Listen and Believe - HBR Talk 13

In the wake of Hollywood’s Weinstein scandal, allegations of sexual assault are swarming like killer bees. We’ve gone from a single scandal based on allegations that included some evidence to a frenzy of finger-pointing that includes allegations with no further support than accusers’ claims of having told their stories to several people over a span of years. 

Listen and believe seems to be the order of the day, with most feminist-guided media presuming most or all accusations credible, with other outlets trusting accusations only when they’re made against men of opposing political outlooks, regardless of credibility. 

The concept of innocence until guilt is proved seems largely to be left sitting in the corner, gathering dust. And it’s no wonder, given the vitriol reserved for due process advocates these days. We’re literally Hitler, don’t ya know?

Feminist outlets are building on the frenzy to peddle thoughts on so-called toxic masculinity, and push their belief that we live in a rape culture. Of course, it’s an easy belief to push when you answer any discussion that doesn’t involve c ondemning all men as rapists, creeps, or facilitators of other men’s rapey ways with “OMG! Rape apology!”
Advocate encouraging women to exercise our agency? Rape apologist!
Point out that women are human beings who sometimes lie? Rape apologist!
Dare to suggest that it’s not okay to sacrifice innocent men to the gods of listen and believe? RAPE APOLOGIST!
Talk about female perpetration against men? Now you’re just using deflection from the main issue as a form of rape apology, you shitlord! 

The accused aren’t helping themselves out, either. As conservative commentators have rightfully pointed out, weak, hedging denials don’t help an accused man’s case. While it’s true that Bill Clinton’s vehement denial turned out to be a lie, the listening public is less apt to believe “That was a long time ago and I don’t remember but I don’t think I would have done anything like that” than “Absolutely not!” Worse, we now have men assuming culpability as perpetrators in encounters that were described as consensual. 

Take Louis CK, for instance, who, in the wake of his rash of accusations, acquiesced to the idea that as a popular comedian, his fame gave him a level “power” over fans that made asking for their consent coercive. Never mind that his popularity is his fans’ response to him, something they give, and something they can take away. Never mind that he’s not holding a damned thing over their heads, as would be the case were he in a position of authority like an employer. Never mind the degree to which this infantilizes women, who, in order to support this narrative, must be incapable of losing respect for someone upon finding out he isn’t the guy they thought he was… no… he is the all-powerful Louis CK, whose requests cannot be denied and can therefore victimize people all on their own. Is this what progressive men get for supporting feminism’s male power narrative?

Maybe… but that doesn’t make it right.

And now that reaction has established that entertainers who engage fans sexually are sexual predators. Countdown to accusations against every hair band from the 70s & 80s starts now.

In the meantime, the entertainment industry seems to be on a familiar pathway: As during the McCarthy era, accusations are flying fast, and finger pointing is becoming a social weapon. Similarly, those accused are using a wider form of finger pointing to deflect scrutiny from themselves, though instead of pointing to other individuals, they’re pointing to their entire gender and society at large. And just as during the McCarthy era, the real issues of the day are being buried under the frenzy of accusers and accused scrambling to either get into the spotlight, or out of the hot seat. 

Corey Feldman has been trying to alert the public to a pedophile ring in Hollywood for years. A documentary on the same topic, titled An Open Secret, was published a few years ago. Men and women have hinted all along that there are men and women in Hollywood with predatory tendencies who face no checks and balances to their behavior. In their wake, they’ve left scars on people’s lives with which it can take decades to come to terms, if ever.

Yeah, I mentioned female predators, too. We’ve heard stories like that of Amy Schumer’s 2014 speech at the Ms. Foundation for Women’s Gloria Awards and Gala, in which she related an incident from her college days when, while sober, she chose to have penetrative sex with a person she knew was so stinking, stumbling drunk he couldn’t see straight or maintain erection or consciousness during the act… Remember the feminist outrage over Brock Turner’s crime not receiving harsh enough punishment? When the mainstream press is given predator stories that don’t fit their narrative, they pretty much disappear. Media that did report on Schumer’s speech praised her for being “powerful,” “intense,” and “inspiring.” 

Based on Hollywood’s history I expect the eclipsing of actual problems by the accusation frenzy to increase over time. If not stopped, this trend will lead to the same thing McCarthyism did - the day will come when pointing out actual sexual misconduct in Hollywood, especially victimization of children, will be seen as hysteria, and anyone trying to discuss the issue will be dismissed as a fringe conspiracy theorist. 

