24 Feb 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
What do these stories have in common?
An actor stages a phony hate crime with himself as the victim and is celebrated by presidential candidates. A college professor is blacklisted over alleged sexual harassment charges that were dismissed. A congressman faces a civil trial for allegedly drugging and molesting an underage girl, yet continues in office as if it’s not even happening.
It seems that we have a new justice system in which people are dragged into an unseen courtroom and judged by an invisible mob. Some defendants are banished. Others are pardoned.
We should try to understand the rules of this court, because the sentencing can touch down like a tornado on a Kansas plain. Just this week, John Wayne was condemned for offensive comments he made in a 1971 interview in Playboy magazine, and no comedian would host the Academy Awards out of fear that a thousand activists were viewing VHS tapes around the clock to find something that would offend them.
The Jussie Smollett case is a developing example of how the career death penalties and pardons are handed out. In January, the actor told Chicago police that he was attacked outside his apartment building by two men wearing Trump-style “Make America Great Again” caps. Smollett, who is African American and gay, said the men called him offensive names, poured a bleach-like chemical on him, looped a rope around his neck in the manner of a noose and shouted that the neighborhood was “MAGA country.”
For a couple of weeks, Smollett hit the jackpot of free publicity. The story was reported on that endless loop in which every comment by a celebrity or politician is reported along with a full recap of the original story. For those with a thirst to characterize President Trump and all his supporters as deplorable, racist, homophobic bigots, the story was perfect.
It just wasn’t true.
Two men were picked up for the “crime” and they told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack. Smollett quickly descended from victim to suspect. However, producers stood by him as the story melted down, issuing a statement on Tuesday calling him “a consummate professional” and reiterating that “he is not being written out of the show.” Only when Smollett was formally charged with making a false police report — motivated by a desire for a salary hike, according to Chicago police — did 20 th Century Fox Television issue a statement from the show’s executive producers saying they have “decided to remove the role of Jamal from the final two episodes of the season,” referring to Smollett’s character. “The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us,” they said.
That’s more due process than was given to Roseanne Barr after she tweeted an offensive joke. No amount of apologizing saved her from professional banishment. Is an offensive joke worse than a faked hate crime? What are the rules that determine who is forgiven and who is exiled?
A hint can be found in the experience of a professor of philosophy who was falsely accused of sexual harassment but has been banished from his profession anyway.
In 2012, a female graduate assistant to Prof. Colin McGinn sued the University of Miami, McGinn and another UM philosophy professor. The lawsuit sought $16 million from the school for failing to fully investigate the woman’s claims of sexual harassment, which she documented by producing text messages from McGinn. Professor Edward Erwin, a colleague of McGinn’s, was named in the suit as well, accused of defamation.
The woman’s credibility sank when McGinn produced the text messages she had sent to him but previously concealed from the school. In 2015, a judge dismissed all charges against Erwin and all but one charge against McGinn (a single charge of defamation) “with prejudice,” indicating the judge’s negative view of the charges. In 2016, the lawsuit was settled for zero dollars in damages and only partial payment of the woman’s legal fees. Everybody signed a non-disclosure agreement except Erwin, who refused.
McGinn left the university in 2013. Even though he never was charged with sexual harassment by the university, and even though a judge dismissed the sexual harassment charges in the lawsuit, McGinn has since been blacklisted from publications, professional conferences and academic employment. As for Erwin, who did nothing inappropriate, he recently told an Orange County gathering of the National Association of Scholars that since the lawsuit, no graduate student has signed up for one of his courses, asked him to serve on a dissertation committee or requested that he write a letter of recommendation.
Last August, Erwin published an article in an online free-speech magazine called Quillette. It is titled, “The New McCarthyism: Blacklisting in Academia.”
In contrast to their experience, consider what is happening, or not happening, to California Congressman Tony Cárdenas.
A 28-year-old woman who has now identified herself as Angela Villela Chavez last year filed a lawsuit alleging that Cárdenas drugged and sexually molested her when she was a 16-year-old junior golf star and he was on the Los Angeles City Council. Chavez’s father was a longtime City Hall aide to the councilman.
Cárdenas denies the charges, but a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled last fall that the lawsuit has enough merit to go forward. The trial is scheduled to begin in August.
Last May, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi promised an investigation. “As Members of Congress, we each have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of the House of Representatives, and any type of alleged misconduct must be investigated by the Ethics Committee,” she said.
But on Feb. 12, Washington, D.C., journalist Susan Crabtree reported on RealClearPolitics.com that there still is no investigation underway.
These are allegations of child sex abuse against a sitting congressman. Where’s the tweeting and shouting?
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]The uneven level of outrage seems driven by a vision of a Greater Truth, seen through the lens of identity politics, which is disinterested in knowing what really happened. Instead, the sentence is determined with a rock-paper-scissors of victimhood. Estrogen defeats patriarchy but loses to pigment. Two of the same has no winner, so it’s a do-over.
On Thursday, Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson opened a press conference on the Smollett case by saying, “I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention, because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident.”
Sorry, Superintendent Johnson. Two of the same is a do-over.
Susan Shelley is an editorial writer and columnist for the Southern California News Group. Susan@SusanShelley.com. Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.