I thought about Aronowitz’s essay when I was reading Farrow’s report on CBS. I thought, too, about the differences between nouns and verbs in the reckoning #MeToo is bringing about, the way behavior—the verbs—can seem clean-cut in their moralities, while the bigger picture, with its mess of nouns, can be so much more complicated. I thought on the one hand about the obvious: that it is assault for someone to pin down on a couch a colleague who had come to his office for a business meeting, her hands over her head, so that she “can’t breathe,” and “can’t move.” That it is assault for him to try to kiss her, “violently,” such that she begins to feel like “a trapped animal”—such that her life begins to flash before her eyes. And that it is a different kind of violation—but a violation, still—for him to attempt to edit the interaction after the fact, by calling their mutual colleagues to tell them what a great meeting it had been. For him to tell her that she’ll “never work at this network again.”
And then I thought about all the complications, the kinds that are summoned when people—so many people—come forward to defend Moonves on the grounds of his full personhood: the fact that he has a wife of almost 14 years who is, so far, publicly standing by him; that he is a father to an 8-year-old son; that he has publicly championed feminist causes; that he helped to found the Commission on Eliminating Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace—a commission chaired by Anita Hill. The fact that Moonves acknowledges trying to kiss Illeana Douglas but denies, CBS told Farrow in a statement, “any characterization of ‘sexual assault,’ intimidation, or retaliatory action.” And the related fact, of course, that Les Moonves has overseen the transformation of CBS from a languishing network into a hit-making powerhouse. All the standard can-you-separate-the-art-from-the-artist questions, translated to the realm of corporate oversight and corporate profit.
Here is Terry Press, the president of CBS Films, commenting on the New Yorker story in a statement posted to her personal Facebook page:
I do not believe that it is my place to question the accounts put forth by the women but I do find myself asking that if we are examining the industry as it existed decades before through the lens of 2018 should we also discuss a path to learning, reconciliation, and forgiveness?
To reach a point where we can accept some space between zero accountability and complete destruction, we must first grapple with the issue of equivalency. If we paint episodes of vulgar (and deeply regrettable) behavior from 20 years ago with the same brush as serial criminal behavior, we will never move forward and more importantly, we eschew the complicated nuances of context for the easier path of absolutes.
It’s a comment that, in its entirety, is full of straw men and scapegoats (no one, in 1997, the year that Illeana Douglas alleges Moonves assaulted her, thought pinning a colleague down on the couch and forcibly kissing her was a normal thing to do). But it also echoes the kind of grappling that the colleagues of alleged abusers are left to do when stories of their abuse are made public. Charlie Rose’s CBS This Morning colleague Gayle King, after the allegations against him were published: “What do you say when someone that you deeply care about has done something so horrible? I’m really grappling with that.” The comedian Sarah Silverman, on the allegations against “one of my best friends of over 25 years,” Louis C.K.: “Can you love someone who did bad things?”