DANIEL VAUGHAN: The inauspicious end of #MeToo

What happened to the #MeToo movement?

For a significant time, it was the dominating force in our politics — and for a good reason. Ronan Farrow’s explosive reporting, starting with Harvey Weinstein, shined a light on the darkest secrets of our society. But what began as society-wide outrage against such men — Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby, and more — has retreated to a whisper.

It’s not like we don’t have more secrets to expose. The outsized impact of President Trump’s impeachment and the coronavirus pandemic on the media swamped all other topics, but that doesn’t mean more #MeToo stories aren’t there.

But what was once a wave is now a ripple. Two things are happening here.

The first is easy to diagnose. Once #MeToo started hitting too close to home for all media organizations, they stopped covering it. We’ve seen this in two events: first, the incredible lack of coverage of Jeffrey Epstein by the mainstream press; second, the media’s decision to bury, so far, the allegations against Joe Biden as he begins his general election campaign against Donald Trump.

The Epstein story got squashed by the national press. The Miami Herald was the newspaper that broke the story. In a leaked video, ABC News anchors admitted on a hot mic that higher-up executives squashed the Epstein story from going forward. We know, from Ronan Farrow’s reporting, that Harvey Weinstein manipulated the press to prevent negative coverage of himself — and the media did what Weinstein asked.

We also know the same manipulation is likely happening again, although this time with former Vice President Biden. Biden stands accused of sexually assaulting Tara Reade, a former staffer, in the early 1990s. As Fox News reported, old footage from Larry King’s show on CNN in 1993 showed a woman alleged to be Reade’s mother calling in to ask:

Yes, hello. I’m wondering what a staffer would do besides go to the press in Washington? My daughter has just left there, after working for a prominent senator, and could not get through with her problems at all, and the only thing she could have done was go to the press, and she chose not to do it out of respect for him.

Reade has confirmed that the clip was her late mother’s voice. The clip doesn’t explicitly state that sexual assault is involved, but it does match the timeline that Reade gave.

And in a stunning turn of events, the show in question has since vanished from CNN’s archives on Google Play, and the episodes got renumbered. All evidence of the clip removed.

Whether that clip vanishing is on purpose or a technical glitch in CNN’s system is anyone’s guess. We do know that the Biden campaign has complained to other news organizations, like The New York Times, for their coverage, and received changes. Whether that happened with CNN is unknown.

The second thing that’s happened to the #MeToo movement is that polarized politics have successfully stolen its momentum. Every new story gets viewed through a partisan lens. It is happening on both sides of the political aisle.

Those on the right first started viewing some of the reporting suspiciously when Farrow threw his weight behind Jane Mayer’s reporting of the flimsiest of the Kavanaugh accusers, Deborah Ramirez.

There was no corroboration from that story, but it didn’t stop everyone on the left from pushing notions of collectivist guilt. We were informed then that we had a duty to believe all the accusers of Brett Kavanaugh, even if those accusers were dug up by Michael Avenatti.

The left no longer believes all women now, either; all the news stories surrounding Biden merely talk about people “grappling” with the new accusations. Or as Politico framed it, the allegations have “roil[ed] the #MeToo movement.”

Tacitly implied here is that the movement is wholly a left-wing phenomenon now, and that voting for Biden is more important than exposing more #MeToo allegations.

Instead of being a force for good, the press and political system have forced #MeToo into becoming another interest group. It’s like listening to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Brady Campaign, or the abortion debate.

#MeToo has become another partisan set of beliefs to bring out when convenient to blast certain politicians and groups.

Subsuming #MeToo as a political force, rather than cultural, betrays the very spirit of the movement, which was giving a voice to women who never had one. Now, those voices only matter if they fit the political narrative. If they don’t fit that narrative, then they don’t get run by the media.

The New York Times delayed running anything on Tara Reade’s allegations for 19 days — which is not what they did during any previous charge with any other figure. They even gave Biden this caveat in their piece:

The Times found no pattern of sexual misconduct by Mr. Biden, beyond the hugs, kisses and touching that women previously said made them uncomfortable.

That’s where #MeToo has landed: Other than all the hugs, kisses, and touching that everyone says happened, where are the allegations?

If this is the end of #MeToo, it’s a tragic end for a movement that removed many great men from power. It’s gone from a bleak but needed purge of culture to another partisan interest group.