Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Don't forget first principles in rushing to #MeToo

Should a high profile Australian lawyer, Charles Waterstreet, be denied a voice in commenting publicly on sexual harassment of women?

"Castrate him!" came the call on Facebook. "Castrate them all." It wasn't serious, presumably, or at least not literal. But the comment captured the spirit of the backlash against the ABC's invitation to Charles Waterstreet for the #metoo Valentines Day Q&A special, and that was serious. It's also seriously dangerous, and can in the end only enfeeble the values and individuals it seeks to uphold.

Did I say backlash? Honestly, the argument became so vituperative so quickly it was hard to know what was backlash, and what simply lash.

I posted Nina Funnell's piece arguing that the Waterstreet inclusion was a terrible mistake. Not because I agreed with it. Quite the reverse. I put it up because – although of course sexual harassment is both systemic and appalling and I'm scarcely a Waterstreet devotee – I profoundly disagree with the urge to silence dissent. The response was immediate and fascinating.

It's not all about Waterstreet. He's just the lightning rod (and quite likely, in truth, this suits his inner narcissist, as well as the ABC ratings geeks.) But I digress. The principles at stake far outweigh even the male ego.

The anti-Waterstreet argument is essentially that it's "inappropriate" for the national broadcaster to give voice on the harassment issue someone who is himself so accused. This view has immediate appeal, both emotionally and to our sense of rough justice.

But wait. Do you know how many fundamental principles it violates?

First, the presumption of innocence. Waterstreet is accused of showing naked images of himself to young female assistants on two different occasions. I say nothing of the gravity or truth of the allegations, or the images' likely appeal, but these are unproved claims against Waterstreet and we must treat him as innocent.

He may be the model for the ABC's fictional anti-hero lawyer Rake. He may be vain, self-obsessed and relentlessly absorbed in trying to prove his sexuality in a way that seems adolescent. He may, as many note, have a weird or unattractive hairstyle. These are not crimes.

Second, even if they were crimes, even if he were charged and convicted, he'd still be entitled to a voice. We listen to thieves, fraudsters, murderers. They may be barred from profiting by their crimes, but they're not barred from speaking.

A landmark US Supreme Court decision in 1977 ensured – although at 5-4 it was admittedly close – that even Nazis have First Amendment rights to speak freely.



Spurwing Plover the fighting shorebird said...

Liberals are all screwballs just about every one of them are screwballs

Anonymous said...

This "METoo" thing is out of hand. Recently read a woman claiming she had sex with a man, but didn't really want to and was uncomfortable about it afterwards. Never claimed she was forced, but now she calls is sexual assault. Everyone is trying to rewrite history theses days.