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Politics & Policy

The Double Standard for High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh is sworn before a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, September 4, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: The ongoing effort to institute a new standard, that an accusation is sufficient evidence of guilt in the court of public opinion; a celebrity publicly bristles at an insult on social media, raising the question of whether anyone can just let a slight pass anymore; and another lesson of why we shouldn’t be too quick to judge anyone depicted in a viral video.

The On-Again, Off-Again Skepticism about High-Profile Sexual-Misconduct Accusations

In 2009, massage therapist Molly Hagerty went to the Portland, Ore., Police and gave a lengthy statement claiming that about three years earlier, former vice president Al Gore “pinned her to a bed in his hotel suite, forcibly French kissed her, and groped her breasts.” She described herself as “petrified during the encounter and how she had to bolt the room to avoid being raped.” She also described Gore as having a violent temper. She had gone to Portland Police three years earlier, but abruptly stopped cooperating with the investigation. Then, without a clear explanation, she returned and gave a full account to investigators.

The Portland Police opened an investigation and interviewed Gore. In June of 2010, news of the investigation broke, and Gore adamantly denied the accusation. Steve Kornacki, then of Salon and currently with MSNBC, told his readers that three reasons to be skeptical jump out: The Portland Police had not initially chosen to follow up on her allegation, a local newspaper had heard her story and chosen to not publish any articles about it, and that several celebrities are falsely accused of sex crimes before.

Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post pointed to the masseuse’s comment that Gore behaved like a “crazed sex poodle” and chuckled, “There are hundreds of jokes to be made here. I won’t make any of them, because I don’t want the world to be destroyed by global warming.” Marc Ambinder, then with The Atlantic, assessed her account with great skepticism:

The narrative is pulpy and riveting and tragicomic. You half expect there to be a reference to a “torn bodice” at some point. Either the masseuse or Mr. Gore has an extremely vivid imagination, and in our system of justice, we must presume that since the police did not file charges, Gore is innocent.

(You notice that there is little of this skepticism and reasoning around for the current accusations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh.)

The Portland District Attorney’s office chose not to press charges against Gore, contending that Hagerty failed a polygraph test, sold her story to the National Enquirer, and had not agreed to turn over certain medical records. “This case is not appropriate for criminal prosecution. The matter is closed and the investigative materials will be returned to PPB [the Portland Police Bureau].” The former Vice President was cleared of the charges, or at least as much as a man can be.

The only two people who know precisely what happened in that room are Al Gore and the masseuse, but there is no fair way to characterize Gore as a sexual predator or a creep. Sexual predators don’t look a certain way, publicly behave a certain way, or vote a certain way.

Nor do they come from particular backgrounds. In the coming days, you’re likely to hear a lot of sneering about wealthy and privileged white guys who attended prep schools and the Ivy Leagues, a lot of fuming about how anyone with a background like Brett Kavanaugh’s — mother who is a judge, father who is a head of a perfume-maker’s trade association, Georgetown Prep, Yale University — must be arrogant, entitled, smug, and elitist. Of course, that background is hard to distinguish from Al Gore’s — father who is a senator, mother who is a lawyer, living in the Fairfax Hotel on Embassy Row in Washington, attending Saint Albans prep school and going on to Harvard University.

Apparently, we only hate the preppies when they’re in the other party.

False, or unprovable, accusations of rape and sexual assault occur. The 2014 Rolling Stone article. The 2006 accusations against the Duke Lacrosse team. Columbia University’s “Mattress Girl.” Those high-profile examples don’t mean one should instinctively refuse to believe every accusation, any more than the cases of Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski, or Mike Tyson mean one should instinctively believe every accusation.

But right now, many Kavanaugh foes are eager to implement a new standard that they would never agree to live under themselves — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt. Some are surprisingly explicit about it, such as Matthew Dowd, the chief political analyst of ABC News:

Enough with the “he said, she said” storyline. If this is he said, she said, then let’s believe the she in these scenarios. She has nothing to gain, and everything to lose. For 250 years we have believed the he in these scenarios. Enough is enough.

Senate Democrats want the FBI to investigate the claims, but a Department of Justice spokesman has already pointed out that Christine Blasey Ford’s account does not describe a federal crime.

It is fair to ask just what an investigation at this date would involve. The accuser does not remember the date of the alleged crime; she can only narrow it down to “near the end of her sophomore year.” She cannot remember the location of the scene of the crime. After 36 years, there are no forensic tests to run, and there is no physical evidence to collect or analyze. She names one witness, Mark Judge, who denies her accusation.

In 2012, 30 years after the alleged events, the accuser either told her therapist that there were four boys involved, or the therapist misunderstood and miswrote that she said four boys were involved.

No one at the school remembers hearing about any allegation along these lines involving Kavanaugh during his time there. Two of Kavanaugh’s ex-girlfriends from around that time period have come forward to publicly declare they never witnessed or experienced any behavior similar to what the accuser describes. And of course, Kavanaugh has categorically denied the accusation.

But if the foes of Kavanaugh are determined to implement a new standard — that the accusation itself is sufficient evidence of guilt — then that new standard will be implemented for figures in both parties, whether they realize it or not.

If you believe that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Keith Ellison, Al Franken, and Bobby Scott are all falsely accused, while Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Donald Trump, Blake Fahrenthold, Roy Moore, and Eric Greitens are all guilty as sin — or vice versa! — you’re part of the problem.

Does Everyone Let Insults Get Under Their Skin?

Last night, model Chrissy Teigen responded on Twitter when the morning-news anchor of the Temple, the Texas, NBC affiliate, asked on the social-media platform, “Chrissy Teigen is beautiful but does she have to be included in everything just because she’s married to John Legend?”

I’m sure that offended Teigen; it’s always insulting to have someone suggest you’re just an appendage to your spouse. (In the diplomatic and military communities, the non-government employee is sometimes called “the trailing spouse.” I suppose that’s one step above “tagalong.”)

But I can’t help but notice that Chrissy Teigen is . . . well, living the life of Chrissy Teigen. She’s ranked among the best-known models in the world since 2007, appearing on calendars and just about every glamorous magazine cover imaginable. Last year, she was the highest-paid model in the world, according to Forbes, making an estimated $13.5 million. She’s been a recurring guest host and contributor to lots of television programs on various networks, and appears in commercials for plenty of products. She’s had a cookbook that became a New York Times bestseller, and has another cookbook on the way. She has her own clothing line.

She has what appears to be a happy marriage, other than her husband constantly taking all the phone recharging wires, and two beautiful children. From what we in the public can see, she has oodles of friends and admirers, travels around the world, and meets fascinating people. It is about as charmed and blessed a life as one can imagine; the world is her oyster.

And yet, a snarky and disrespectful comment from a little-known news anchor with about 1,250 followers . . . bugged her.

Should it bother her this much? Should it bother anyone that much?

ADDENDUM: Social media is turning us into judgmental jerks, example No. 1 million: “A man who was mocked online after he was recorded shaving at his seat on a commuter train headed out of New York City said he was just trying to clean up after days spent in a homeless shelter.”


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