Don’t take everything at face value.
It’s good advice for everyone, but a maxim for mainstream newspaper copy editors — on the job or not. It seems to become part of our DNA, and friends and family often get upset with us when we don’t immedately choose their sides when allegations are made.
Hence, I not only believe in the legal concept of presumption of innocence, I live it day in and day out on the copy desk for my paper as well as in my wanderings through the land of social media.
So, I’m not publicly convicting the likes of Woody Allen and Jeffrey Tambor, who have both denied allegations of sexual misconduct. I have read reports that cast serious doubts on the validity of those allegations. And in the case of Allen, he was investigated by officials who ultimately sided with him. Who am I to contradict the officials?
In Tambor’s case, Amazon launched an internal investigation and dropped him from the leading role in the series Transparent — without, apparently or transparently, consulting him and giving him a chance to defend himself. His agent says nobody from the show ever complained to her when the alleged incidents took place during season 2 (they are now heading into season 5).
Of course, it’s Amazon’s show and they can do what they like with it. But I’m still not convicting Tambor anywhere — including in my mind — until he has had a fair trial.
The problem is, he won’t be getting a fair trial. Nobody has pressed charges against him.
That’s a red flag for an objective copy editor and most other mainstream journalists.
There is probably an argument to be made that mainstream media should not report mere allegations that are not associated with court action. But we do it anyway, and we contribute to the public villification of actors, even when we get comment from them denying the allegations. The fact that the allegations are there, in print, is gospel for many who are inclined to take things at face value, and who believe that “where there is smoke, there’s fire.”
But like a good defence lawyer, journalists must dig deeper to see if there are grounds for reasonable doubt, and report those things, too.
So why do I bring this up again? I have written on this theme before.
Well, a freelance journalist friend in the U.S. is now alleging Jeffrey Tambor squeezed her bottom a couple of times. The journalist is not filing a complaint with the police. She’s not suing him. But she has done a post for her blog with the allegations, and I have already been taken to task for “invalidating” her alleged experience by not immediately convicting Tambor and by asking questions about the alleged incidents. Never mind that he wasn’t asked to respond to the allegations in the piece.
Such is the plight of the objective copy editor. We walk a path alone at times, friend to no one but a higher truth backed by the word “allegations” and by court conviction. Many have decried my calls for a return to the death penalty in Canada, saying there is always a chance of wrongful conviction. And then some of them criticize me for not presuming guilt without fair trial in the cases of people like Jeffrey Tambor and Woody Allen.
It’s the job of the court and, subsequently, responsible media to find and report the truth that so often lies between the allegations and the denials. It’s a code I live by. So, if you tell me so-and-so squeezed your bum, I want to hear his side of the story, too. If he admits doing it, did he view it as a harmless flirtation? Did you file a complaint with his employer or the police?
I fear that the #MeToo movement may have some people with ulterior motives jumping aboard the bandwagon, seeking publicity for themselves by alleging impropriety by TV and movie celebrities who showed them a bit of kindness.
No, I am not saying that my friend the journalist may be exaggerating an encounter with a star to advance her own agenda. But as a copy editor by day and night, I can’t automatically accept her allegations — and trumpet them — at face value. I have to hear from Tambor, and if he is not given the opportunity to respond and there is no legal action against him, there is no story.
I have to spike her story, for now, which is why I am not linking to her blog post or identfying her.
If the Hollywood Reporter or another tab runs with the story and gives Tambor a chance to respond to the allegations, I’ll revisit and update this post.
Photo: Jeffrey Tambor. (Wikipedia)