As more and more allegations of sexual assault and sexual harassment spread through Hollywood, the right-wing media has wasted no time turning these stories into condemnations of the 'Hollywood's Liberal Elite.' Extreme right-wing personalities like Ann Coulter even openly celebrated the revelations, calling them “a lot of fun” last month. Conspiracy sites such as Infowars and even Alex Jones himself used the opportunity to peddle baseless conjecture about “leftist-run pedophile ring” in Hollywood.
That response contrasts sharply with how the rightwing media has portrayed and discussed other allegations of sexual assault and harassment. That discrepancy highlights the right's opportunistic relationship with believing victims of sexual assault or harassment.
The GOP is no stranger to believing allegations of sexual assault and harassment for opportunistic reasons. Throughout President Bill Clinton's election and reelection campaigns, Republican pundits and leaders such as Dennis Hastert, Jeff Sessions, and Newt Gingrich relentlessly hounded the president for his alleged actions. The men went on to be major figureheads in President Clinton’s impeachment for perjury regarding his sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
The irony, of course, is that now Attorney General Jeff Sessions appears to have perjured himself in his confirmation hearing, and Dennis Hastert would be eventually indicted for hiding payments to former victims of his own sexual assaults. Interestingly enough, the right-wing media had spent years discrediting such allegations and disbelieving the victims until it became impossible to deny. Even so, the allegations of sexual misconduct continued to follow President Clinton into his wife's 2016 presidential campaign.
During the campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump stunned observers by bringing two alleged victims of President Clinton's sexual misconduct to the 2nd presidential debate with Hillary. The stunt is emblematic of right-wing hypocrisy since the debate took place only two days after the revelation of President Trump openly bragging about sexually assaulting women on tape. The tape was followed by numerous women coming forward to level allegations of sexual assault and harassment against Trump.
This time, however, the right-wing media did not believe the victims, and dedicated hours of airtime to denouncing the women as liars and attention seekers, all while supporting similar allegations against President Clinton. Meanwhile, Trump loyalists like then Senator Jeff Sessions went so far as to question whether the actions Trump described on tape (grabbing women by the genitals) would constitute sexual assault.
Such cognitive dissonance toward accusers happened again following allegations of sexual misconduct by President George H.W. Bush that arose in October 2017. Fox News and various other conservative media outlets have accused the accusers of crying wolf, seeking attention, or merely trying to smear the legacy of a Republican president. Each outlet's disbelief falls directly in line with their views on the Trump accusers, but in sharp contrast to their responses to the Weinstein allegations. Essentially, these news outlets only seem to believe victims of sexual assault and harassment when it serves their needs, while they completely slander and discredit when their accusations aren't beneficial to them.
This opportunistic approach to victims has only been further highlighted by the conservative media's response to the new allegations of sexual assault against controversial Alabama Senate candidate Judge Roy Moore.
A More Measured Response
Republicans aren't the only ones who seem to selectively believe or disbelieve accusers based on politics. To this day, many left-wing media outlets continue to discredit, deny, and avoid the clear and convincing allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against President Clinton. However, the left-wing media has appeared to take a more measured and balanced tone with regard to new allegations which is severely lacking in the right-wing media.
Media outlets of all political stripes must be more measured when allegations of sexual misconduct arise, rather than immediately responding with belief or disbelief when it suits their political agendas. Sexual misconduct is a serious problem facing people in America, particularly women. Rates of reporting sexual assault and harassment are low because media outlets, and the public at large seem to gage their belief on what suites their political aims.
If we, as a society want to seriously address this glaring issue, we must be more willing to temper our responses, and check our knee-jerk reactions until evidence and context have been presented. Otherwise we will continue to do a disservice to the hundreds of thousands of victims of sexual assault and harassment.