Views expressed are the opinions of the author.
Let’s stipulate that all alleged cases of sexual harassment are not the same. Kevin Spacey is alleged to have sexually assaulted male minors. Glenn Thrush of the New York Times allegedly made unwelcome passes at adult women. These are not in the same moral universe. Likewise, we can acknowledge that crude behavior, including an unwanted kiss and alleged groping of women, as Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) is accused of, are unacceptable and obnoxious.
Still, a 30-something district attorney allegedly preying on teenage girls is in another category. Harvey Weinstein is accused of rape and other sexual abuses as he wielded his power to make and break careers of vulnerable women. President Trump is accused of groping and forcibly kissing women over a period of time — which one could say is less heinous than Weinstein but worse than Franken (as the facts are now known).
And, then there’s Charlie Rose. The Washington Post now reports:
- PBS said Tuesday it was parting ways with Charlie Rose and CBS announced it fired the 75-year-old broadcaster for “extremely disturbing and intolerable behavior” following an extensive Washington Post report that detailed his alleged unwanted sexual advances toward women.
- His firing was announced by CBS News President David Rhodes, who wrote in a midday memo to the network’s staff that it was “effective immediately.”
- “Despite Charlie’s important journalistic contribution to our news division, there is absolutely nothing more important, in this or any organization, than ensuring a safe, professional workplace — a supportive environment where people feel they can do their best work,” Rhodes wrote. “We need to be such a place.” . . . .
- Eight women, who were either employees or aspired to work for Rose at the “Charlie Rose” show, told The Post that he made unwanted sexual advances to them between the late 1990s and 2011.
- Those advances included lewd phone calls, walking around naked in their presence, or groping their breasts, buttocks or genital areas, the women said
The severity of the offense(s) and the need to protect the integrity of institutions (the press, the Congress, the presidency) should warrant permanent banishment for repeated actions of unwelcome physical conduct, even as we understand morally that some actions are worse than others. Congress is entitled to and should have a higher standard than Hollywood or even a run-of-the-mill workplace where an offending employee might be docked pay, demoted or suspended rather than dismissed. We still hold out hope that the White House should be held to at least that standard.
We should in other words have a zero tolerance for any sexual harassment or abuse but a graduated scale for doling out punishment. So far in Hollywood and the media, the accused generally have paid a steep price, in some cases suffering a career-ending moment when the accumulated accusations are too gross and too credible to ignore.
Inside the Beltway the precedent has yet to be set in stone. President Bill Clinton was impeached (and his law license taken away) while Trump has so far gotten away with blanket denials and smears of his accusers. Franken’s fate is yet to be determined, although the fact that there has been more than one allegation makes it less likely he can survive. And now we have learned about Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.):
- Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California says the committee should promptly assess the validity of a BuzzFeed report. The report included affidavits from former staff members who said they had witnessed Conyers touching female staffers inappropriately or requesting sexual favors.
- Lofgren, who once served on the Ethics Committee, says: “this reported behavior cannot be tolerated in the House of Representatives or anywhere else.”
Moreover, we have an unknown number of cases settled with taxpayer money in which the identities of the accused are unknown. Lawmakers would be wise to set a zero-tolerance standard to which they hold members of both parties. While they may choose to spare some the equivalent of the political-career death penalty, no decent public servant should welcome someone of Moore’s ilkinto office or disregard Trump’s complainants. As to the latter, is it unreasonable to demand an independent investigation in advance of the 2020 election — if Trump is still in office? Trump’s opponents should do so and remind voters that it is not too late to establish or reestablish a standard for the presidency.
Decent Americans should not avert their eyes from the harm perpetrated on multiple women over decades. Alabama will send an important message, but unless politicians start self-policing and demonstrating greater transparency, the voters in 2018 may decide to throw the whole lot of them out of office.