Jules Witcover: Time honors women who stood up to sexual assault
WASHINGTON — Time magazine, a shell of its former self, has named the women who blew the whistle on a small army of prominent men in politics, entertainment and journalism as the collective Persons of the Year. They earned it for putting sexual assault and harassment in the workplace on the front page, the evening news and all over social media. The magazine has labeled these women “The Silence Breakers” and described them as “the voices that launched a movement.”
Whatever else the award amounts to, it certainly rates as a brilliant putdown of Donald Trump, who won the dubious honor last year. He went out of his way this time around to say he didn’t want it again, amid much evidence he wasn’t going to get it in the wake of a conspicuously failed first year in the presidency.
In late November Trump tweeted: “Time magazine called to say that I was PROBABLY going to be named ‘Man (Person) of the Year,’ like last year, but I would have to agree to an interview and a photo shoot. I said probably was no good and took a pass. Thank you!”
This was the response of a man who appears willing to do anything to get favorable publicity and his name into print. Provided, that is, that he retains control, which is not always possible in this land of freedom of the press.
Time’s lengthy, detailed and meticulously researched lead article includes the first-person accounts and photos of many of the women who have accused powerful bosses of sexual assault and harassment — acts like the ones of which Trump himself has been accused and about which bragged about in that now infamous “Access Hollywood” video.
The video’s lasting negative impact has been confirmed by Trump’s recent suggestion that it may not have been him boasting of groping young women (because, he said in the video, celebrities like himself “can do anything”). But his companion on the video, publicist Billy Bush of the Bush family political dynasty, took the trouble to say it was The Donald talking all right.
The Time article features the testimony and photos of celebrated Hollywood actress Ashley Judd, a prime spokeswoman for what is now known as the “?MeToo” movement, a social media-inspired phenomenon in which thousands of women have come forward with their own stories of sexual victimhood in the workplace.
Judd tells of her encounter with Miramax movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, when he invited her to his room at a Beverly Hills hotel in1997 before her career had blossomed, and how she had to ward off his advances.
Other celebrities, including singer Taylor Swift, television news anchor Megyn Kelly and a host of others accosted in the workplace by men who had power over their careers, were interviewed by Time reporters and filmed for what is an epic investigation into the scandal that exploded on the media scene this year.
The magazine also includes a year-long timeline of major accusations accompanied by the words and pictures of the women who came forward. When taken together, they constitute breakthrough in the journalistic examination of a too-long dismissed American social phenomenon, one to which Trump brought unintended public prominence.
Other politicians, most recently Rep. John Conyers Jr. and Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, have announced their planned retirement from Congress in the shadow of alleged sexual misconduct without explicit admission of guilt.
Franken in a somewhat self-serving manner noted that he was leaving the Senate “while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office, and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” The first reference is obvious; the second is to Republican nominee Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election Tuesday.
In a sense, Franken’s decision was driven by pressures from his own Senate Democratic colleagues, reflecting his party’s hope to take the higher ground in the raging sexual misbehavior workplace, which has become a political and celebrity issue as well as clearly one of morality.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books.