Washington (CNN)It took years for the stories to emerge, but when they did, Harvey Weinstein lost his job at the company that bears his name.
The same is true for Roger Ailes, the Fox News mastermind who changed cable news. He lost his job after allegations from women were reported. Bill O’Reilly’s ratings were strong when he was plucked from his anchor’s chair after allegations and reports of settlements with women.
As the US comes to terms with sordid, uncovered tales of powerful men preying on women, the shift in acceptance of such behavior feels swift and gratifying; abusers are facing public scorn and consequences in the court of public opinion, if not criminal court.
“The world changes really slowly until, all of a sudden, it changes really quickly,” said Brian Stelter, CNN’s media correspondent, on “New Day,” pointing out that Ailes first faced a lawsuit from former Fox News host Gretchen Carlson just 15 months ago. That lawsuit now feels like a pivot point at which the way the country deals with these kinds of allegations changed.
“It is incredible to me how quickly this country is changing,” Stelter said. “How quickly mindsets are changing and how, after years, decades, of women suffering in silence, people feel they can now speak out.”
That’s true, to a point. But there’s one glaring exception. When the fate of a powerful man rests with a board of directors, as with The Weinstein Company, or with a parent company, as it did at Fox News, the heat of disdain in the media costs the man his job. And that’s not to suggest any sort of courageous behavior on the part of the heads of media companies. Quite the opposite, since in each of these cases, the behavior — and the coverups in the forms of settlements — was serial.
But incredibly, when there is not a corporate boss and the fate of the powerful man rests with voters, as it did in the case of Donald Trump, he gets a serious promotion. To the White House.
Obviously, the Trump example is different in its details from what we’re learning about Weinstein, O’Reilly and Ailes, but the effect was arguably more sensational in October 2016 when the “Access Hollywood” tape, with its unvarnished description of what can only be described as assault, shocked the nation.
In hindsight, that it came on the same day the US formally pointed the finger at Russia for election meddling and WikiLeaks doled out the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, seems relevant, although it cannot be argued that the other two stories blunted the attention that was paid to or the public backlash from those tapes.
Additionally, Trump was accused by multiple women of acting inappropriately and abusively in that final month.
Sure, voters had a binary decision to make: Trump — despite his flaws, the disgusting “Access Hollywood” tape and the allegations of abuse — or Clinton, who, it turns out, many voters simply didn’t trust. And let’s not forget Trump tried to use years-old accusations against former President Bill Clinton against his wife in 2016. Who’s to say if that hurt her. But the accusations directly against Trump did not disqualify him from taking office in the eyes of many voters.
The corporate bosses of powerful men in media don’t have to choose between one person and another, they’re just cutting loose a PR problem. It was too late for Americans to do that when the allegations about Trump became public; the ballots had already been set.
A vast majority of voters — 70% — said Trump’s treatment of women bothered them, according to exit polls. Almost 30% of the people who were bothered by his treatment of women voted for him anyway.
Half of voters said his treatment bothered them “a lot.” Clinton won 83% of that group. But Trump won the other half of voters, those that said his treatment of women bothered them “some,” “not much” or “not at all” almost as decisively.
Weinstein was never a candidate for office, but his longtime support for Democrats has been well-documented, as has the uncomfortably long time it took for the Clintons and the Obamas, who benefited from his contributions and his fundraising, to disavow him.
While there have been attempts on both sides of the political aisle to tarnish the other using the sick transgressions of men in power taking advantage of an abusing women, what is clear is that there are offenders on the left and the right.
CNN’s Jake Tapper did effectively argued on his show Tuesday that shining a light on abusers should not be political.
“Those who express outrage at one sexual harasser and not another because of the first harasser’s political views — that is morally bankrupt,” Tapper said.
“This shouldn’t be hard and it shouldn’t be partisan,” he added. “It doesn’t matter if it’s Harvey Weinstein or Donald Trump or Roger Ailes or Bill Cosby or Bill O’Reilly or Bill Clinton. These accusations are all worthy of reporting and outrage.”