"Guess who's perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It's the men in this country … And I just want to say to the men in this country: Just shut up and step up.” These were comments by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, last week placing blame on an entire gender for what she perceives as the unfairness of the process concerning Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Alyssa Milano, the former child actress often credited with founding the #MeToo movement on social media, chimed in with her own thoughts, focusing not only on Kavanaugh but also on another man, President Trump: “The courage of survivors will always be stronger than Donald Trump’s misogyny. The lives of survivors will always be more important than Brett Kavanaugh's career.”
Shut up “men”? “Survivors” of alleged crimes never prosecuted and currently uncorroborated are apparently more important than a man’s 30-plus-year unblemished career?
This could not have been the goal of the #MeToo movement that just this time last year was so instrumental in outing sexual predator monsters, as seen with the overwhelming evidence uncovered against media mogul Harvey Weinstein.
Do all women really feel that an entire gender has nothing meaningful to contribute to this debate? Worse yet, do they agree that the objectives of #MeToo are worth the unilateral imposition of a career death penalty sentence for sexual assault accusations made without due process and the right of the accused to confront his accuser and test their credibility?
[Opinion: As the Kavanaugh debacle shows, the #MeToo culture is unfair to men]
Make no mistake. This piece is not critical of the original purpose of #MeToo. Far from it.
Sexual harassment and assault are significant issues in the U.S. and abroad. #MeToo, to date, has primarily focused its efforts on the worst of powerful men who sought or sometimes even forced “quid pro quo” sexual relations on their female job or industry status subordinates.
These achievements aside, so much more meaningful work can be done on the issues most prevalent in small to big business.
As general counsel to several businesses across the country, the most prevalent issue I see is the daily potential for virtual hostile work environments due to the now-omnipresent “mobile work day” and sexually charged text and social media messaging between co-workers, including supervisors to their subordinates.
There is a dire need for better training on what sexual harassment and sexual assault are, as well as for open dialogue as to best practice prevention efforts between co-workers of both sexes.
But Hirono's and Milano’s comments, along with those of many far more vicious and hate-filled participants on social media and elsewhere, have fully twisted and perverted #MeToo from a movement inspiring change to one creating fear.
What happens when movements launched to seek fairness and justice morph into crusades built on fear?
Sadly, we’ve been here as a country before.
In February 1950, Joseph McCarthy, a little-known Republican senator from Wisconsin, took full advantage of the fear postwar Americans felt toward the growing communist threat, placing his focus on citizens of status and accomplishment:
“The reason why we find ourselves in a position of impotency is not because our only powerful potential enemy has sent men to invade our shores . . . but rather because of the traitorous actions of those who have been treated so well by this Nation. It has not been the less fortunate, or members of minority groups who have been traitorous to this Nation, but rather those who have had all the benefits that the wealthiest Nation on earth has had to offer . . . the finest homes, the finest college education and the finest jobs in government we can give.”
McCarthy and his Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations went on to harass and ruin the reputations of countless Americans that he and the subcommittee labeled as communist sympathizers.
The victims of what became known as “McCarthyism” included several well-known celebrities, from Nancy Davis (later best known under her married name, Nancy Reagan), Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin, and Orson Welles.
Was there any evidence that any of these people were actually communists or even communist sympathizers? None. It didn’t matter, because McCarthyism focused on fear, not fairness and due process.
Until one man had enough — a direct-speaking news reporter of unquestioned character, Edward R. Murrow. Murrow made his fame reporting across the Atlantic over the radio as World War II raged in London. The famous closing to all of Murrow’s broadcasts was “good night, and good luck.”
In the spring of 1954, Murrow took McCarthy on directly via his CBS program "See It Now," famously pleading with his audience,
“We must remember always, that accusation is not proof, and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law. We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason if we dig deep into our history and our doctrine, and remember that we are not descended from fearful men.”
Murrow’s and his CBS colleagues’ relentless efforts to expose the inherit unfairness, fearmongering, and anti-due process nature of McCarthy’s tactics led to the senator’s censure late in 1954. McCarthy was then relegated to the position of powerless bystander for the remainder of his career in government, ultimately passing away of what was later determined to be liver disease from alcoholism in 1957.
Regardless of the outcome of Kavanaugh’s confirmation, where will we as a country go from here? Who will speak up for due process and the rights of the accused against high-profile government officials, celebrities, or even a mob looking to blame an entire group while asking questions later or never? Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., did his best to push back during the hearing last Thursday. Even staunch liberal celebrity political commentator Bill Maher has warned of the concerns of a #MeCarthyism. Of course, this was in reference to a Democrat under scrutiny, Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota.
A small sampling of lone constitutional defenders won’t be enough. Fear opportunists walking the Senate’s chambers have successfully infected society's psyche before. The voices of men and, importantly, the women in their lives, who worry about their dads’, husbands’, brothers’ and sons’ right to fairness and due process, must let their voices be heard.
Otherwise, say “good night and good luck” to #MeToo and “good morning” to #MeCarthyism.
Bryan Rotella (@RotellaLegal) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is founder and CEO of the national law firm GenCo and creator of Legal Moneyball. He also serves as strategic general counsel to several CEOs, boards, and political campaigns.