I blame…the media!

There sure has been a lot of screeching about “witch hunts” and “sex panics” lately. All these recent revelations about handsy celebrities and politicians with a poor sense of boundaries aren’t the perpetrators fault, oh no, boys will be boys and we ought to be willing to overlook a few violations of the personal space of mere Playboy pinups — no, the problem is that people have gotten fed up and are willing to speak up and say “NO!”, which makes them all the equivalent of a Witchfinder General.

I disagree. The social mores have always been crystal clear on these behaviors, and we’ve always known that treating women as chattel is what bad guys do, but there has also always been a set of known exceptions: if you’re rich and powerful, or sufficiently brutish, or an ‘alpha male’, it’s been understood that you get to ignore the requirements, especially on certain celebratory occasions, like when you’ve just conquered a village, or achieved a touchdown, or it’s your birthday, or you haven’t had sex in 3 hours. The Witch Hunters aren’t doing anything unfair or unegalitarian, they’re just declaring your exceptions null and void. Now you have to treat everyone at all times with the same respect you expect to be given to your sister, or your bros.

You can smell the desperation oozing off the press. Lazy journalists are already pining for the good old days when you could split the world they were reporting on in two: there were the Movers & Shakers, the powerful people with special rules, and you could do your job by just reporting what they said; and then there was the complex world of everyone else, who had diverse and rather different ideas about what is right and just, who you could just ignore. What mattered was what white men in nice suits with influential positions might say, and your goal as a journalist was to curry favor with them so that they’d give you a nice quote you could use in a story. Right now, those journalists are busy trying to restore the status quo, so they can stop having to work hard to track down facts and evidence and listen to the Great Mob, who are all Witch Hunters.

Saying there’s a sex panic on the grounds that women don’t like having their asses grabbed is the 2017 way of calling women frigid. In the 1950s, the woman who slapped a man’s face for an unwanted grope was mocked for not being sexually open, for being uptight. Now she’s accused of participating in a “sex panic.” But it’s all the same thing across the generations: When women stand up to say “keep your hands off of me” there’s a good chance they’ll be called prudes. Saying there’s a sex panic is a fancy way of saying that women’s bodies don’t completely belong to them the way their cars do. Someone can damage a woman’s car in a very small way, and insurance companies take it seriously and pay for the repair. She owns that car, and has every right to protect it. But if someone grabs her butt without her permission, she needs to lighten up. What is she, a frigid bitch?

In the America of earlier generations, one thing that silenced women who wanted to report unwanted sexual acts was how important it was not to damage a man’s career, his reputation, his family. Was one unpleasant event really enough to cause so much trouble to a respected member of the community, to a breadwinner? The importance of men’s careers has also become a part of the new resistance. After the first Al Franken accusation, Joan Walsh wrote a piece in The Nation in which she urged readers to remember that Franken was “a champion of Planned Parenthood,” and also “a committed feminist,” which was helpful for those of us who didn’t know that committed feminists sometimes—allegedly—jam their tongues down unwilling women’s throats.

What I find odd about this behavior is the contrast with how desperately they’ve been trying to make excuses for the Odious Trump Voter, who must be featured in regular puff pieces that strain to pretend they’re really nice and just economically distressed, rather than poorly informed (by the media!) bigots who have erected the current flimsy and disastrous power structure, because they want to snuggle up to the Trumpians and get those juicy droppings of words for their editorials. But mere women complaining about grabby assholes? Where’s the conduit to power in that? We’re free to dismiss them as witch hunters.

Not all journalists, of course. Goes without saying. But those Beltway Journalists, jesus…just get rid of the whole lot of them. Take a look at Mark Halperin, chief poisoner of all media. Pay attention, too, to the fact that most of our liberal excuses don’t work. He was not a creature of Fox News, which we all know is the homegrown Pravda of American media; he was the Wormtongue of ABC News, working through his pernicious newsletter, The Note, to debase our understanding of politics.

The Note purported to reveal Washington’s secrets. In fact, its purpose was the exact opposite: to make the city, and US politics, appear impossible to understand. It replaced normal words with jargon. It coined the phrase “Gang of 500,” the clubby network of lobbyists, aides, pols, and hangers-on who supposedly, like the Vatican’s cardinals, secretly ran DC. That wasn’t true — power is so diffuse. But Halperin claimed he knew so much more than we did, and we began to believe it.

Once you believe that, it’s not hard to be convinced that politics is only comprehensible, like nuclear science, to a select few. There were those chosen ones — the people who’d flattered Halperin to get a friendly mention in his newsletter, the ones he declared to be in the know — and the rest of us. Halperin wrote about Washington like it was an intriguing game, the kind that masked aristocrats played to entertain themselves at 19th-century parties: Everyone was both pawn and player, engaged in a set of arcane maneuvers to win an empty jackpot that ultimately meant nothing of true importance.

