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Since the end of the first season of the HBO’s series “The Deuce” when David Simon responded to allegations of sexual misconduct lodged against the show’s star, James Franco, with a statement saying his production team had no complaints or “awareness of of concern involving Mr. Franco," I wondered if the former Sun police reporter was going to regret backing Mr. Franco and staying in business with him during this #MeToo era.

Now, almost two years later, the issue has not gone away, and Mr. Simon is again in the news for his defense of Franco — this time for comments made in a Rolling Stone interview.

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The interview comes in the wake of two women filing a lawsuit earlier this month against Mr. Franco and his defunct acting school saying that he and his partners used the school to “gain access to young women,” and then sexually exploit them.

Mr. Franco and his partners, the lawsuit alleges, “engaged in widespread inappropriate and sexually charged behavior towards female students by sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects.”

Mr. Franco’s attorney, Michael Plonsker, said in statement responding to the lawsuit, "This is not the first time that these claims have been made and they have already been debunked. James will not only fully defend himself, but will also seek damages from the plaintiffs and their attorneys for filing this scurrilous publicity seeking lawsuit.”

In the Rolling Stone interview by Alan Sepinwall,Mr. Simon upbraided the press for not separating complaints against Franco from those made against the men who have come to represent the serial sinners of the #MeToo movement, like film producer Harvey Weinstein or former CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves.

“All criticism and accusation can’t be flattened so that every affront is the same and everyone targeted for that criticism is treated as if they are as malevolent as a Weinstein or Moonves, or even malevolent at all — as frankly was done in this instance. Franco’s response in the wake of the allegations was to say it was his turn to listen, and I know, having been engaged with him throughout, he very much did so," Mr. Simon said in the interview.

“The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on," the Baltimore-based showrunner added.

“Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, ‘You know, it’s not this, it’s that’?” he asked his interviewer.

Maybe because some of us aren’t so sure that it isn’t “this.”

In an email response to The Sun, Mr. Simon wrote:

"My comments make plain what is alleged and what is not. There isn’t any charge that asserts that James Franco sought to have sex or sought to engage sexually with any of the complainants.

The complaints go to a disregard of the power dynamic on set, to substandard protocols for nudity or simulated sex on film, and to a preoccupation with sexual themes in the film work for which he engaged younger, impressionable actors. These are substantive criticisms and nothing I am saying obviates their relevance or importance.

If you can’t discern a fundamental difference between such affronts and utilizing power to compel sex from women, or impeding women who refuse sexual advances, I just don’t know what to say.

I know that HBO and Blown Deadline, our cast and crew, were able to evaluate all of the reported allegations, make this key distinction and proceed to do the work at hand."

Perhaps Simon knows more about the allegations against Franco than I do. But the allegation by the women against Franco and his partners "sexualizing their power as a teacher and an employer by dangling the opportunity for roles in their projects“ does sound like they were using their "position of status to try and solicit a sexual favor.”

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We will perhaps have to wait for a judge to decide what “sexualizing their power” means, and whether or not that is sexual misbehavior in the workplace.

The movement we in the media have reduced to hashtag #MeToo in some of our stories is nothing short of a great revolution, and it will take years before anything resembling equality is achieved.

But at the moment, those at the forefront are taking on the men who hold tremendous power in the culture to create the narratives that dominate our mass media landscapes and shape what we can imagine for ourselves as a people.

I don’t think a powerful male TV writer and showrunner like Simon is the best person to be telling women today what is “this” and what is “that” when it comes to allegations like those leveled against Franco. To me, that’s feels like the path to the wrong side of history.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik.

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