Jeff Simon: One big story and a lot of smaller ones - The Buffalo News

Share this article

print logo

Jeff Simon: One big story and a lot of smaller ones

I want to make a plea to American media: no more "sexual misconduct" stories.

I don't mean no more stories in the current reckoning of sexual abuse for men in power positions. Quite the opposite. I think every legitimate story about sexual abuse of power should be told by anyone candid and brave enough to tell it.

What has to stop is "sexual misconduct" as a generic term for falsely equivalent behavior that is wildly disparate and has no business being thought of in the same way.

Case in point: Last week's firings of Matt Lauer by NBC and Garrison Keillor by Minnesota Public Radio. The Keillor firing resulted in a thoroughly understandable cancellation of a show in Buffalo.

Lauer's hegemony at the "Today" Show has been troubled since the tearful departure of Ann Curry from "Today" made him look like the creep of the decade. (Unfairly, I think.) His inadequate public grilling of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump during the election was so substandard that it made it that much clearer how remiss NBC News was in not calling on Chuck Todd or Rachel Maddow.

Even so, the Lauer stories that came out when he was fired were shocking to me. A story repeated in a couple of places has him locking his office door from a button under his desk so that a female staffer couldn't leave. He then, according to the story she told, sexually assaulted her. She passed out and had to be taken to a nurse by an NBC employee.

That is horrifying by any measure -- right up there with some of the Harvey Weinstein stories.

The dismissal by Minnesota Public Radio of Garrison Keillor is different. The only revelation about it has come from Keillor who said this about a staffer "I put my hand on a woman's bare back. I meant to pat her back after she told me about her unhappiness and her shirt was open. And my hand went up it about six inches. She recoiled. I apologized. I sent her an E-mail of apology later and she replied she had forgiven me and not to think about it. We were friends. We continued to remain friendly right up until the lawyer called."

MPR has not yet elaborated on what it did or why. Nor has anyone else reported any alternative details -- or other allegations about Keillor. The result made Keillor sound more like a a victim than a predator.

That's the point. The range of behavior which can now be subsumed under the category of sexual misconduct is so large that media have no business using it generically and expecting anyone to understand what it means.

Does it mean that nonagenarian George H. W. Bush's pattings of the rumps of young women are the same as Al Franken sticking his tongue down the throat of a Playboy model; or actress Melissa Gilbert saying that she was once so vilely sexually harassed in an audition with Oliver Stone that it made her run from the room crying?

Some of the behavior that has come out in this reckoning of male abuse is remaking what men and women think of each other's behavior toward the other. And some of it seems clearly actionable under the law.

The law defines two kinds of crimes: felonies and misdemeanors. Some of what we're talking about now falls into felony territory. But some stories are, at best, misdemeanors. And some, I think, are men merely acting oafish, without being criminal.

Actor Richard Dreyfuss has said "at the height of my fame in the '70s, I became an (expletive), the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the model if you didn't flirt, you die. And flirt I did. But am not an assaulter."

Dreyfuss' son has accused Kevin Spacey of groping him when he was a teenager when his father was in the room.

Spacey, as revealed by stories in the past few weeks, was so abusive to young boys and young men that, in an astonishing and unprecedented move, he was removed from Ridley Scott's film "All the Money in the World" so that he could be replaced by Christopher Plummer, for reshoots and re-edits before the film's Dec. 22 release.

John Lasseter, the brilliant and formidable head of Pixar, was, according to the Hollywood Reporter, blocked from groping the legs of Pixar's female employees by a maneuver they called The Lasseter. He has taken a sabbatical to work on himself for the sake of the company.

Rep. John Conyers, on the other hand, at 88, was still in the House of Representatives until today even after spending taxpayer money to settle sexual abuse claims against him.

All the behavior comes under the category of men expressing power over women in the worst way. But some of it seems like stupid male oafishness and some of it seems like monstrous predatory behavior.

I was shocked by the amount of truly horrible behavior that we're hearing about people like Lauer.

On the other hand, anyone who knows anything about American classical music has been hearing unsavory stories about conductor James Levine for many years. The Met's reluctance to act all these years has been the story rather than the revelations about it finally.

"The Reckoning" is a huge wilderness of stories -- each one of them specific in essence and meaning. And with each new one we know a little more than we did before.

There are no comments - be the first to comment