At the same time, The Note made it seem that tiny events — a cough at a press conference, a hush-hush convo between Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell in a corridor — held apocalyptic importance. Cloaked in seriousness, with the imprimatur of Peter Jennings’ ABC News, in reality The Note was not news but simple gossip.

We have to boot Trump and his corrupt cronies from power, but nothing is going to change in the long term until we also eradicate the oily sycophants who have been working to concentrate information in the hands of a select few — the Rupert Murdochs and Jeff Zuckers and the other corporate leeches — and they’re busy little bees right now conniving to get the FCC to undermine Net Neutrality. You know why. Because they’re straining to keep the power of information out of the hands of the people they like to disparage as “witch hunters”. Because you know that if the power structure screws you over in the near future — as you know it will — it’s simpler and easier and more profitable to report on the satisfied sighs of the pigs in power than to relay the groans of the masses. You will not be heard. You will be demonized.


  1. chrislawson says

    Amazing, isn’t it?, comparing the current outings to the “sex panics” that culminated in the McMartin fiasco. The biggest difference is, of course, that there was no abuse at the McMartin school. It was all invented wholesale by gullible conservative christian moralists and seized upon by overzealous police, social workers, and psychologists (that is, the panic was the work of people in positions of power overreaching). In contrast, every single perpetrator except Ray Moore and Bill Cosby has admitted their adverse behaviour, every case involves claims by less powerful against the powerful, and none of the claims involve ridiculous patently fantastical events (e.g. mass infant sacrifices that had somehow gone completely unnoticed).

    In reality, calling this a “sex panic” is nothing more than a horrifying attempt to protect abusers from any and all accusations.

  2. snuffcurry says

    I also think the “panic” describes not just the outing of famous, powerful men who wielded that fame and power to abuse, undermine, persecute, and exploit, but characterizes the current mood of men (and some women) in general, men worried that their own victims might come forward. The “panic,” then, stokes mostly rational and justifiable* fear (in the sense that it is abusers who have reason to worry, rather than any one random person), but there is an irrational component to it, as well, influenced by the same socialized instinct to disbelieve women, to treat them as capricious, to view the world as homosocial and zero-sum, where when a woman profits from her own talent, hard work, and ambition, she is gaining something at the cost of a more deserving man and, conversely, when she exposes something that is unfavorable to a man there is a tendency to believe she has done so not for the greater good or justice but for her own gains. Hence the comparatively common belief that women lie about such things out of revenge or out of misandry and or out of ambition and a desire for attention. The “panic” doesn’t take into account the reality that women are frequently disbelieved and then punished for being difficult and gossip-y, for having courted “negative” attention, for highlighting her gender, for being weak.

    “Sex” is a misnomer, too, but a revealing one, where sexualized violence and misogyny at work are interpreted as “flavors” or “extremes” of sexual behavior, eliding the difference between consensual affairs (for example) and the persecution of a woman by a man not out of sexual desire but out of a need for expediency in destroying her, the easiest way to do so is to treat her like a sex object and undermine her authority, credibility, and self-esteem, to tie her future ability to earn a living to her willingness to accept bad behavior without protest. The media is guilty of this, calling everything from child molestation to cheating on one’s partner a “scandal,” rather than the first one being a crime and a social ill and the second one no one’s business.

    *of course, it’s darkly amusing to hear about paranoid men, pretending any day a woman will appear on the scene with the express purpose of causing his downfall, given that women spend the bulk of their professional and personal lives regularly terrorized by the threat of male violence and of men’s social, political, and economic dominance

  3. davidrichardson says

    The #metoo movement has had some good consequences in Sweden already. There have been similar movements among … parliamentarians … actors … singers … writers … researchers and teachers at university (so far …). Swedish media don’t normally publish the names of perpetrators, even after they’ve been convicted (bothers the hell out of racists who try to make out that crime = immigrants). However, at least one leading ‘cultural personality’ is under fire for being a sexual harasser on the payroll of the Swedish Academy (the people who dish out the Nobel Prize for Literature). The Minister for Higher Education is now looking into ways of removing research grants awarded to researchers suspected of sexual harassment. Long may this continue … (It’s important, of course, to ensure that the accused are actually guilty of what they’ve been accused of, but the cases so far are so egregious that I can accept the perps as guilty prima facie.)

  4. tardigrada says

    just a little off the side since I’m not from the US. Which news outlets are trustworthy and decent? I don’t mind paying a reasonable price for it but am a bit overwhelmed by trying to figure out which ones are not owned by people who are just trying to push their own agenda (read: trying to protect their own status quo like the Koch brothers, Murdoch etc).
    Any recommendations?

  5. methuseus says

    @ tardigrada #6:

    Which news outlets are trustworthy and decent?

    It’s unfortunately hard to say. Avoid Fox News and Fox Business networks. CNN, especially the International division are generally good. The other networks have their good and bad days, even CNN. Unfortunately I’ve found that sometimes to get the real info on some US stories I have to go to the BBC. Every news outlet protects their status quo in one way or another, but you can get a good idea of the real story by following people like PZ and a few others.