In a country without guts or common sense these days, host Tavis Smiley showed both bravery and reason recently when he dared utter the words: “This has gone too far.” He was, of course, referring to the PBS decision to suspend distribution of his talk show. Like multiple prominent men before him this year, he was targeted because at least one woman from his past claimed that he had inappropriate relations with her, relations that fell into the realm of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Smiley, or course, follows film mogul Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., morning show anchors Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, and a host of other famous men who have lost their high profile jobs this year, swept up in the so-called “MeToo” movement.
The movement, in many ways, is a modern manifestation of the decades-long American feminist and women’s right movements, where women recently have become empowered to not remain silent over the historical sexual abuse and advances of powerful men.
I have no problem with this movement, at its essence. Sexual harassment is wrong, especially the quid pro quo variety, when someone in a superior position requests sexual favors in exchange for a job, success or advancement. Where I do have a problem, however, is with the way these modern accusations are being handled. In many instances, it appears these famous men are being fired or suspended without due process of any kind; this sets a dangerous precedent for American society and amounts to no less than summary execution. Imagine if our legal system adopted such practices, where people were convicted and imprisoned — or worse — without hearing or trial, and guilt was based solely on the words of others.
Will the social justice of the MeToo movement one day affect our traditional justice system? American society mutates in different directions each day, it seems, now more rapidly than ever, and who knows what to expect from one day to the next?
And what will happen to Tavis Smiley, to Matt Lauer, to Charlie Rose, to actor Kevin Spacey, to journalist Mark Halperin? These are men I have watched and admired for years. What will happen to them now that “justice,” apparently based largely on the popular demands of a social movement, has publicly shamed them and killed their careers? Will they get second chances at some point, chances at redemption? No one seems to be asking these questions. But these men are human beings too with flaws — just like their accusers and the bosses that fired or suspended them. Let us not forget that.
Film director Woody Allen warned of a witch hunt of men over sexual harassment accusations, after Harvey Weinstein fell — a prediction that received little attention in the news media, showing how blind, self-serving and unreflective media members can be — and, by extension, the country at-large. Mr. Allen turned out to be prophetic. His own problems and history aside, he deserves credit for predicting the exact kind of mess we are in now.
Also, I know U.S. schools might not teach American history like they used to, but does anyone else out there see any parallels between the current sexual harassment hysteria and the dogged search for communists during the McCarthy era of the 1950s? Am I the only one with chills running up my spine?
I predict that the lack of public due process these men have experienced will come back to haunt those who have failed to grant it. With injustice, what goes around comes around. There will be a future reckoning to match the reckoning the men have had to face over their past behaviors. We cannot address one crime — sexual harassment — by summarily sentencing someone before any kind of trial.
Michael Cromwell (email@example.com) is an English instructor.