Media hypocrisy about sexual misconduct

Media hypocrisy about sexual misconduct
Image: White House via Wikipedia

Law professor Glenn Reynolds says of progressive journalists, “If it weren’t for double standards, they’d have no standards at all.”

Our mostly left-leaning press certainly has a double standard when it comes to sexual assault and harassment allegations. It soft-peddles credible allegations against Democrats, while promoting far less credible allegations against Republicans.

If the accused is a Democratic politician, like former President Bill Clinton, he is given the benefit of the doubt. (Many of the allegations against Clinton were dismissed by the media until after he left office). Allegations against progressives are treated as lacking in credibility for all sorts of reasons, such as if the alleged rape occurred many years earlier; or if the allegation was disclosed at a time that could politically injure the accused or his party; or if the accuser got along with the accused after the alleged harassment occurred (even if the accuser had no choice, because the accused outranked her). But the press treats these reasons for skepticism as irrelevant when it is a Republican who is accused of misconduct.

As a liberal website conceded that after Clinton was no longer “on the ballot,” he “faced multiple allegations of sexual assault and harassment,” such as the incident in which “Juanita Broaddrick claims that Clinton raped her during his 1978 campaign for Arkansas governor.” The press largely ignored these allegations while Clinton was in office, treating most of the allegations as unreliable due to their timing, age, or possible political motivation. This was so even though Clinton had been forced to pay $850,000 in a sexual harassment lawsuit, showing that he likely had a propensity to sexually prey on women.

But when the accused is a Republican or a Republican appointee, the press sings a different tune. The Associated Press’s Julie Pace claimed it is inappropriate even to consider the timing of the charges against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which were released at the last minute as he was on the verge of being confirmed to the Supreme Court.  Senate Democrats suddenly brandished charges of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh that he supposedly committed as a teenager more than 35 years earlier, at an unspecified time and place. These charges were released at the last minute by Senate Democrats (although they refused to release the full text of the letter containing the charges, which might enable them to be rebutted).

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Pace ridiculously claimed it was “pretty inappropriate” for people to question “the timing of this” charge or the way it was handled. Any competent lawyer would reject Pace’s claim. It would be legal malpractice for a defense lawyer to fail to raise the suspicious timing of an allegation like this, or its oldness or staleness, in a sexual harassment lawsuit, or a sexual assault prosecution.

Deep down, liberal journalists like Pace know that the age or timing of an accusation is relevant. Indeed, journalists in the 1990s constantly ignored or dismissed charges against Bill Clinton because of their timing or age (even those that actually were not that old).

Yet, to this day, they continue to promote stale, unreliable charges of a far less serious nature against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was not accused of sexual assault, but rather merely of having said sexually offensive things in the early 1980’s to Anita Hill. The FBI concluded that Hill’s charges were “unfounded.” In 1991, Clarence Thomas, a conservative judge, had been nominated to the Supreme Court, when Hill belatedly accused him of sexual harassment years earlier.

Most Senators rejected Hill’s charges — for good reason — when the Democratic-controlled Senate voted narrowly to confirm Thomas. Hill’s allegations were hard to square with the fact that she followed him from job to job. The media are still angry about Senators’ quite logical skepticism of Hill’s allegations, and the fact that they considered evidence of his innocence that would be admissible in court, such as asking questions about inconsistencies in Hill’s story, which the media regarded as being mean to Hill. It would be legal malpractice for an attorney not to ask such questions, when defending against a sexual harassment lawsuit.

Senators recognized that Hill had a potential motive to lie, such as the enormous amount of money in book and movie deals that an accuser can make by cashing in on her story. Hoping to defuse this, Alabama Democrat Howell Heflin asked Hill, “Are you interested in writing a book?” Hill answered, falsely, that she was not. CNN’s Poppy Harlow and the AP’s Pace criticize Heflin for this, making it sound like Heflin was attacking Hill, rather than trying to help her dispel a supposed “myth.” In reality, Tim Graham notes, “Hill did exactly what she denied she would, and accepted a million-dollar advance for two books.” Evidence of a potential motive to lie is critical evidence in any case, and a refusal to allow questioning about it is a violation of due process.

Certainly Anita Hill had a potential motive to lie. Accusing Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment made her an instant celebrity among progressives, especially among academics, and transformed her life for the better. Before her accusations, she had been a professor at a non-prestigious institution. After making her allegations, she received a well-paid “tenured sinecure” from a prestigious university despite “not publishing anything of consequence.” And she received hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees from left-leaning colleges and other institutions. To this day, she is treated as a revered icon by progressive journalists, who often quote her about gender or sexual issues, simply because of her famous name, even when she has nothing original to say.

