When a scandal rocked the sports world a few weeks ago, many followers of college basketball were certain that the flood gates would open and high-profile coaches would start to fall one-by-one. So far, that hasn’t happened.
On the other hand, when the New York Times ran a story on Hollywood Power Producer Harvey Weinstein on October 5th, the cesspool poured forth from the floodgates of Hollywood, flowing downstream in the general direction of the adoring public. Actress after actress has come forward, emboldened by the public outcry of sexual misconduct, to tell tales of abusive power run rampant among the Hollywood elite.
That’s really what this story is about: how power is often abused to sexually exploit the weak. To quote Lauren O’Connor: “I am a 28 year old woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.”
For all the creepy and pathetic details of Weinstein strolling around his hotel headquarters in a robe while he propositioned his own employees and aspiring actresses for all kinds of raunchy favors, this story isn’t really about how gross Weinstein’s tastes and mannerisms have been with women. The story is about the position of weakness the women he propositioned found themselves in when compared to the power of a man who held their careers in his hand.
Almost everyone agrees that the truly heinous part about what Weinstein did was this abuse of power. CNN ran an article in the aftermath titled, “Harvey Weinstein’s master class on power and abuse.” So it’s safe to say that this isn’t about a man raping women. This is about a man using his position of power to sexually engage with women beneath him.
Except, here’s the hypocritical problem with Hollywood: for all of the outrage that these celebrities are expressing now, they seem awfully lenient when it comes to powerful celebrities they like.
Where’s the outcry over Bill Clinton and David Letterman? Where’s the beef with Roman Polanski and Michael Jackson? Where’s the outcry at all the guys accused of beating women like Bill Murray? There’s too many of those to even list!
In 2015, the Huffington Post ran an article titled, “Why Do Famous Men Keep Getting Away With Violence Against Women?” If all of the sudden we’ve decided to speak out against the abuses of power that are directed toward the weak in the form of violence and sexual exploitation, then why are we still celebrating the abusers?
Exhibit A of this moral hypocrisy? Jimmy Kimmel.
Jimmy Kimmel has spent the last many months of his public life interjecting his political beliefs into his television program, which he has every right to do. He has been championing the idea that providing health insurance for every American is morally right, and if you disagree with him, you’re immoral and a terrible person.
The day after the Las Vegas shooting, there was Jimmy Kimmel on ABC advocating his views on gun control. In the monologue, he demonized all kinds of people, blatantly misrepresented legislation, and ignored the overwhelming statistics and factual information about gun violence in favor of a “good vs. evil” approach. If you agree with Kimmel, you’re good. If you disagree with him, you’re evil.
He put up a picture of lot of republicans on America’s TV screens. These are people who had said that they would be “praying” in the aftermath of Las Vegas, and then he mocked them, saying, “They should be praying. They should be praying for God to forgive them for letting the gun lobby run this country, because it’s so crazy.”
In other words, Kimmel’s moral authority is basically on the level with God Almighty, and anyone who disagrees with him is a sinner, deeply in need of God’s forgiveness.
Okay, fine. If Jimmy Kimmel wants to be the beacon of moral authority on television, then he should have to answer for it when he ignores abusive evil in order to celebrate his buddies.
Which is what happened last night when Jimmy Kimmel hosted his idol, David Letterman.
Lest we forget, on October 1st, 2009, 8-years before the New York Times broke the Harvey Weinstein story, David Letterman opened his late night talk show with a jovial confession that shook the nation’s headlines. Here’s how it went.
“I have a little story I would like to tell you…do you feel like a story?” Letterman asked. The audience heartily applauded, assuming they were about to be regaled by one of the entertainers epic monologues. Instead, they got this:
Letterman had been blackmailed by someone who claimed to have knowledge of truly terrible things he had done. He was sent a package with a sampling of some of the awful stuff that the blackmailer had uncovered.
“Sure enough,” Letterman said, “contained in the package was stuff to prove that I do terrible things.”
