This Thanksgiving I find myself thankful for something that is roiling our country. I am glad at what has happened with the recent, much-discussed and continuing sexual-harassment revelations and responses. To repeat the obvious, it is a watershed event, which is something you can lose sight of when you’re in the middle of it. To repeat the obvious again, journalists broke the back of the scandal when they broke the code on how to report it. For a quarter century we had been stuck in the He Said/She Said. Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas gave their testimonies, each offered witnesses, and the fair minded did their best with the evidence at hand while sorting through all the swirling political agendas. In the end I believed Mr. Thomas. But nobody knows, or rather only two people do.
What happened during the past two years, and very much in the past few months, is that reporters and news organizations committed serious resources to unearthing numbers and patterns. Deep reporting found not one or two victims of an abuser but, in one case, that of Bill Cosby, at least 35. So that was the numbers. The testimony of the women who went on the record, named and unnamed, revealed patterns: the open bathrobe, the running shower, the “Let’s change our meeting from the restaurant to my room/your apartment/my guesthouse.” Once you, as a fair-minded reader, saw the numbers and patterns, and once you saw them in a lengthy, judicious, careful narrative, you knew who was telling the truth. You knew what was true. Knowing was appalling and sometimes shocking, but it also came as a kind of relief.
Once predators, who are almost always repeat offenders, understood the new way of reporting such stories, they understood something else: They weren’t going to get away with it anymore. They’d never known that. And they were going to pay a price, probably in their careers. They’d never known that, either.
Why did this happen now? It was going to happen at some point: Sexual harassment is fairly endemic. Quinnipiac University released a poll this week showing 60 percent of American women voters say they’ve experienced it. Maybe the difference now is that the Clintons are gone—more on that in a moment. And maybe there’s something in this: Sexual harassment, at least judging by the testimony of recent accusers, has gotten weirder, stranger, more brutish. The political director of a network news organization invites you to his office, trains his eyes on you and masturbates as you tell him about your ambitions? The Hollywood producer hires an army of foreign goons to spy on you and shut you up? It has gotten weird out there. These stories were going to blow up at some point.
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