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Did Monday Mark a Turning Point for #MeToo?

Happy Hannukah to all who celebrate the Festival of Lights, and happy Alabama-Ragnarok to everyone following today’s Senate election. Today’s Morning Jolt looks at the problems for pollsters in that special election, an odd, newly-revealed connection between Fusion GPS and the Department of Justice, and then one of yesterday’s scandals…

Did Monday Mark a Turning Point for #MeToo?

My interactions with Ryan Lizza, formerly a prominent political correspondent for The New Yorker, are limited to some cordial exchanges in cable news green rooms, so I don’t know if he’s guilty as sin or innocent as a lamb. But late Monday afternoon, the magazine announced, “The New Yorker recently learned that Ryan Lizza engaged in what we believe was improper sexual conduct. We have reviewed the matter and, as a result, have severed ties with Lizza. Due to a request for privacy, we are not commenting further.”

(What does that “what we believe was” qualifier there mean?)

Within a few minutes of the New Yorker’s announcement, a chunk of the Twitter crowd was mocking and denouncing Lizza as a creep… without knowing what, exactly, his alleged misdeeds were. Did he say something? Do something? Was this a digital form of inappropriate behavior? Was it a particular event or interaction, or was it a pattern of behavior?

Apparently due to the not-named victim (or victims?) request for privacy, the magazine felt we in the public shouldn’t know. But they felt we should certainly know that he’s a bad guy.

Lizza responded quite differently from the other prominent men accused in the recent spate of scandals. He insisted he had done nothing wrong, and that the magazine was railroading him on baseless charges – and from his statement, this appears to stem from a single complainant.

“I am dismayed that The New Yorker has decided to characterize a respectful relationship with a woman I dated as somehow inappropriate. The New Yorker was unable to cite any company policy that was violated. I am sorry to my friends, workplace colleagues, and loved ones for any embarrassment this episode may cause. I love The New Yorker, my home for the last decade, and I have the highest regard for the people who work there. But this decision, which was made hastily and without a full investigation of the relevant facts, was a terrible mistake.”

Douglas Wigdor, who heads up one of the country’s top employment litigation law firms issued a statement countering Lizza: “Wigdor LLP represents the victim of Mr. Lizza’s misconduct. Although she desires to remain confidential and requests that her privacy be respected, in no way did Mr. Lizza’s misconduct constitute a ‘respectful relationship’ as he has now tried to characterize it. Our client reported Mr. Lizza’s actions to ensure that he would be held accountable and in the hope that by coming forward she would help other potential victims.”

Lizza’s insistence that he did nothing wrong, and that all of the complaints stem from a consensual relationship, ought to set off alarm bells. “Improper sexual conduct” covers a really wide range, from awkward unwanted flirting to being the villain from The Silence of the Lambs. If we’re all supposed to think worse of Lizza because of his actions, it seems fair to ask for at least some sense of why. And if he’s going to have his career and reputation destroyed, doesn’t he have a right to have his side of the story heard?

Just how thoroughly did the magazine investigate the accusations? Just how much evidence was there? Were there particularly strong reasons to believe or disbelieve his accuser? For now, the magazine is effectively saying, “trust us.” The irony is this is the magazine that obliterated the reputation of Harvey Weinstein with a mountain of evidence and testimony collected by Ronan Farrow. The reporters at The New Yorker would not just take it on faith from any other institution.

I don’t know if this is the case that will cause the backlash against #MeToo, but it’s coming. So far, most of the famous men named have more or less admitted the behavior, and the alleged acts are beyond the pale: Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous assaults, threats and blackmail; the bizarre secret button in Matt Lauer’s office, Charlie Rose just getting on top of a woman during a private plane ride. Very few of the allegations have been in anything resembling a “gray area.” Everybody knows you’re not supposed to pinch or grab a woman’s backside when posing for a photo… apparently except for one of Minnesota’s senators.

But after the Weinstein revelations, BuzzFeed and a few other publications reported about a “[Expletive] Men in Media List” spreadsheet that various women had put together, listing allegations against a slew of men, mostly in the New York media and publishing world. This list can now be found on the Internet if you’re clever, but I’m not linking to it, as the whole thing is unverified allegations. There’s a huge range of allegations, from sexual assault to “idea theft” “emotional manipulation” and “those weird lunch dates that aren’t about work.”

The list includes names that are famous and not-so-famous, those that have already faced public accusations and those that haven’t. (The list does not, at least as far as I can tell, include any men who work for conservative publications. I continue to wonder if our cultural elites include a disproportionate share of men who believe that because they’re self-proclaimed feminists and progressives, they’ve earned some free passes for bad behavior.)

You’re already hearing some progressives grumbling that they’ve sacrificed too much with Al Franken’s resignation. More than a few men who haven’t committed these acts wonder how they will be able to defend themselves if they’re falsely accused. And there are probably still some powerful creeps around, nervously chatting with their lawyers and wondering how to mount a defense.

At some point, some #MeToo accusation will turn out to be false, or a well-regarded man will be accused of behavior that doesn’t really sound all that inappropriate. A complaint of “weird lunch dates that aren’t about work” doesn’t really belong on the same list as sexual assault, and doesn’t sound like a firing offense.

The day a #MeToo complaint is discredited, all of these factions who are wary of this movement will push back, aiming to discredit as many women as possible. I suspect few figures in public life are really ready for that moment.

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