A funny thing about children: They have no sense of time. Tell a four-year-old he can have a snack in ten minutes and he will approach you thirty seconds later, insisting he has patiently whiled away a thousand hours since he last pulled on your hair.
So it’s not surprising that several men who found themselves out of work and out of public favor after their morally reprehensible, professionally appalling, and objectively repugnant behavior was publicly revealed in #MeToo-sparked investigations have checked their watches and decided they’ve spent quite enough time on the bench and are ready to return to the spotlight.
Are these men not, in critical ways, just like overgrown toddlers? Petulant and selfish, behaving as if their delight matters more than the comfort or safety of anyone around them, treating the workplace like a playroom and everyone in it like toys who exist primarily for their pleasure?
Open the New York Times and see: “Disgraced by Scandal, Mario Batali is Eyeing His Second Act.” The Hollywood Reporter wants readers to know “Louis C.K.’s path to a Comeback Likely Runs Through Comedy Clubs” and that Charlie Rose is “‘Broken,’ ‘Brilliant,’ and ‘Lonely.’” A headline on Vanity Fair announces “Matt Lauer Is Planning His Comeback.”
Several powerful men, in several industries, have had their worlds kicked out from under them as the #MeToo movement has gathered momentum. As many have removed themselves from public sight, forfeited business interests or sought treatment, a question lingers: Is a comeback from such disgrace possible?
Would that we lived in a world where, in the wake of #MeToo, the predominant question was “When can we replace all of these grimy men with deserving women?” and not “Will Matt Lauer’s reputation recover in time for Tokyo 2020?” But here we are.
These men were not brought down by flimsy, barely-substantiated claims, flung from a lone blog or tweet. Variety dedicated two months to its Lauer investigation, in which dozens of “current and former staffers” were interviewed, along with three of Lauer’s self-identified victims, whose stories were corroborated by friends and colleagues. The Washington Post broke the Rose story based on multiple interviews conducted with eight Rose accusers, along with their “friends, colleagues or family members who said the women had confided in them about aspects of the incidents,” plus “two dozen former employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”
The Times’ reporting on Louis C.K. was characteristically thorough, and though C.K. declined to comment in the original story, he later released a public statement confirming the accuracy of the claims against him: “These stories are true.”
As Eater reported, Batali engaged in sexually violent conduct, including groping female employees, for at least 20 years. Batali also did not deny the allegations and in fact said they “match up” to his own recollections of his behavior these past two decades. Yet he is a man so willfully obtuse about the gravity of his misconduct that his “apology” letter included a recipe for pizza cinnamon rolls.
He also wrote, “I have work to do to try to regain the trust of those I have hurt and disappointed. For this reason, I am going to step away from day-to-day operations of my businesses.”
And he did. That was in December. It has been four months.
How long is four months? We live in a warped era (time-space-continuum-wise) where a week can feel like a few forevers. To clear this up, four months amounts to — and this is the most generous estimate — 1.6 percent of the time Batali spent coercing his female subordinates into straddling him at work.
On November 29, 2017, a Variety story detailed Lauer’s history of relentlessly sexually harassing his female colleagues in the years he spent at NBC: Giving one a sex toy as a gift with “an explicit note about how he wanted to use it on her, which left her mortified”; summoning another to his office and, upon her arrival, dropping his pants and “showing her his penis,” then “reprimanded” her for refusing to engage in a sex act with him; quizzing female producers on who they’d had sex with; playing “fuck, marry, kill” with the names of female co-hosts.
Women told Variety they’d complained about Lauer’s behavior, to no avail: NBC was eager to continue paying his $25 million salary, so long as the Today show perched atop the rankings. But after a ratings slide to second place and a formal complaint from another NBC employee about Lauer’s inappropriate sexual conduct starting at the Sochi Olympics in 2014 and continuing for several months — and having “reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident” — NBC fired Lauer.
Unlike Batali, Lauer waited four and a half months before letting word get out that he’s planning a return to form. As Page Six reports, Lauer “is said to be testing the waters for a public comeback by coming out of hiding from his Hamptons home. With his marriage to Annette Roque now over, he’s ready to restart his life, pals say.” Perhaps he’s hoping the second season of Queer Eye will be devoted entirely to rehabilitating the images of admitted sexual predators.
Even when these allegations were only hours old, some fans and critics panicked that #MeToo would “destroy” the careers and reputations of the accused. One could point out that if a man does not want his career “destroyed” by the news that he has sexually violated his female colleagues, he could try — stay with me here — not sexually violating his female colleagues. But maybe that is asking too much! Who among us has the right to demand that Charlie Rose not force his female assistants to work with him at his home and then watch him walk around naked? That’s just “the shower trick.”
As proponents of #MeToo — which is to say, people who believe that survivors of sexual violence should be able to speak out about what they’ve experienced without being victim-blamed — have feared all along, the sheer volume of allegations has enabled some once-beloved offenders to ooze back into public life as if they never left it. The bar has been set, and the bar is Harvey Weinstein, James Toback, Bill Cosby. The bar is having so many accusers that people lose track. The bar is “at least,” as in: “Hey, I’m not perfect, but at least I am not currently on trial where six women are testifying that I drugged and sexually assaulted them.”
And so when Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, who was an assistant of Rose’s in the mid-2000s, tells the Washington Post that she can remember “at least a dozen instances where Rose walked nude in front of her while she worked in one of his New York City homes” and that he “repeatedly called the then-21-year-old late at night or early in the morning to describe his fantasies of her swimming naked in the Bellport pool as he watched from his bedroom,” there is still apparently room to say: Hey, it’s not like she had to audition for a Miramax movie.
Meanwhile, fears that someone like Louis C.K. would never again get to do his thing (his thing being jokes about compulsively masturbating, which — surprise! — were not actually jokes), were clearly unfounded. It was a fear based on a belief yet to be validated by reality: That powerful men tend to face real, lasting consequences for their actions. Yes, C.K.’s movie — the astonishingly ill-advised Woody Allen homage, I Love You, Daddy — was pulled from theaters moments before its premiere. Yes, Lauer has been locked away in one of his multiple Hamptons homes, presumably far from the NBC employees he loved to sexually harass. But as the recent burst of media coverage about these men indicate, what may have initially scanned as a final bow was, in all likelihood, a mere intermission.
Of course these men expect to re-enter their careers as if nothing ever happened, even though, save for a written statement (PIZZA CINNAMON ROLLS), they have done no public atonement, made no visible effort to change or, better yet, fix what they broke. (Free public relations idea for Rose and Lauer: Fund a grant for female reporters who want to cover sexual assault at PBS and NBC.) These men understand an enduring, depressing truth: We still live in a culture that overvalues men — especially famous ones — and fundamentally does not value women.
After all, are these men so vital? Have we suffered these last few months without Batali on The Chew? Can no one but Matt Lauer host the Thanksgiving Day Parade? Show me the supposedly irreplaceable man and I will find a dozen women who could do his job as well, or better, if given the resources, the opportunity, and a path to that position that doesn’t involve getting harassed by her boss so much she quits in disgust before she gets there.