public? Does “now” mean we’re watching an epoch of entitled masculinity finally end? Or is there something else going on “now”?
It’s been nearly three years since Bill Cosby was first called out, in a high-profile manner, for his alleged serial predation. The sheer number of women who came forward put several dozen cracks in a dam against open secrets that has stood for generations in Hollywood, business and media world. Admitted groper Donald Trump’s election was, you might say, the ultimate exoneration — get caught on tape bragging about the abuse, and America will still hand you the nuclear codes.
But after his inauguration, the dam continued to crack.
Now, in the three weeks since the world learned of producer Harvey Weinstein’s side career of harassing and assaulting women, the dam now seems to have completely ruptured. Men have been swept away by the flood of allegations, which range from the creepy to the monstrous.
Heads of state. Creators of entertainment. The publisher of ArtForum magazine. The co-founder of the electronic band Crystal Castles. Journalists — this week, Lockhart Steele, an editorial director for Vox Media, and Leon Wieseltier, a former bigwig at the New Republic — who are the gatekeepers of what we see and how we understand it.
“Ailes, O’Reilly, Weinstein, Halperin were some of our culture’s key storytellers, shaping our ideas of gender, authority, power & much more,” noted Jodi Kantor, the New York Times reporter who broke the Weinstein story on Twitter on Thursday morning.
The slightly more benign hashtag to come out of this discussion might as well be #MeToo? — with the question mark representing the quiet self-interrogation currently happening with mostly decent men of a certain age (60-plus? 50-plus? What is the generational divide here?) as they realize that the behaviors they perceived as all-in-good-fun were, in fact, only half in good fun — their own half. For decades, the women on the receiving end weren’t having any fun at all.
Is this a moment of #MeToo? for George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States? An actor named Heather Lind said she was “sexually assaulted” by the jolly old fellow with the fun socks, who apparently touched her butt while posing for a photo.
“To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner,” said a spokesman for Bush on Wednesday, while noting that the former president’s wheelchair posture keeps his arms at butt-level.
Could that “same joke” be the one that he allegedly told another actress, Jordana Grolnick, while posing for a photo with her in August 2016? Grolnick told Deadspin that Bush and wife Barbara visited her backstage at a Maine theater, that the president asked her to guess his favorite magician, and then, as he squeezed her rear end, revealed that the answer was “David Cop-a-feel.”
All along, these men were all wrong. Now, have we reached a point where these men are all evil? Allegations are coming by the bushel, and we are in a moment of figuring out how to sort them. In journalism, there’s a term called “notebook dump,” the process of throwing together all your reporting — every note taken, interview conducted, scene observed. Some stuff won’t make the ultimate story; the notebook dump is how you see what you’ve got, and figure out how to move forward.
The women of America are currently engaged in a notebook dump of epic proportions, releasing the anecdotes they’ve been carrying since puberty.
A colleague relates an anecdote from 1972: At the age of 16 she attended the Republican National Convention and met Sen. Strom Thurmond. He asked where she was from, told her she was “shapely” and, as she left, patted her butt.
“Sexual harassment” wasn’t in common parlance at the time, our colleague says.
It is possible for things to be wrong, and equally possible for some things to be more wrong than other things.
Put a different way: Some men need to be educated; some need to be imprisoned.
Around the time the Weinstein scandal broke, a spreadsheet circulated among women who work in media, sharing their intel about certain men who work in media. It sorts men by their “affiliation” and “alleged misconduct,” with those accused of physical violence highlighted in red. There are names you’d recognize and names you wouldn’t. The allegations are all over the place in terms of seriousness: “leering” and “flirting,” “gave a woman a black eye” and “drugged a woman and attempted to rape her.”
Take the attempted rapist. Put him in jail.
Take the gross flirter. Teach him how to read signals from women. Figure out how each offense should be categorized. Begin the emotionally laborious process of reeducating millions of males, even despite the valid criticism that women experiencing harassment don’t particularly want to also be in charge of educating harassers.