Eighty year old Giles Corey, accused of witchcraft in 1692 after questioning the word of the girls behind Salem’s witch hysteria, protested his accusation and trial with silence. In an attempt to make him talk the court ordered him “pressed.” This meant he would be laid on his back with a board on his chest, and rocks piled on top of the board until he gave the answer they wanted, or the weight crushed his chest. Mr. Corey’s silent endurance of the punishment ended when he finally requested that rocks be placed faster to spare him a slow death. His request followed, he died and was later buried in an unmarked grave.
Mr. Corey’s death left the people of Salem questioning the trials, and they ceased soon after.
In a modern setting, witchcraft has been replaced with accusations of sexual misconduct.
There is no faster, easier way to destroy a man’s reputation, his career, even his ability to live his life in peace than to level such a grave accusation. Evidence is not needed. Even believability is optional in some cases. As long as a woman can gain the media’s sympathy, such an allegation can become a weapon of significant power.
Today, Bill Cosby is feeling the weight of that power pressing down upon him like the rocks on Giles Corey’s chest. Like Mr. Corey, Mr. Cosby has largely protested his accusation and public trial-by-scorn by remaining silent. While many of us may wonder how long he will endure before he feels compelled to speak, Nancy Grace piled on a couple of other questions.
That’s a good question, Nancy. I remember a similar question being asked in the ’90s when Bill Clinton was accused of sexually harassing his former employee, and women came out of the woodwork to accuse him of similar behavior toward them. It was not asked by feminists and the left then. Instead, they converged upon Bill Clinton’s accusers with what they’d refer to as victim blaming, were they not engaging in it themselves. Character assassinations, classism, and slut shaming spewed all over their formerly gynocentric narrative.
Clinton Aide Betsey Wright coined the term “bimbo eruptions” to describe emerging accusations against Clinton as his supporters used smear tactics in his defense against them. James Carville, political consultant, responded to the Jones accusation with “Drag a hundred-dollar bill through a trailer park, you never know what you’ll find.” He later claimed that was a reference to Gennifer Flowers, whose affair with Clinton was confirmed by letters and recorded phone calls. Democrats and other Clinton supporters offered the same criticism of accusers that feminists today would label “evidence of rape culture,” citing accusers’ changing stories and self-contradiction, witness contradiction of accuser assertions, and even attention-seeking as reasons to question Clinton’s alleged guilt.
When Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky was exposed by Linda Tripp after Lewinsky and Clinton lied about it during the Paula Jones trial, establishment media prepared to quietly let the story slip into oblivion. It was only because blogger Matt Drudge ran the story, which was then picked up by right-wing media sources, that the public even learned about the affair, the perjury accusations, and the relationship between that information and the Paula Jones case. Initially, the Clinton camp denied Lewinsky’s assertions, but the President had to admit to the affair after she produced physical proof. Potshots were fired across the political fence. Republicans and their supporters attacked both the affair itself and Clinton’s testimony on it, treating the consensual relationship as proof of the accusations of non-consensual contact as if the two are one and the same. Democrats and their supporters responded with a strange combination of tactics; denial that the issue involved a legal aspect, labeling Clinton’s critics hysterical sexual prudes, slut-shaming Miss Lewinsky for her involvement, and smearing Linda Tripp for hers. Clinton’s behavior was irrelevant; it was those involved in proving it and criticizing him for it who must be demonized and publicly shamed. Also irrelevant was whether or not a man’s consensual sexual history was evidence of any tendency toward sexual predation, a discussion which feminist supporters of Democrat politicians apparently did not want to have.
In response to political and media smearing of alleged victims of sexual misconduct, activist groups like the National Organization for Women made the following statement:
Then, as pressure began to mount against the organization’s lack of support, Patricia Ireland, speaking as President of the National Organization for Women stated that the organization would not back Paula Jones in her case against Clinton because Republicans were backing her. According to Ireland, NOW was, “…disinclined to work with the disreputable right-wing organizations and individuals advancing her cause” because of their [Republicans] “long-standing political interest in undermining our movement to strengthen women’s rights and weakening the laws that protect those rights.”
In other words, it did not matter who was telling the truth. The truth was irrelevant to NOW and the media, who did not care whether any of Bill Clinton’s accusers were actually victimized or not. What was important was what side of the political fence stood to benefit from the allegations.
Clinton’s case is not the only one in which the response of gender issues advocates and political ideologues has been so overtly hypocritical. It is merely the most discussed. During his impeachment process, in an effort to distract from his legal issues, the Clinton camp ran career-damaging smear campaigns against several office-holding Republicans, mostly over extramarital affairs. This was part of the team’s effort to limit the public’s awareness of the scandal to that aspect of it, and while Clinton’s support team scrambled to promote the idea that extramarital sex just wasn’t that big of a deal when he was the one having the affair, the opposite was inferred when discussing his critics. Several prominent Republicans resigned in disgrace, while Clinton emerged with his political career unscathed. Since then, Newt Gingrich and Herman Cain have both been eliminated from political races when their opponents threatened to use their sexual history as campaign mudslinging material.
