Even though we disagree politically, I am a huge fan of John Oliver. I think he’s probably the smartest and funniest political commentator currently on television. His coverage of Donald Trump during the 2016 election was far better than that of the mainstream news media.
With that said, while he is being mostly cheered by the sex abuse Internet lynch mob, Oliver should be embarrassed by how he confronted actor Dustin Hoffman last night during a panel discussion commemorating the anniversary of the film Wag the Dog. Not only was the venue totally inappropriate for such an off-topic ambush, but Oliver was also very wrong to automatically presume Hoffman to be guilty of being a sexual abuser/harasser based solely on what is currently in the public record.
Hoffman, in the midst of the post-Harvey Weinstein inferno which has now engulfed dozens of men within the entertainment/media/news business, was accused of groping and sexually harassing a 17-year old woman on the set of a totally different movie back in 1985. Importantly, the director of that film immediately came out and, despite knowing he would surely get backlash within the currently extremely toxic environment, strongly defended Hoffman, saying that he remembers the situation very differently.
The second allegation, which is also exceedingly old, didn’t even involve an allegation of touching, but rather of inappropriate banter. So, to review, in a nearly half-century career as a movie star, Hoffman has had two allegations against him, both of which are over a generation old, and neither of which is remotely consistent with “assault,” or been backed up with any legitimate evidence.
Despite this background, Oliver seemed to think that he was challenging Weinstein or Bill Cosby and that therefore, regardless of the impropriety of the setting, had both a moral obligation to attack Hoffman, as well as the factual foundation on which to do so. He did not.
The conflict escalated quickly, punctuated with the following exchange, as reported by The Washington Post:
“Do you believe this stuff you read?” Hoffman asked.
“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because there’s no point in (an accuser) lying.”
“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman said.
“Oh Dustin,” Oliver said, disapprovingly.
The part of that interchange which bothered me the most was Oliver, a guy who can usually smell bullcrap from miles away, is oblivious (or at least pretending to be) to the multitude of possible reasons why an accuser might tell a story which was misleading or inaccurate, especially in this current environment.
The extreme political correctness currently dictating this realm prevents the media from even considering these very real/logical possible motives, but here there are:
– An accuser, spurred by the current hysteria, simply misremembers what really happened all those years ago, which would explain why almost all of the current accusations being made are very old.
–An accuser, now looking back on a life or career which didn’t turn out like they want, embellishes a story because it serves to give their disappointments an explanation which relieves them of responsibility.
– An accuser has animosity towards the accused of some other reason.
– An accuser is seeking attention, or perhaps even money.
I have no idea if any of those explanations are relevant in the case of Hoffman’s accusers, but I do know that Oliver’s claim that “there’s no point in lying” is just flat-out false. I also know enough about Hoffman himself to believe that there is another, far more logical, explanation for this situation.
I have never met Hoffman, but I am close to a Hollywood writer who has spent a lot of time with him in a myriad of different situations, both professionally and socially. They are completely convinced that Hoffman is “innocent” of these accusations and that his very quirky personality makes him very susceptible to misinterpretation.
“Dustin’s ABSOLUTELY vulnerable to misinterpretation,” says this person, whom Hoffman once asked in 2000 to stay with him so that he would not be alone in a room with a female he was interviewing for a part. “He’s thoughtful, but not articulate and extremely neurotic and indecisive, but I also found him decent, friendly, and fair.”
“Someone should tell John Oliver he’s the true heir to Joe McCarthy!” this writer continued. “Sex abuse baiting has replaced red-baiting. The ‘Sexual Blacklist’ reigns supreme. Guilty until ruined!”
For me, the most depressing element of this story is that if even someone as intelligent and normally courageous as John Oliver can’t at least see what might be going on here (or, even worse, doesn’t care because he knows he will get credit from the mob for “virtue signaling”), then there really is no hope.
We are truly on a witch hunt. Some real witches are surely being captured, but inevitably at least some burned at the stake will not even own a broom.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is a documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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