Sexual McCarthyism

Today (ironically) I woke up to the news that Matt Lauer, co-anchor of NBC’s “Today Show” for 20 years, was fired by NBC News because of inappropriate sexual behavior. Then I read that the venerated writer and ex-host of “Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor, was fired by Minnesota Public Radio for “allegations of his inappropriate behavior with an individual who worked with him.” We’ll no longer hear “The Writer’s Almanac” or any “Best of Prairie Home Companion” featuring Keillor.

Lauer was reportedly kind of a jerk (he apparently edged out long-time reporter Ann Curry from a co-host spot, for those of you who care about this sort of thing), and he had his ups and downs over the years journalistically.

But in both cases, the accusations are allegations, and haven’t been proven to be true yet. This is seriously problematic. I know that many people reading my blog may not remember the horror of McCarthyism in the 1950s. It was a witch hunt against “Communists,” many of whom were in the entertainment field. Senator Joe McCarthy created an atmosphere of accusations and downright lies that ruined the lives of many people with little or no proof. The fury and brouhaha that are taking over news headlines about thus-and-so being fired or castigated for sexual harassment is taking on McCarthy-like overtones.

It’s starting to appear that there’s a witch hunt for many men who may be wondering if something they said or did would have been misconstrued wrongly by someone they knew or with whom they worked.

It’s surely a rush to judgment.

For example, I would question the woman who alleged that Senator Al Franken touched her buttocks with sexual intent when she stood next to him to have her photo taken. Did he really mean to grope her? Was he really thinking about her sexually? Or did he just happen to accidentally brush her butt with his hand during the photo session? Franken says he didn’t mean anything (He doesn’t even remember the incident); the woman says he did it with clear intent. Who’s telling the real truth?

I’m certainly not for any behavior that disrespects women at any time or any place, sexually or otherwise (women take a whole lot of verbal harassment and disrespect too). It’s bad enough to be objectified sexually, groped or assaulted in a non-work situation (verbally or physically); but it’s quite worse when someone (female or male) is subjected to the same type of reprehensible behavior when there are threats and power abuse attached (like Harvey Weinstein and Charlie Rose).

It’s just not the same thing at all to feel uncomfortable with someone’s behavior and being harassed or assaulted (what specifically do those two terms mean anyway?). Where do you draw the line? What actually constitutes “harassment”? Where do you cross the line from having to listen to stupid frat-boy jokes to actual harassment? There’s a pretty broad spectrum of behavior between inappropriate and criminal.

Example: Louis CK. Oh lord. Here’s a twerp who felt it was okay to masturbate in front of women on a regular basis, sans their consent. Seems like he has a sex fetish to me. What an idiot—but these women should have gotten up and left the room when he started his pervy antics, IMHO (I would have, if it made me uncomfortable). Was that harassment? Or just being a stupid moron?

I would venture to say that every woman has had many, many moments of feeling uncomfortable with certain men’s behavior, verbal and physical. Does that mean they were “harassed”?

I think that 99% of all men in this culture might be considered guilty of some sort of behavior that might be considered harassment. We all know that this behavior has been tolerated for hundreds, thousands of years. All of a sudden, it’s not acceptable and the men involved are dropping like flies. It’s good that women are speaking out. But it’s gotten to the point that harassment charges are becoming a deadly weapon against alleged perpetrators who don’t necessarily deserve to be ostracized, fired, have their reputations ruined, etc. We have to figure out where that line is, and be reasonable about it with some clearer criteria.

This is a really complicated issue. We all need to step back, take a deep breath and not be so quick to judge, and/or destroy someone else’s career and livelihood. We need a period of transition; both men and women have to do a lot of soul-searching to reach an accord on our behavior. We don’t need another McCarthy era.

  • Davis Rogan

    Hey Jan,
    Just wanted to let you know that I wrote the new words for Macalary’s “I Quit.” That said, I prefer the original. Sold one copy on CD Baby, whooo hoo!

