Sex or power. Biology or culture. Inevitable or changeable. These are the dichotomies embedded in the debate around the #MeToo movement. On one side are those who tend to say that power is the issue: Harvey Weinstein abused his status in ways that lay bare larger structural inequalities that should be rectified. Others ask whether the problem isn’t just that Weinstein was a special kind of creep whose alleged crimes do not, perhaps, require a comprehensive referendum on gender and other cultural hierarchies.
In the basket of allegations against the latest and arguably most significant media man to fall, the CBS chief Leslie Moonves, is intelligence that further clarifies the debate. At least 12 women have accused the now-outgoing TV executive of unwanted touching and vindictive reprisals. Certain specifics create a portrait of Moonves that colors even his conduct unrelated to alleged sexual harassment. What unifies the stories is not only how Moonves acted, though. It’s also the effect those actions had.
The New Yorker has broken most of the allegations against Moonves—which have largely been leveled by people in the film and TV industries—but one telling story arrives from elsewhere. “A Physician’s Place in the #MeToo Movement” read the headline on an Annals of Internal Medicine article published last May by Anne L. Peters, who recounted an anecdote about a “VIP” patient grabbing and trying to kiss her, and then masturbating in front of her when she rebuffed him. The article didn’t identify the patient, but Vanity Fair’s William D. Cohan was told by a source that it was Moonves, who did visit Peters one time in 1999. In a statement issued through a representative, Moonves then appeared to confirm parts of the story: “The appalling allegations about my conduct toward a female physician some 20 years ago are untrue. What is true, and what I deeply regret, is that I tried to kiss the doctor. Nothing more happened.”