Similarly, anyone who accuses a Supreme Court nominee such as Brett Kavanaugh of misconduct has a potential financial motive to do so, given the potential book and movie deals that await such an accuser.

There is also a potential political motive: The Supreme Court is now evenly split on many issues, with four consistently liberal justices out of eight. Until a conservative or moderate judge is confirmed to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court, those four liberal justices can vote to block a stay of any liberal lower court decision, giving them veto power over efforts to rein in activist judges. Blocking Kavanaugh’s confirmation can thus affect the balance of the court and keep the court’s more conservative justices from voting to stay any liberal lower court decisions. There is thus a powerful political incentive to make such allegations, if the accuser is of the opposing political party from Kavanaugh (as is Kavanaugh’s accuser, who is a resident of a progressive enclave where her charges have made her a “heroine” in the eyes of a local publication). If Kavanaugh’s nomination is defeated, there will not be enough time to confirm a replacement before the election.

To conceal Anita Hill’s possible political motives for accusing Clarence Thomas, journalists falsely claimed she was a conservative, when in fact she had a liberal outlook. She had pressed for a campus speech code at the University of Oklahoma, a sign of left-wing leanings. Hill has a pronounced double standard in favor of her fellow liberals. She defended Democratic President Bill Clinton, who was accused of sexually harassing Paula Jones and raping Juanita Broaddrick, advocating that Clinton be given the benefit of the doubt. By contrast, she said that Kavanaugh “has the burden” of proving himself innocent.

To promote the charges against Judge Kavanaugh, the media have practiced “gutter journalism.” That includes relying on a baseless rumor created by a Facebook post that was taken down by its author even before NBC published a story peddling the rumor, omitting the fact that the Facebook post had already been taken down, and its content partly recanted by its author.

ABC News’s chief political analyst declared both Thomas and Kavanaugh guilty, not based on any corroborating evidence, but based on a presumption that accusations are true. He justified treating them as guilty, as a way of atoning for America’s “250 years” of institutional sexism. Other journalists agreed with him, effectively endorsing a presumption of guilt.

But this is an ideological double standard, because journalists don’t apply this presumption of guilt to their fellow liberals. Journalists were dismissive of sexual harassment and rape claims against former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, even though Clinton was forced to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit against him for $850,000. They gave their fellow liberal the benefit of the doubt. They only began to take Juanita Broaddrick’s rape allegation against Clinton seriously long after Clinton left office and defending him was no longer politically necessary for liberal journalists.

When progressive politicians are accused of sexually harassing subordinates, the media take it as a sign of innocence the fact that the complainant and the accused had seemingly friendly interactions after the alleged sexual harassment. Never mind that being friendly towards a creepy boss may be a necessity to keep your job, even if he actually did harass you. The media make a big deal out of these friendly interactions between the harassing liberal politician and his victims after the harassment.

But the media ignore friendly interactions between the accused and the accuser when they are in fact relevant, if the interaction is not with a liberal politician. For example, when a college student allegedly raped his classmate, but they got together and were friendly thereafter on many occasions, this is powerful evidence of innocence, because rape victims don’t like being around their assailant, and can avoid spending time with a sexually predatory peer in the future.

Yet, liberal media organs such as NPR and Pro Publica treat such evidence as being irrelevant, in order to falsely claim that a rape was committed and that the college was covering it up by not expelling the accused. Even though such friendly interactions between peers are in fact relevant, under the rulings of every appellate court ever to consider the issue. Of course, the liberal media sings a different tune, when it is a liberal politician sexually harassing his subordinates. Then, they unfairly highlight everything his victims said after the harassment that looks or sounds friendly, even if the victims were just trying to keep their jobs.

The allegations against Kavanaugh are unfair because they lack basic details, such as the date when and place where the assault allegedly occurred. An innocent person cannot provide an alibi defense without knowing the date and location in which he is accused of committing wrongdoing.

It is deeply suspicious that Senate Democrats suddenly suddenly seized on these allegations against Kavanaugh at the last minute. This was an accusation they privately thought so little of that they had sat on it for months, without disclosing its existence to Kavanaugh so he could rebut it. The Democratic senator who originally received the allegation never confronted Kavanaugh about it, or even disclosed its existence, when she met with him. Clearly, she harbored her own doubts about it. Indeed, her  staff had “once conveyed to other Democratic members’ offices that the incident was too distant in the past to merit public discussion.” But when it looked like nothing else would stop Kavanaugh from being confirmed, Senate Democrats, in a last-ditch tactic, seized on this allegation to try to torpedo his nomination.

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle

Jerome Woehrle is a retired attorney and author, who writes about politics.


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