WASHINGTON — Over countless news cycles that churned out multiple allegations of sexual harassment aimed at figures on the right (Donald Trump, then-Fox News head honcho Roger Ailes and Fox anchor Bill O’Reilly), movie mogul Harvey Weinstein saw no cause to curb his brutish behavior, actor Kevin Spacey abused the “House of Cards” crew, and CBS/PBS anchor Charlie Rose saw himself as so erudite that he didn’t need pants or a towel after a shower.
It was a different era.
Since Oct. 5, when The New York Times reported on Weinstein’s abusive treatment of women, both women and men who had felt unable to protest suddenly found that they had the power to come forward with tales of powerful men using their clout to have their way with unwilling subordinates.
And it is happening with such a rush and blur that certain distinctions can get lost.
Men who thought they had nothing to fear suddenly do, as Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., can attest. He now faces a Senate investigation because a Los Angeles radio show anchor, Leeann Tweeden, posted a photo of Franken smiling for the camera with his hands over her breasts. She was asleep in a flak vest. The incident occurred in 2006 during a USO tour — before Franken was elected to the Senate.
Franken has apologized for the incident. What is not clear, though, is whether the Senate should adjudicate an incident that exceeds the statute of limitations. Thing is, Franken welcomes the investigation, perhaps because it may be more considered than the blunt instrument of public opinion.
Roy Moore, the GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama, could be saved by public opinion — that is, the public’s low opinion of the media. On Nov. 8, The Washington Post reported that in 1979 when Moore was a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, he fondled a 14-year-old girl.
The Post also reported on three other women who said that Moore asked them out on dates when they were ages 16 through 19. One teen turned him down. The other two said their dates never went beyond kissing. But their inclusion in the story enabled TV newscasters to cite Moore’s four accusers — a number that later grew.
Moore told Fox News’ Sean Hannity the story was “completely false” and “politically motivated.”
Moore didn’t help himself when he said, “I don’t remember ever dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”
If Moore were in the entertainment industry or news industry, he would be out of a job in the blink of an eye. But because he’s in politics, he’s running for office.
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday, newsman Willie Geist marveled that candidates who have “been accused” actually could win. It is considered fact on the “Morning Joe” set that anyone who votes for Moore must think the accusers are liars or does not care that the judge did what they know he did.
But politics changes everything. Corporations can fire offenders — and let the courts sort out the rest if the offender feels he was maligned or undercompensated.
In politics, parties and principles are at stake.
Some Alabamians, including reliable Republican voters, probably will not vote for Moore because they find his politics and behavior revolting. Others may find the accusations credible but bristle at the impossibility of an accused proving his innocence decades later or question whether people should be judged by what they may have done decades ago.
Trump himself seems locked in that bubble. He told reporters Tuesday that the timing is fishy. Moore has run for office numerous times — “and this never comes up.” Trump also suggested Moore’s accusers are credible, as most “are Trump voters.” And: “You have to do what you have to do.”
Another angle: Is it fair to hold a man from the “Mad Men” days to 2017 standards?
For some Democrats, the answer could be yes. Now. New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer pressed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., on whether President Bill Clinton, who was impeached for perjury and obstruction in the wake of an affair with White House intern Monica Levinsky, should have resigned.
“Yes, I think that is the appropriate response,” Gillibrand answered. She added, “We should have a very different conversation about President Trump.”
Before Trump won, in 2016, when Gillibrand endorsed Hillary Clinton, she wrote that she was “truly honored that President Bill Clinton campaigned for me in my first run for Congress in 2006.”
That was before Bill Clinton became inconvenient. Now you do what you have to do. Later there is time for everyone to feel dirty.