As Jonah Goldberg observed, the ongoing reckoning with abusive men in positions of authority might have begun with the outing of Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly and Roger Ailes. But it didn’t. The “national conversation” that followed the exposure of their abuses focused more on a perceived culture of aggressive masculinity and institutionalized exploitation in conservative circles. It is telling that it required the confirmation of decades-old “open secrets” involving a prominent movie producer and liberal political activist to get the ball rolling on this moment of national reconciliation.
Today, the dam has truly burst. Hardly a day goes by in which another alleged abuser isn’t outed, but the accusations aren’t coming from bastions of American conservatism. Academia, Hollywood, the recording industry, public radio, Broadway, the opera, the mainstream press, other media like Vox.com and the New Republic—the women who are emboldened to tell their stories are disproportionately outing exploitative figures on the left. For some Democrats, this has led to a discomfiting cognitive dissonance. How can these men who ostensibly dedicated themselves to the liberal ethos have been such boorish monsters? How have these environments incubated and sheltered so many hypocrites? Some on the left have identified a handy method by which these existential conundrums can be reconciled. These men might have been nominally liberal, but they can be safely expurgated from good standing because they actively contributed to Hillary Clinton’s defeat.
Jill Filipovic isn’t the first to make this argument, but she’s the first to present it cogently in the pages of the New York Times. She wrote that men like Matt Lauer, Mark Halperin, and Charlie Rose—prominent journalists who helped set the national political narrative—contributed materially to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss. When they were not patronizing toward Clinton, Filipovic’s argument goes, they were nakedly hostile. Even the New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, suspended temporarily amid an investigation into claims of impropriety, received an unfriendly mention. “These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn’t that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with,” she wrote, “but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status.”
This brand of pleading is so special it deserves a trophy. Of course, it will find a receptive audience. Filipovic’s views on this subject are shared by a variety of prominent cultural critics and political commentators on the left. Hillary Clinton herself has lent credence to the notion that America’s pervasive misogyny is partly to blame for the Donald Trump presidency. This is a handy device. It absolves Clinton of any responsibility for her loss to the most unpopular presidential candidate in history, whose occupation prior to assuming the presidency was that of game show host. It directs any Democratic antipathy toward Clinton away from her paranoid email practices, her penchant for mendacity, or her habit of keeping tainted but loyal figures at arm’s length away from her and onto anyone who happens to notice these unlovely traits.
For Democrats still invested in Hillary Clinton’s political brand, climbing these cognitive hills is no urgent task. They long ago convinced themselves, if not the rest of us, that a variety of American malefactors and prejudices robbed Clinton of her due. The imperative at this particular moment isn’t absolving Clinton but ensuring the wave of sexual harassment claims being levied against liberals in the private sector does not tarnish the liberal project. These alleged abusers are imposters, you see. It’s a bridge too far to argue that any of the men Filipovic condemns were unfriendly toward the Democratic Party’s political prospects, but being accused of anti-Hillary bias when the binary alternative was Donald Trump is, for many partisan Democrats, a distinction without a difference.
The claim that these and other media men took great pains to derail Clinton’s bid for the White House is nothing short of paranoia. Both Clinton herself and her supporters have spent the last 15 months brooding over a town hall in which Matt Lauer grilled the former secretary of state over her “homebrew” server but failed to correct Donald Trump for claiming erroneously that he opposed the Iraq War in 2002. Perhaps her defenders were more accustomed to their candidate being probed about how her weekend went; that is, when she deigned to meet the press in the first place. Moving on, Filipovic appears to indict Charlie Rose for probing Hillary Clinton’s thoughts on the accuracy of the claims made by former FBI Director James Comey regarding her conduct at State. That’s not the most compelling evidence to support such a serious charge. As for Halperin, Clinton gave him a wide berth in 2016. By contrast, Trump embraced him and the commodification of politicians that was his stock-in-trade.
Did a Zamboni ride through Central Park’s Wollman Ice Rink soften Donald Trump’s image? Surely it did. But these weren’t the only reporters to forego hard-nosed journalism when it came to Trump and apply those standards doubly when it came to his opponents—both Republican and Democratic. That reality likely had less to do with the male journalistic establishment’s manic compulsion to prevent women from assuming positions of power than their reduced expectations for Trump and their employers’ understanding that covering the reality television show host was a good business decision. Filipovic sees “simmering disrespect” for women in these reporters’ eyes, but what would she call an impulse to lob softballs at Trump? Admiration?
Filipovic’s targets deserve all the recrimination she heaps upon them and more. By their own admissions, they’ve abused and disrespected their colleagues, to say nothing of their audiences. But her contention amounts to a conspiracy theory. The behaviors in which Clinton engaged don’t sound any better when they’re summarized by a female journalist. And yet, in a way, this is all immaterial. Filipovic was not trying to save Hillary Clinton from the consequences of her own actions. This was an excommunication.