I started off yesterday thinking I might write about the decades of sex harassment allegations against movie honcho Harvey Weinstein. As the day wore on, I thought I might write about the documentation of how much the alt-right was encouraged at Breitbart. And at the end of the day, I decided to write about both stories, and the string of sex harassment scandals at Fox News Channel that started with Roger Ailes.
What I think about is the fact that in any of the above stories, the scandal tended to be an open secret, that people beyond the victims knew something was rotten, but said nothing because of the power imbalances at work.
I think about Ailes not getting busted until he wronged someone with degrees from Stanford and Oxford, who had an immensely wealthy husband. I think about Weinstein not getting busted until his company started falling on hard times after a string of flops. I think about the Breitbart crowd not getting busted until someone decided to do an anonymous document dump. The circumstances often have to turn out just so for exposure to occur.
I think about Jonah Goldberg’s periodic reminders that when Lord Acton said power corrupts, he was really referring to how it corrupts those who want to be close to power. I think about — as I do periodically — Michael Brendan Dougherty’s 2010 column about the problem righty media folk often face: sell out to the movement or sell out the movement.
I think about the role donors play in conservative media, even if it’s never affected me (afaik). They’re a big deal in ideologically left media also, I suppose (I can think of a case or two). But I don’t assume Breitbart is the only place where donors’ views seem to matter, even if their influence elsewhere is more subtle, indirect, or simply anticipated.
And I think of how, in any business that depends on relationships and networks, maintaining those relationships may cause people to go easy on each other. It’s not even mercenary in many cases. People are always easier on their friends or political allies than their rivals or enemies. We humans are flawed.
I think about how at least one center-left outlet giving the Weinstein story big, outraged coverage is rumored to have plenty of skeletons in its closet, which go unpublicized for center-left versions of the reasons listed above. Plenty of outlets, plenty of rumors, really.
Lest you think I am jockeying a high horse myself, I tend to feel mildly complicit. Hanging around the outskirts of media for over a decade, there are conversations I haven’t started or joined, sometimes because I don’t want people to feel awkward, sometimes because I think rumors not related to business aren’t necessarily my business, and sometimes because maybe I wouldn’t like the answers.
So I’m not trying to be judgmental here. Confronting and exposing these toxic cases presents collective action problems. And to the extent that I dip my toe into the punditry arena, this is the business I’ve chosen. It’s not like lawyering doesn’t have its share of ethical and moral quandaries too.
OTOH, I don’t want an understanding of the collective action problem or of our human foibles to become an excuse for them, either. These are just the sorts of thoughts I have when stories like these get exposed. Maybe I’m not alone in those thoughts. I hope not, anyway.
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