How Do We Handle Sexual Acting Out by Public Figures?

In light of recent revelations about various public figures regarding their personal shortcomings, how do we handle those shortcomings when balanced against whatever good they contributed to society? I’m looking at what we say about Thomas Jefferson and other possible sexual predators (slaveholders) who served in the upper levels of government when compared with unelected, perhaps differently influential figures like R Kelly, Anthony Weiner, Matt Lauer, and Brett Kavanaugh. Why do people like our former president get a pass while others, whose behavior seems less egregious or who are not elected officials, get stomped into the ground? I often think of how much I loved Miles Davis’ music until I understood that he was a domestic abuser, a wife beater, that he beat Cicely Tyson.

Musician Miles Davis: As Sonia Saraiya writes for AV Club, “He beat his wives with regularity, by his own admission. Davis’ reputation as an artist is such that I didn’t know anything about this until well after I’d already fallen in love with his music. Even his Wikipedia page is suspiciously clean of any mention of tension with his partners. But the evidence is there if scattered. The women in his life rarely brought it up—perhaps to salvage their own dignity, or maybe because of fear of reprisals. But in a rare interview with The New York Times, his first wife, Frances Davis, recalled, “I actually left running for my life—more than once.”

Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh: In September 2018, Palo Alto University professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with an allegation of sexual assault against Brett Kavanaugh, the conservative D.C. judge whom President Donald Trump had previously chosen to replace the retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy. In her accusation, Ford stated that, while in high school in the early 1980s, Kavanaugh had drunkenly groped her at a party, attempted to forcibly remove her clothes and covered her mouth when she attempted to scream. In spite of her accusations, and those of two other women, Kavanaugh was confirmed.

Film producer Harvey Weinstein: A Manhattan jury found Weinstein guilty of third-degree rape and first-degree criminal sexual act on Feb. 24, and acquitted him of predatory sexual assault. Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

USA Gymnastics national team doctor Larry Nassar: In 2018 on 3 counts of sexual assault, sentenced to up to 125 years. More than 260 girls and women claimed Nassar abused them.

Where are we now?

New York Times analysis has found that, since the publishing of the exposé (followed days later by a New Yorker investigation), at least 200 prominent men have lost their jobs after public allegations of sexual harassment. Some have been convicted. Bill Cosby had his conviction overturned on a technicality, serving more than 2 years of a 3-10 year sentence. More than 10 percent of the ousted men have tried to make a comeback, or voiced a desire to, and many never lost financial power.

The comedian Louis C.K. recently took the stage at the Comedy Cellar in New York, raising questions of how long is long enough for people to be banished from their field, and who gets to decide. Garrison Keillor, the radio host, has restarted “The Writer’s Almanac” as a podcast and reportedly received $275,000 for a deal in which Minnesota Public Radio reposted archived episodes of his programs. Jerry Richardson, the founder and former owner of the Carolina Panthers, was fined $2.75 million by the N.F.L. after he was accused of sexual harassment — but sold the team for at least $2.2 billion, a record amount.

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