By Matthew Pertz, Video Director
This past month has been one of relative reckoning against sexual offenders in power, beginning with the New York Times’ Oct. 5 exposé on Harvey Weinstein and snowballing into hundreds of allegations against dozens of powerful men.
Kevin Spacey propositioned Rent star Anthony Rapp while the latter party was 14 years old, and Netflix cancelled Spacey’s series House of Cards as eight of the show’s crew told CNN that Spacey harassed them. During his time at ABC News, political reporter Mark Halperin “aggressively propositioned” over ten different women, with some claiming he rubbed his genitals on them. Michael Oresks, NPR’s senior VP of news, was placed on leave after he unexpectedly kissed women during job interviews.
Even academia is saturated with abusers, with three tenured professors at Dartmouth University currently under criminal investigation for “serious misconduct.”
All of these stories broke within the past month, leaving out prominent offenders like Bill O’Reilly, Donald Trump, Bill Cosby and Anthony Weiner, and even then this list forgets Michael Fallon, Roy Price, R. Kelly, Jeremy Piven, Brett Ratner and James Toback.
In a 2014 piece, the late David Carr questioned the media’s selective blindness to Bill Cosby’s decades of transgressions: “What took so long?” The question still stands for this still-growing list of serial abusers: Why did no one speak up for so long?
Ironically enough, Carr was one of Weinstein’s enablers. Carr penned a sprawling profile of the film mogul in 2001 for New York magazine, calling out Weinstien’s constant bullying but coyly tiptoeing around allegations already well-known in Hollywood circles, writing, “Something in his unalloyed nature brings out the storyteller in people, as long as no name is attached. It’s all sex, lies, but no videotape.”
The power structures of tech, media and entertainment industries have relied on illicit relations and hushed conversations for decades. If the gilded hallways of Hollywood are so littered with silent sins, we here in Wilmore can’t assume we’re any more immune.
Hoping the rich and powerful stiffen their moral backbones is a far-flung dream – Spacey would’ve coasted into the sunset with an accolade-ridden Wikipedia page had Rapp not come forward. To oust Spacey, Weinstein et al., a new dynamic emerged, powered by social media’s high-speed freeways of information. News of offenses can reach the public unhindered by PR firms, and the public’s outrage can crest back to the enablers with all its entitled fury.
Some have asked why it took victims so long to come forward, as crimes we just now learned about occurred as far back as the 1970s. The argument goes: if Bill Cosby really raped over 60 women, why did they all wait until 2015 to say so?
The answer is the forceful apparatus of assaults. Silence is ensured through the sway, money and lawyers of abusers. Countersuits and closed-door threats plague victims to the point that a Weinstein-like case has to break the floodgates so stories can be told safely.
While interning at a news station in Raleigh this past summer, I covered a fairly prominent rape case against a football player at a top-25 program. The charges were dropped, and at an ensuing press conference the player’s lawyer, Kerry Sutton, publicly threatened a countersuit because the victim had “doctored” photos of bruises on her neck.
The photos were obviously quite gruesome and almost certainly not doctored, given that they were taken by police as evidence. Five minutes on Google will reveal that Sutton built her reputation on defending students accused of sexual misconduct, often threatening defamation suits as a deterrent. A June 9 article from the Charlotte Observer claims she helped three students dodge rape charges after pushing defamation because “the three were verbally harassed across campus and two were physically assaulted.” Even on college campuses, authority is almost always given to those accused instead of their victims.
For decades, the high and mighty have controlled their pedestals through intimidation. As this October has proven, no offender in the hallows of Hollywood can escape past sins. May the momentum continue until every abuser is rooted out.
Photo by Georges Biard