The right-wing noise machine has found a new talking point: The liberal elite is whitewashing the sins of Harvey Weinstein.
In a blockbuster New York Times report published on Thursday, several women detailed a decades-long pattern of inappropriate sexual conduct by Weinstein, the co-founder of Miramax, as well as his elaborate efforts to silence his victims by paying them to keep quiet. The accounts prompted more disturbing stories to emerge and raised questions about how Weinstein’s behavior, an open secret in some circles, could have been tolerated for so long. Commentators on the right are seeking to make the story a political liability for Democrats, since Weinstein has consistently supported the party over the years.
Weinstein has been a prodigious donor over the years, an important figure in the moneyed Hollywood class that tends to identify with liberal causes. In his rambling response to the New York Times report, he (bizarrely) went after the National Rifle Association, writing that he was “going to need a place to channel” his anger, “so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention.”
In the wake of the Times report, several Democratic lawmakers and groups have pledged either to redirect or return the money Weinstein gave them.
There is no doubt that the film industry often fails to live up to the progressive values many of its most elite members espouse. There’s a necessary conversation to be had about how the liberal bastions of Hollywood and the press helped prop up a predator for decades.
But the Republicans who are out for blood have less-than-zero credibility on this issue.
Exactly one year ago on Saturday, a leaked Access Hollywood tape revealed President Trump bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy.” (Also: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”) Some advisors urged Trump to quit the race and many Republicans condemned his comments, but once it became clear that Trump weathered the storm, most got back in line and have been behind him ever since — even after more allegations of sexual harassment and assault surfaced.
President Trump is not a prominent donor, but the leader of his political party (at least nominally) and the most powerful man on earth. The fact that he still remains vastly popular with his base and commands loyalty from both lawmakers and right-wing media is not exactly a testament to the Republican party’s concern about the sexual mores of powerful men.
Neither is the inconvenient fact that both the head of the party’s media mouthpiece, Roger Ailes, and its most prominent commentator, Bill O’Reilly, were forced out of their roles at Fox News in the last year over allegations of sexual harassment, with O’Reilly on a comeback tour that has drawn nary a peep from Republicans.
Of course, this is supposedly all about liberal hypocrisy, not morals. But needling Democratic lawmakers and supporters for failing to condemn a prominent donor ignores an essential fact: Weinstein may have a lot of sway in Hollywood, but he is no Democratic Party power broker, much less an elected official. (Last year’s Republican outcry about Bill Clinton’s complicated past holds a bit more water.)
Moreover, the liberal media the right accuses of conspicuous silence on the issue have been anything but. After all, it was the “failing” New York Times, which Donald Trump Jr. once accused of smearing his father with false accusations, that broke the Weinstein story in the first place.
Despite the bad faith from the right, plus the obvious asymmetry in the Trump/Weinstein comparison, some journalists have once again fallen into the trap of false equivalence, including, predictably, “both sides” fetishists like Chris Cillizza.
Republican reactions to the Weinstein story are predictable, but also useful in a political sense, in that it illustrates a likely roadmap for the party going forward. Despite shattering every norm in politics by embracing Trump, Republicans will continue to hold Democrats to a standard they don’t come close to fulfilling themselves, and everyone should prepare themselves for the shamelessness to come.