In 2004, I wrote a column about Bill O'Reilly's alleged sexual harassment of Andrea Mackris, one of his producers. Her suit charged that O'Reilly pressured her to have telephone sex with him. Mackris had taped some of their conversations, including O'Reilly's threat that he would destroy any woman who retaliated against him. A transcript of that call was conveniently available on the Internet.
The consequence was hardly immediate: Thirteen years later, O'Reilly was fired.
I exhume O'Reilly and, if I may, Fox News in general, as a rebuttal to the argument that something awfully pernicious and immoral about liberalism accounts for the Harvey Weinstein scandal.
We are told over and over about how his alleged behavior was an open secret in show business but that the liberal press, in odious partnership with liberal politicians, looked the other way. Some of that is true — the bit about Weinstein's behavior being an open secret. The man was known as a brute, possessed of a hair-trigger temper, shielded from the consequences of his behavior not by the press, but by a phalanx of lawyers and the purchased silence of his victims.
Without an accuser — or witnesses — willing to talk on the record, the hands of journalists were tied. Ken Auletta, who profiled Weinstein in 2002 for The New Yorker, was consistently thwarted by an inability to get Weinstein's alleged victims to say what had happened.
But if Weinstein's behavior was an open secret, then what about O'Reilly's? He settled with Mackris for $9 million. Other women also agreed to settlements. In the end, he and 21st Century Fox paid out $32 million to settle sexual harassment suits.
The predations of Roger Ailes, the late chairman of Fox News, cost the network even more — not to mention costing Ailes his job. The list of his victims was long and distinguished — Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly, to name just two — and here, too, was yet another open secret. Ailes' behavior was not only long-standing — TV producer Shelley Ross wrote that Ailes had made unwanted sexual advances to her back in 1981 — but it had been reported in a 2014 book by Gabriel Sherman, then of New York Magazine.
The consequence? Ailes got raise after raise and, ultimately, a golden parachute worth about $40 million. Rupert Murdoch, the proprietor of Fox News and much else, never had to account for the frat house he was running on Manhattan's Sixth Avenue, and Ailes reportedly prepped Donald Trump for last year's presidential debates. Trump did not object to associating with such a man. As we all know, besides wanting lower taxes, the two apparently had another thing in common.
The Democrats clearly do not have Trump's sang-froid. They rushed to either return Weinstein's money — he has been a steady Democratic Party contributor — or donate the filthy lucre to charity. But why? Weinstein's money was legitimately earned and, while it is not unconnected to the man himself, it is unconnected to what his accusers say he did — and it was accepted in good faith. The rush by Democrats to rid themselves of this supposedly tainted money is in itself an ex post facto confession of guilt by association and plays into the argument of conservatives that something is rotten about liberalism.
After Representative Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), a vehement anti-abortion member of Congress, was revealed to have demanded that his mistress terminate a pregnancy, op-eds popped up informing us that Murphy was a typical conservative hypocrite. Some other conservatives were named, but of course we would not know the names of those who were ideologically consistent — maybe the vast majority.
Still, the urge to slander an entire class of people by using a single person is apparently so powerful it cannot be resisted. In Weinstein's case, he has been used not only to accuse the press of inexcusable sloth but also to represent men in general, or maybe the man who lurks inside every man of power.
Harvey Weinstein does not personify American liberalism any more than Bill O'Reilly personifies American conservatism. If anything, they personify the truism that sexual misbehavior is nonideological — as Republican as Warren Harding, who carried on an affair with Nan Britton in the White House, or as Democratic as Bill Clinton, who did the same with Monica Lewinsky. Weinstein is not a typical liberal nor a typical man. He's a typical beast. Leave it at that.
Richard Cohen writes for the Washington Post Writers Group.