That should have been a somber moment. A man confessing that he does terrible things shouldn’t be funny, especially if the terrible things are obviously heinous enough to merit his being blackmailed. But it wasn’t very somber.
In the monologue, Letterman continues to crack jokes throughout the “confession” as if he doesn’t think what he’s done is all that terrible. He goes to great lengths in the story to describe just how “insidious” and evil the man blackmailing him was. In fact, you might come away with the impression that the blackmailer is the real villain of the confession.
Which is absurd. The villain of any confession is the one confessing!
But Letterman paints himself as a character of sympathy, bemoaning sarcastically, “It’s all coming up roses for me.” The audience laughs and applauds throughout, until good ole’ Dave finally gets to the “terrible stuff” that he’d done.
“I have had sex with women who work for me on this show,” he confesses. The audience is at first, stunned. And then, he repeats it. “Yes, I have. I have had sex with women who work for me on this show.”
Laughter and applause. That’s how the audience responds. It’s one of the strangest moments in television history, if you ask me. Here is a man of power and established celebrity, publicly confessing to ongoing sexual relationships with women who work for him. And they applaud like he just made a huge donation to the American Red Cross. I mean, it’s a big round of applause! A long round of applause. And then, because he’s David Letterman, he tells a joke.
On October 5th, 2009, exactly 8 years to the day before the New York Times article on Weinstein, Letterman devoted another segment of his show to the scandal again, apologizing in a less jovial tone.
The Letterman scandal ultimately revolved around a woman named Stephanie Birkitt, a direct subordinate to Letterman. Various outlets later reported that Letterman actually had a group of young, attractive female assistants, and that he paid for Birkitt’s education and put her on the show regularly after their sexual relationship began. Another woman came forward and said that she and Letterman had had an affair when she was a college intern working on the show. This wasn’t two like-minded people striking up a genuine romance. It’s a middle-aged guy sleeping with a 20 year old intern trying to break into his world.
Why are we talking about Letterman again? Because this is the guy who Jimmy Kimmel, a few weeks after grandstanding as a beacon of moral authority, brings on to laugh it up with even as the Harvey Weinstein saga continues to dominate the news cycle.
Here’s a guy who publicly confessed on live television to having sex with young women who worked for him, to doing “terrible things” with them, and he’s being celebrated by the same Hollywood culture that’s expressing unparalleled outrage at Harvey Weinstein. And you know what? No one cares. Because it’s Dave! And we all like Dave, right?
Here’s Gwyneth Paltrow, one of the women whom Harvey Weinstein exploited his power over, talking with David Letterman about Harvey Weinstein in 1998. It’s downright painful to watch, now.
Of course, the man she is talking to is sleeping with interns who work for him, whose careers are tied to how well they do on his show, who depend on his connections and recommendations, women who desperately need his approval.
And he is allegedly having sex with them. This is as fundamentally abusive as Harvey Weinstein, even if less frequent and less garish in the details.
David Letterman is about to be awarded with the Mark Twain Prize for Humor by The John F. Kennedy Center. He’ll fit right in with former winner Bill Cosby.
Jimmy Kimmel and Hollywood and The Kennedy Center don’t care about abuse of power for sexual favors. They don’t care about it. Every once in a while they’ll erupt in outrage, but mostly they don’t say anything. Mostly, they defend and celebrate the abusers. Mostly, they give a pass to all of the offenders. Hollywood is a place where powerful people thrive, and the exploitative power that resides there is generally seen a perk, not an evil.
And if people want that to change, they’re going to have to call-out the David Letterman’s of the world with the same consistency and vehemence as they do the Harvey Weinstein’s. But the moral arbiter of late night, Jimmy Kimmel, appears to draw the line right on top of the party line.
If the problem is really all about power, as everyone is declaring that it is, then you have to put the Bill Clintons and David Lettermans of the world in the same toxic garbage bin as the Harvey Weinsteins and the Bill Cosbys and, yes, the Donald Trumps. Either people are serious about confronting abuses of power or they’re not. This sort of lukewarm, fence-straddling that gives a pass to their buddies is the height of hypocrisy.