We already knew about Louis C.K.
There was no New York Times article, no five names on the record pushed out on phone screens to the public. But there were rumors, as well as blog posts and podcasts and interviews airing them out. A Gawker blind item in 2012 mentions the same tale that leads the Times article; a piece on the same site in 2015 contains a second allegation. Jezebel chased the story for years, only for angry fans to excoriate them for their efforts. Women who had spoken up at the time didn’t want to speak up again because it hadn’t worked the first time around.
It goes without saying that it’s good that things are changing. The bad part is, they might not be changing enough. It took an extended account in a national newspaper for C.K.’s misconduct to carry any consequences. And it took the same newspaper’s investigation of Harvey Weinstein’s alleged abuses to spur some of his victims into talking.
The whisper network warns women (and men) about the abusers in their midst, but in many cases nothing seems to happen to them until a major media outlet starts sticking its nose in — even in the wake of the Weinstein revelations, when we’re more ready than ever to condemn those who deserve it.
Long-distance swimming hall-of-famer Diana Nyad’s op-ed in the Times on Thursday was, according to readers, “heartbreaking,” “remarkable” and “wrenching.” But it also ran an obituary of the coach who allegedly assaulted her almost three years before to the date, with a dismissive mention of the accusations that “tainted” his reputation. Nyad had been vocal about the abuse for more than 25 years, and no one cared until this week. The only difference is the paper has now sided with the woman.
The Times has earned its reputation as a newspaper of record, and it’s impressive and important that its word has enough weight to sink men who allegedly had been assaulting women for years. But that C.K. got away with his actions for so long, even when they were essentially public, lends credence to a point some women are making on Twitter as famous man after famous man falls from grace: This societal shift might not be societal at all. The Times would never write a story on every store manager who sexually assaulted a lower-level employee, or every hotel guest who took advantage of housekeeping, and it couldn’t. Those articles could fill a paper every day for all eternity.
Men who exploit their power deserve to lose it, and it’s heartening to see the most powerful start to suffer for their wrongs. But there are plenty of harassers and rapists who never have and never will make the front page. We may like to imagine our intolerance of assault will trickle down to aid those whose perpetrators aren’t in the public eye and who don’t have a platform to allege abuse. Our track record, though, makes the reality look less rosy. We’re going to have to start doing better, because the New York Times isn’t always going to do it for us.