It didn’t stop with Harvey Weinstein. Of course it didn’t. We all knew he was just the tip of the iceberg. The scandal of powerful men using their position to force their attentions on young women in more or less disgusting ways hasn’t even stopped in Hollywood. It is now spreading to the political media, where it is about to cause a similar devastating loss of moral credibility.
Those of a certain age might remember the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, when a bunch of holier-than-thou preachers who had spent decades inveighing against the moral decay of the culture turned out to be pretty decayed themselves. Jimmy Swaggart was caught with his pants down with a cheap, trailer-park hooker. Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker built a Christian empire that looked a lot more like Babylon behind its wholesome facade. The Catholic Church would later go through a similar scandal with revelations of the sexual abuse of children.
The secular left pointed excited fingers at all these scandals and chuckled at the loss of moral credibility this caused for the institutions and movements that were tainted. Well, now it’s their turn.
What is happening right now has exactly the same combination of ingredients. First, it starts with an ideological and institutional establishment that promotes a puritanical creed according to which it judges everyone else from a presumed position of moral superiority—not religion, in this case, but feminism and the “War on Women.” Then there is the revelation that all along these same people were grotesquely violating that creed—in this case, by using their position of power and wealth to exploit vulnerable women. Finally, most damning of all, is the fact that the corruption was widely known and accept by people inside the institutions. As with Weinstein, “everybody knew” and nobody protested all that much until it all became public.
Here is just a partial list of the miscreants who have been outed in the past few weeks.
There’s Hollywood baron Harvey Weinstein, of course, and you’ve probably read as much about him as you care to.
Then there’s the comedian Louis Székely, known as Louis C.K., because I guess that’s easier to pronounce, who is accused of a long history of Weinstein-like behavior.
There’s Roy Price, who just got fired as the head of original programmed for Amazon. There’s the director James Toback. The list goes on, and I’m sure this is not over yet. The casting couch is an old institution in Hollywood.
In the media, we’ve all heard about Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, though the latest revelation is that he paid the astonishing sum of $32 million to settle one of his sexual harassment suits—a number that makes no sense unless you assume that he was paying it, not merely to offset liability for a few inappropriate comments, but to stay out of jail.
But if you’ve been crowing that this is just what you would expect from those awful, Trump-loving conservatives at Fox News, now similar accusations are hitting a very successful mainstream reporter and commentator, Mark Halperin. And once again, we hear the refrain: “‘Everybody knew,’ one prominent cable-news host told The Daily Beast. ‘I’d been warning young women reporters about Mark for a long time.'”
Matt Taibbi is best known as a reporter for Rolling Stone—yes, the same magazine that published fake rape allegations against University of Virginia students. He and his former business partner Mark Ames had already written about their sordid history at length in their own memoirs, so anybody who wanted to know could have known. Taibbi made his name as a journalist by heading off to Russia in the wild days after the fall of the Soviet Union, where he and Ames edited an English-language paper for American expatriates. Taibbi and Ames went wild, too, and later described how they sexually harassed the teenage Russian girls on their staff, and how one of them got a young girl pregnant and then browbeat her into getting an abortion. The key quote: “Russian women…expect you to rape them.” Yet Taibbi has spent the past few decades as a hero of the left, winning an award for an article in which he called Goldman Sachs a “vampire squid”—which now looks like an act of psychological projection.
Then there are a few less prominent men with similar stories, like far-left, pro-Communist journalist Sam Kriss, who turns out to be a creepy guy who basically stalks his dates and tries to get them into bed by boasting about his parents’ money, like any good Marxist.
If you’ve ever wondered where the left gets this idea that America is some kind of hellscape of misogyny and sexual predation on the part of wealthy and privileged men—well, now you know. They were describing the culture of some of their own institutions.
No, such stories are not limited to any one ideology. But each ideology has certain institutional and ideological blinders that helps it happen. The last two examples are particularly instructive. Taibbi and Kriss got away with their behavior for as long as they did because they had a reputation of fighting viciously for the cause, particularly when it required someone who was willing to rejecting normal standards of respectability and civility. What made them so many fans was precisely their viciousness, their willingness to berate and insult. Because surely their political enemies are such horribly evil people that they don’t deserve the protection of civilized norms. Kriss was even part of a movement called the Dirtbag Left: “a term coined…to refer to a style of left-wing politics that eschews civility-for-its-own-sake in favor of subversive, populist vulgarity.”
In other words, these writers were lionized and promoted precisely because of the characteristics that marked them out as predators. It’s hardly a new phenomenon and has even been immortalized on film. These guys are all the hippie boyfriend in Forrest Gump, who can’t help smacking around his girlfriend because “it’s just this war, and that lying SOB Johnson.”
For a while, at least, some of them are going to get what they deserve. It’s not just fallout for their own careers—Halperin has been suspended by NBC News and a planned HBO miniseries based on his work was cancelled. The other result, as with previous sex scandals, will be a long-term loss of authority when it comes to lecturing the rest of us from a pretended position of moral superiority.