On tomorrow’s annual Oscars telecast here in Los Angeles, more attention than usual will be on red carpet host Ryan Seacrest, rather than on the movie stars he intends to interview before the awards ceremony. That’s because this week Seacrest was the focus of a very public allegation of sexual abuse by his former stylist.
In another year, one seemingly non-violent allegation against a celebrity like Seacrest, one which lacks a criminal charge or even a lawsuit, would likely not make headlines or have any real impact on his role in the biggest night in Hollywood. This year of course, soon after the Harvey Weinstein scandal and the #MeToo movement that followed it, is very different.
But what is fascinating about the Seacrest situation is that it appears he is going to escape this largely unscathed. While there is speculation that some stars may avoid being interviewed by him during his annual pre-show, unless there are more allegations against him, it sure looks like he will not lose any of his numerous high-profile media gigs.
The question is, why will Seacrest survive when others have recently had their careers destroyed over similar, or even lesser allegations?
First, let me stipulate that I have no idea whether Seacrest is guilty of what he is accused and he appears to be acting as if he is innocent. I am simply evaluating his situation in comparison to others which have dominated the news over the last several months.
Even though Seacrest only has one known accuser, there are plenty of reasons to think that someone else facing these exact same circumstances would be in significant trouble right now. In fact, I would argue that Matt Lauer was instantly destroyed at NBC based on a theoretically less troubling allegation.
His accuser has come forward, in her own name, with a very detailed series of allegations. She also has multiple corroborating witnesses, including an alleged eyewitness who did an interview with the Today show just two days ago.
The worst thing, politically, that Seacrest had going against him in this circumstance was timing, which is always so incredibly important in how these situations turn out (just ask Al Franken). With this week’s Oscars so connected to #MeToo, and with Seacrest about to host the reinvention of “American Idol,” there was every chance that this story gained critical mass and the pressure to punish Seacrest became too great for his many corporate masters to bear — and it is certainly possible that this reality was well known by his accuser and that this may well have been why she came out publicly now.
However, Seacrest has many defenses in his arsenal which many others who have recently been swept up by similar accusations did not.
First, E! Network, which employed the woman, commissioned an apparently extensive investigation and concluded that the allegations against Seacrest were unsubstantiated, which has provided cover for those who have a profound incentive to come forward and help him withstand this storm. Foremost among those was his morning TV co-host Kelly Ripa, who went out of her way to back Seacrest, even as their show essentially pretended that none of this was really happening.
Because Seacrest has so many vital media roles (he’s Kim Kardashian’s boss!) and is vitally important to so many media entities, a lot of powerful people have a huge disincentive to see his star fade. Effectively, from a business perspective, Seacrest is just too big to fail and, unlike Weinstein, has way too many productive years ahead of him for anyone to risk crossing him unless it is very clear he is doomed.
Seacrest has another advantage that may the dirty little secret (one I have written about previously) of how sexual abuse allegations are evaluated by the public, at least subconsciously. Seacrest is a good-looking mega celebrity, and therefore there is a presumption — valid or not — that lots of very attractive women would have been thrilled to have him come onto them, and he would therefore have no need to force himself on anyone.
For me, the lesson, at least so far, of this Seacrest story is that, as much as we hate to admit it, we really do evaluate how we punish people in the public square based far more on their personal characteristics than we do any sort of consistent evaluation of the facts of circumstances of their case. Like with most things in life, there is a definite advantage here to being young, attractive, famous, and powerful.
Even #MeToo isn’t strong enough to change that. At least not yet.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at [email protected]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.