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.