This is what I was afraid of
Two weeks ago I wrote Androphobia: Fear of Men.
It got an interesting mix of responses. Some responses amounted to saying that I was over-reacting. To which my response is "I'll believe my own lying eyes over your opinion. Thank you very much."
Then today I saw this article.
Now the cascading accusations were reaching deep into the heart of the mainstream media. Charlie Rose … Matt Lauer … Mark Halperin … even liberal outlets like NPR and the New Republic were not spared. For that matter, not even the New Yorker and the New York Times were spared: At the Times, star political reporter Glenn Thrush is under investigation, and the New Yorker has just fired its star political reporter, Ryan Lizza, over “improper sexual conduct.”
Some of these cases were clearly and inexcusably abusive – the actions egregious and the corroborating accounts damning.
Others, however, were less clear.
OK. That's to be expected.
But keep reading.
Normally when a publication decides to fire a reporter for cause, it does one of two things: It quietly announces their departure without stating a reason, giving the reporter some room to find another job; or, when the malfeasance may have impacted the reporting, it announces exactly why the person was fired, publishes the results of the internal investigation, and makes it clear which stories are being corrected or rescinded as a result of the reporter’s misbehavior.
The New Yorker did neither; after what appears to have been a fairly brief investigation, it announced that Lizza was a sexual abuser, but left the rest of us to guess at what sort of abuse might be involved. Lizza, meanwhile, says: “The New Yorker has decided to characterize a respectful relationship with a woman I dated as somehow inappropriate. The New Yorker was unable to cite any company policy that was violated. … This decision, which was made hastily and without a full investigation of the relevant facts, was a terrible mistake”.
Tavis Smiley of PBS reports a similar experience:
PBS launched a so-called investigation of me without ever informing me. … Only after being threatened with a lawsuit, did PBS investigators reluctantly agree to interview me for three hours.
If having a consensual relationship with a colleague years ago is the stuff that leads to this kind of public humiliation and personal destruction, heaven help us. The PBS investigators refused to review any of my personal documentation, refused to provide me the names of any accusers, refused to speak to my current staff, and refused to provide me any semblance of due process to defend myself against allegations from unknown sources. Their mind was made up. Almost immediately following the meeting, this story broke in Variety as an “exclusive.” Indeed, I learned more about these allegations reading the Variety story than the PBS investigator shared with me, the accused, in our 3 hour face to face meeting.
Now, I don’t know the truth of Smiley’s or Lizza’s cases; I don’t have enough detail to form an opinion. And yet, that in itself seems disturbing. It seems safe to say that few of these men will ever work in journalism again; there is a blacklist, and unless they can conclusively clear themselves, most of their names are on it.
Just like I said two weeks ago, you don't date, flirt, or do anything that can ever be interpreted as informal with a female coworker. Not anymore. Not unless you want to risk destroying your career.
Blacklisting people so cavalierly is hard to defend. But with “believe all women” the order of the day, that’s effectively the new regime we’re looking at. No outlet wants to be deemed insufficiently concerned with sexual abuse. And even if a company were willing to endure the public outrage, its lawyers seem likely to advise against it. After all, if you hire the guy who got accused of sexual harassment, and he does it again, the company is going to be on the hook for a whole lot of money.
This is what I was talking about before, when the woman lawyer described what sexual harassment was in a legal sense. She wasn't lying and she wasn't wrong.
If the woman feels uncomfortable then it's sexual harassment. End of story.
That's how employers approach it. It's about liabilities, not right and wrong.
What is actually true is secondary in importance. It costs them virtually nothing to destroy a man's career, but it could be a huge risk to stand behind him.
What do you think an employer is going to do?
Some people don't want to believe that, but that's on them.
Ultimately the norm of reflexively believing every accusation, and meting out harsh treatment to every man who is accused, does grave harm to the cause of fighting rape and harassment. #BelieveAllWomen elides the messy reality that women, like the rest of humanity, aren't always telling the truth—and that even when they are, their interpretations of events is not always the most reasonable one. If we reify too many weak or false claims, the norm will quickly slide toward "believe no women."
That's where she is wrong. We are a long, LONG ways away from "believe no women."
That day may arrive one day, but it probably won't arrive during the remaining years of my career. In the meantime, men better get used to the new normal.