Time once again to revisit the obnoxious feature of sexual harassment complaints that I tried to enlighten NPR listeners about when I was rudely cut off by my alleged friend, NPR host Michel Martin, who chose anti-Trump bias over what I was there for: to explain what almost no one understands about sexual harassment, including, apparently, Martin. (Yes, I am still furious about this episode, which resulted in my being black-balled from NPR, which I had assisted on short notice for several years. I will keep referencing it until I receive a full apology from Martin, and maybe a gift, which, of course, will happen when NPR starts being non-partisan, or in other words, never.)
My point in the fateful appearance on NPR years ago was that middle-aged (or older) men of power, celebrity and influence are often at risk from a phenomenon that springs from the weird aspect of sexual harassment as both a law and a phenomenon. It isn’t sexual harassment if it is genuinely welcome and appreciated by who would otherwise be the victim. However, neither the law nor the culture considers the situation in which a victim changes his or her mind over time. Thus a young, rich, single, famous young buck impulsively kisses a young woman in his employ, and she is thrilled. Maybe he really likes her! Maybe this is a life-changing event! She is neither offended nor upset, so it isn’t sexual harassment. Then decades pass, and the impulsive kisser is no longer young. Worse, he’s hated by all of the former employee’s friends, and that impulsive kiss all those years ago is no long welcome—except as a way to embarrass and hurt the current version of the rich and powerful man she once admired and even lusted after. She has decided now that she was harassed (or even sexually assaulted) then.
Is that fair? Is that even sexual harassment? As far as I can determine, I am the only commentator, ethicist or lawyer who has raised that question, and my reward for it was to be accused of being a Trump apologist, though my comment was not restricted to accusations against Donald Trump. The related ethical issue is whether it is fair and just for a women who took no action to report an incident that might have been harassment for decades keeps the incident in reserve just in case it might come in useful–to destroy the reputation of the man involved, shake him down, or otherwise harm him while benefiting herself. It’s like a treasure squirreled away to be cashed in on a rainy day.
That issue was raised this week, when Shelley Ross, who was an executive producer at ABC News who had been Cuomo’s supervisor, authored an op-ed describing the time Cuomo grabbed her read end during a going-away party for a colleague. She says she told him this was inappropriate—which does not prove she found it unwelcome—and that he later apologized, which only means that he was worried he might get in trouble. Now, she says, she is making her accusation only to inspire Cuomo to respond by educating his “Cuomo Prime Time” viewers on sexism in the workplace.
You know, just like Anita Hill decided to pull out the sword of Damocles she had been saving to hand over Clarence Thomas’s head in case Democrats wanted to block him from joining the Supreme Court.
Ethics foul. She is exploiting Chris Cuomo’s entanglement with his brother’s sexual harassment scandal for her own ends, and deliberately harming him with a dubious accusation that probably cannot be proven. It is unconscionable. I am gravitating to the position that if a sexual harassment episode isn’t reported within a reasonable amount of time, there should be a rebuttable presumption that the incident was welcome, and thus not sexual harassment. This would place the burden of proof on the accuser, not just to prove the episode took place, but to prove that she was upset by it.
I last wrote about this problem when Monica Lewinsky suddenly announced that she realized Bill Clinton had sexually abused her. But in Monica’s case, at least she can justly argue that she could not meaningfully consent to how the President of the United States treated her because of the power disparity between them. Ross has no such excuse: she had been Cuomo’s boss.
This phenomenon abuses the purpose of sexual harassment law, and gives former associates of the powerful and famous the means to destroy them by simply changing their minds. If it can’t be prevented, then at least it need to be understood, recognized, flagged and condemned.
I have little but contempt for Chris Cuomo as a journalist and talking head, but heis the victim here. Now.