Another stark contrast can be seen in an earlier case of unproved accusations; the feminist response to Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. Thomas was nominated in 1991 by President George H. W. Bush. Hill’s accusations were sensationalized by establishment press, despite the case being nothing more than he-said, she-said, with a some witnesses on Hill’s side of the case coming forward to say that they’d heard her accusations from her prior to the hearings. While there was physical evidence to account for, deny, or declare irrelevant in the Clinton case, Hill’s accusations had nothing of substance behind them.
Support for Anita Hill’s accusations against Clarence Thomas largely rested on the feminist-promoted “Women don’t lie about sexual misconduct” myth and the age-old belief that if a lot of people say the same thing, it must be true. Despite public and political rejection of her assertions, Anita Hill has gone on to become a feminist icon. As with the Clinton case, it has never mattered to her supporters whether her accusations are proved or questionable, true or false. What mattered was what side of the political fence stood to benefit from the allegations. Because he was appointed by a conservative president and feminists feared that he would side with anti-abortion activists in any cases which might threaten the abortion industry, Clarence Thomas was seen as a legitimate target. Feminist writing on the topic frames the controversy to infer that Hill proved her accusations, but evil, woman-hating politicians ignored that and confirmed Judge Thomas out of sheer, unmitigated misogyny.
In Cosby’s case, like the Clarence Thomas hearings, there are issues with the accusations. First of all, the only evidence presented to the public is women’s stories. Those stories could be true, or they could be false. In and of themselves they do not constitute proof, only accusations. Even if there are many of them, they’re still just accusations. The fact that there are many brings up other flaws. Feminists have been targeting the entertainment industry for decades. How did so many women supposedly suffer at the hands of one man without any of them ever having the wherewithal to report the abuse to someone in authority? How did a black man accused of such predatory tendencies make it through his early adult years, when he was just an ordinary man with no influence over anyone, living in a world where his ethnicity made him a target for discrimination, without getting arrested for his alleged behavior? Why is it that he is only accused of having exhibited such behavior after he had gained some influence in the entertainment business? And why have the establishment press and establishment feminism participated in the public reputation lynching of a minority man without asking those very simple and obvious questions?
Perhaps the answer, as with other famous men, lies in who stands to benefit from supporting the accusers.
Bill Cosby is not a politician, so destroying his reputation isn’t going to change who does or does not have influence on public policy making, but that does not mean there’s no possibility for a political motive.
Some have said that Cosby presents himself as a moral leader, or a moral example. Much of his work has communicated a philosophy which could be described as morally conservative. Throughout his career he has promoted education, strong families and cohesive communities. His efforts included speaking to black men about self-reliance and making one’s own success.
Cosby’s brand of conservatism doesn’t involve using legislation to effect the change he wants to see. He’s a rabble-rousing grassroots motivator with a message that directly contradicts social justice ideologues on race, family, poverty, and culture. It’s a message that has resonated with and energized black conservatives, who eschew the victim narrative of social justice ideologues in favor of a belief in self-sufficiency. He also has been adamant about ending the normalization of unwed teen motherhood, advocating a return to the expectation of intact families with committed parents who dedicate their time and energy to monitoring, mentoring, and nurturing their kids. Whether everything he advocates is right or wrong, his words have been having significant influence. Not only have they recharged black conservatism, they’ve triggered discussion. He has started to get across to people that male disposibility is tearing the black community down.
In his article on Cosby’s conservatism,wrote
“There are things that we did not see coming,” Cosby told me over lunch in Manhattan last year. “Like, you could see the Klan, but because these things were not on a horse, because there was no white sheet, and the people doing the deed were not white, we saw things in the light of family and forgiveness … We didn’t pay attention to the dropout rate. We didn’t pay attention to the fathers, to the self-esteem of our boys.”
Advocacy like this is a threat to the political establishment. A population determined that the solutions to their problems lie within themselves and their own choices is a population to which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to sell the idea of an ever-growing need for social welfare programs and social justice laws. They’re not going to support politicians who run their campaigns on blame and on promises of more government intervention. To the establishment, Cosby is a traitor against the state, leading a political revolt by many methods, one dose at a time.
That is the reason establishment media is giving the accusations against Bill Cosby their Clarence Thomas treatment, and not their Bill Clinton treatment. His advocacy and his success stand to benefit the wrong side of the political fence for them, and it’s to their advantage to see this man’s credibility destroyed. It does not matter to them whether the accusations have merit or not, whether they’re provable or not. It only matters that they’re leveled against a man whose ideas and advocacy threaten establishment control over social attitudes.
And with the understanding that media response to women accusing men of sexual misconduct is determined not by the accusations’ credibility, but by their political value, we must realize that the question is not how many women we are to disbelieve.
It is “how many piled-on damsels does it take to crush a man whose increasingly popular ideas the establishment wants to silence?”
- Does this 1960s case study expose modern psychology’s flaws? | HBR Talk 278 - September 21, 2023
- Two things experienced by over 1/3 of Kenyan men | HBR Talk 277 - September 14, 2023
- Men aren’t romantic? Patriarchy! | HBR Talk 276 - September 7, 2023