Sexual Harassment Then and Now

By Suzanne Fields

Harvey Weinstein, who governed from the casting couch as the Stalinist emperor of Hollywood, is toppled now, done in by regiments of women who came forward with endless tales of malignant abuse. The man who made the movies worthy of 300 Oscar nominations, who’s regarded in Hollywood as coming in “just after Steven Spielberg and right before God,” may go on a trial that could cost him his freedom. Rarely has success receded so swiftly.

No longer protected by a media co-opted by celebrity or shared interests in the billion-dollar industry of Tinseltown, he may get his first indictment as early as next week in New York City.

Now comes Act II, with accounts of more sinister entanglements and highly organized Weinstein counterattacks against accusers and reporters. It is laced with tales of spies and agents from the private intelligence agency Black Cube, whose roster was largely trained by Mossad, the famous Israeli spoiler of dark plots and parlous intrigue. (Cue Carly Simon singing “Nobody Does It Better.”) There’s a good movie here, and Harvey might have been the man to put it together.

Ronan Farrow, the intrepid reporter who broke the Weinstein scandal in The New Yorker, told a television interviewer that he was frightened by Weinstein “intermediaries” out to halt his reporting with “threatening and menacing statements.” But the son of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen persevered. He told NPR that he felt a “moral obligation” on behalf of women accusers, having seen in his own family how the justice system betrays women, though he ignored his mother’s complaints about his father. “This was a public safety issue,” he said. “You can’t stop going if you have evidence that there’s maybe an ongoing pattern of behavior that’s endangering people.”

He follows up his original expose with an account of intrigue populated by an “army of spies.” This is more of the good movie that might have been a new James Bond thriller. But this tale lacks the high-tech slickness and savoir-faire of an elegant and courtly “Bond, James Bond.” There’s only a fat, pathetic pursuer with a scraggly beard who’s armed with raw power, big money and tentacles that reached deep into a supportive culture in Hollywood and Washington, D.C. Farrow recounts how this devil wears an armor of nondisclosure agreements, payoffs and legal threats, working against a background of powerful Democratic sycophants like former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, for whom he raised millions of campaign dollars. Anyone finally coming out with accusations against him invited retaliation.

The army of scouts and undercover men working on his behalf were assigned to put together sexual and psychological profiles of his accusers and the reporters who covered them — the better to intimidate them. One female spy posed as a women’s rights advocate to befriend an accuser, wriggling into place to dig for dirt on her. Four decades ago, Ms. magazine put sexual harassment on its cover, citing a survey in which 88 percent of the women questioned said they had been harassed at work. (Just 88 percent?) So, what’s the difference now, in an industry that still exists to peddle flesh?

Lots. Social media and changes in the cultural backdrop are the obvious game changers. Women have grown in confidence, and feminism has largely moved beyond left-wing rhetoric to become rooted in actual reality. When Clinton failed to become the first woman president, women no longer depended on her for guidance in recognizing examples of victimhood.

One of Donald Trump’s most effective presidential campaign ploys was inviting former President Bill Clinton’s sex accusers to the second debate, thus diluting the left-wing hold on the issue of male harassment. Their very appearance in the front row diluted the damage of the “Access Hollywood” tape. Accusations of harassment by powerful men were rendered credible against a popular Democratic president, and they could no longer be discredited without discrediting the very accusation of harassment. Hillary Clinton was less vulnerable for what her husband did — which bought her a little sympathy — than for her hypocrisy in scorning her husband’s accusers.

Sexual harassers are equal-opportunity villains who easily cross partisan lines. The #MeToo movement creates an anarchy of accusations that is swiftly translated into many languages as women join forces on social media. There’s an obvious danger here, easily overlooked just now: Women looking too hard for offense can often find it even when it is not there. Innocent men (there are some) often preface compliments on a woman’s hair or dress, or apologize for saying it, just in case. Vice President Mike Pence’s famous unwillingness to dine with a woman alone suddenly seems not so prim and prudish. As one famous suspect would say, “Sad.”

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