  • Janramsey

    I figured as much. Can’t see that coming out of Pelicanos.

  • Steve McNamee

    I’m assuming there are zero comments because this piece is so idiotic.

  • Jonathan Delman

    Lauer had a button to lock his door from under his desk, and summoned women to his office for sex. Franken has been called out by multiple women. These are not one-off incidents and it is time to change the culture of sexual abuse in this country both in the workplace and outside of it.

    It is particularly concerning that this opinion comes from the desk of OffBeat as so many female New Orleans musicians and performers are subject to sexual abuse on a regular basis.

    • Tom Perlic

      And yet, our “commander in chief” has been untouched by the dozens of serious allegations about his past sexual proclivities, along with some child molestor running for high office in AL. There definitely seems to be inconsistencies in how each matter is treated. If we as a culture really want to change how women are treated we really need consistency in how penalties and punishment are applied. Thanks for your thoughts Jan!

      • Jonathan Delman

        I agree that consistency is helpful, although perhaps public officials should be held to a higher standard than anyone else.

        Ms. Ramsey is not making a call for consistency though. She is comparing the outing of sexual predators and harassers to a time in our history in which government officials were making baseless claims about alleged communists. In the cases of Lauer and Franken, multiple women have come out against them alleging similar experiences of sexual abuse. The analogy between McCarthyism and the outing of sexual abusers is flawed and dangerous as it compares victims of abuse to government officials on a witch hunt for people with different political ideologies.

  • Jane Trucksis

    I’m with you 100%!

  • Gwynn Torres

    Jan’s piece in no way excuses Matt Lauer or anyone else. And having known Jan for about 30 years, I feel pretty comfortable saying she has little tolerance for creeps and predators. It’s the growing hysteria that is concerning. Knee jerk reactions are, by nature, rarely well thought out, and that’s the problem. This much-needed social evolution is something many of us have hoped and prayed would become a possibility. But if slow and steady really wins the race, let’s not allow overzealousness to take the lead.

    • Jonathan Delman

      Why do you consider this wave of outings “knee jerk reactions” and “hysteria?” Victims of sexual abuse are being empowered to come out against the men who have sexually mistreated, harassed, and/or abused them and simply telling their stories.

      Surely, there have been singular false claims. Claims of sexual abuse should still be investigated. Yet regarding the entire movement, instead of slow and steady, why not ride this wave of courageous women coming out against their abusers in order to make a major shift in sexual norms in our country?

      • Gwynn Torres

        Jonathon, I don’t think we’re really in disagreement, As you said, investigation is key, to eliminate political plays and fame seekers (who help invalidate the truly abused). And then proper action, such as we’re seeing now in many cases, though not in all. Because absolutely no one should be exempt, no matter how powerful.

  • Robert Brennan

    Thanks. It needed to be said. And, you’ve succinctly stated what was percolating, largely subconsciuosly, in my head.

  • Ora

    Thanks you for this article !
    I want to add one more thing.
    As someone who was born in former USSR and lived through all “ nuances” of collective hypocrisy, fear and hysteria I see what is happening now as a replay , an absurd flashback American variation of Russia at its worst .
    Scary? Shocking ?- no doubt, yes.
    Btw , I wonder ,what the next level this paranoia will take:
    Maybe banning music of great composers , novels of classics , legendary film directors , philosopher etc .(find me a genius who was a saint?! ) until our society will be fully castrated not only of sex but of creative talent and critical thought .

    Ora I.

  • Charlie McCarthyism

    Some people blather on about how Trump the P*ssy Grabber is occupying the White House. HELLOOOOOO, what about Bill Clinton, who stuck cigars up a young female intern’s tw*t, AND she blew him under that historic desk in the Oval Office? While HILLARY, Bill’s WIFE and the FIRST LADY at that time, was elsewhere?? There’s even a blue dress somewhere with Bill Clinton’s DNA on it. You bunch of idiot hypocrites.