We’re looking at a combination of things here. 

Regressives have ramped up the “listen and believe” narrative as the rate of accusations has accelerated, and that has led the general public to be reluctant to vet allegations. 

Political tribalism has led to “listen and believe” being selectively applied on both sides of the fence. While we should be reasonably skeptical of any accusation, it’s becoming common for pundits to remember that only when the accusation is against someone on their own side of the political fence, while crowing every time an accusation falls on the opposite side. 

Speculations about accusations past and present have resulted in the public wrongly identifying men as perpetrators of incidents for which no perpetrator has been publicly named, endangering reputations and careers of individuals who may be innocent of the accusations. 

This can be a truly life-wrecking event. These types of accusations should never be tossed around so lightly. That has led to an environment of panic, with men scrambling for damage control in ways that, like Louis CK’s response, can be very damaging to the men around them.

At the same time, an actual victim of childhood sexual assault, Corey Feldman, has been criticized for taking a strategic approach to dealing with his perpetrators after decades of seeking justice from an unsympathetic system, and eventually just acknowledgement. Due to California’s statute of limitations on the crimes committed against him, he fears legal retaliation for having named his perpetrators to the police, something that should never happen unless a report filed can be proved to be a false report. Yet people condemn him for not publicly naming names. Why should Feldman promote a public response that would result in condemning the innocent along with the guilty?
Why should he put himself at the legal mercy of those who have already done him harm?

And then there’s the conservative response.

Last week, senators and congressmen called for repercussions for the “crime” of being accused without even knowing all of the facts in the case to which they were responding. They were all ready to engage in a political lynch mob where a thorough investigation was warranted, even before Judge Roy Moore responded to allegations against him. Now, Moore’s denials are being examined for believability, while his accusers’ most solid evidence is that he signed one young lady’s yearbook. There is talk of not seating him in the Senate if the people of his state elect him.

Is Moore’s denial less believable because he was inconsistent and not as vehement as his detractors would like?


But let’s not forget how former President Bill Clinton shook his finger in America’s collective faces and adamantly stated, “Ah did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky!” and that turned out to be a lie, while Michael Jackson’s denials were deemed ridiculous, yet child stars who stayed at his home, including Corey Feldman who has talked about childhood sexual abuse, have said he was not a molester.

It is far easier to let our abhorrence of sex crimes and our compassion for victims fuel a uncontrolled, outrage-based social panic than it is to separate credible allegations and provable allegations from those that are unverifiable, but maybe also unfalsifiable.

Why is that important outside of a courtroom? Why not, as feminists admonish, reserve standards for evidence for trial and either acquittal or conviction, while supporting accusers in the public sphere?

Judge Roy Moore’s case stands as one answer.

Here is a man who has clearly been blindsided by sexual misconduct allegations, most of which are not of illegal acts, and all of which are coming out approximately 40 years beyond the alleged incidents. While he has every reason to suspect political motives behind the allegations, he is being condemned by political pundits for responding to that suspicion more vehemently than he stated the repetition of his denials. His colleagues’ doubts absolutely merit a robust investigation… but not the out-of-hand condemnation they engaged in from the beginning.

What precedent does such condemnation set? 

It determines that accusations alone can be used to take down men in positions of responsibility, even when the accused is not someone with a history peppered with scandals, but one that is clear. 

It puts the social equivalent of a dirty bomb in the hands of wealthy and establishment competitors in the arenas of politics and business, who have access to either the loyalty of others, or the funds to incentivize allegations. 

It means that a man can be severely penalized, career ended, reputation destroyed, for merely being the target of an allegation, without ever having his day in court. If we abandon our standards for evidence, we risk setting up a system in which any political initiative or business practice can be swiftly and effectively countered by having a woman make a vague, years-old, unfalsifiable but unverifiable sexual assault allegation against the individual in charge of it. Threat of such allegations could be used to blackmail men in positions of authority into introducing or supporting initiatives they would otherwise never back… and we will never again be able to have even the small trust we have now in our political process. 

Evidence matters, even outside of a courtroom. “Listen and believe” is only a viable option in therapeutic settings where victims’ stories are part of their healing process. We cannot allow accusations alone to so deeply impact the lives of the accused without any legal recourse. Instead, when serious allegations are made, investigation should be our initial reaction, and our ultimate response should be based on what can be reasonably determined by assessing the available facts. That’s vital if we want to maintain a functional society.