From Bill Clinton to Roy Moore, no party's hands are clean when it comes to playing politics with allegations of sexual assault. That says more about the nature of our politics than it does about either party in particular. There's also something to be said about how accusations that implicate our partisan rivals are interpreted as confirmation of the other side's categorical evilness, when in fact they merely confirm too many powerful men of all ideological stripes abuse their positions to mistreat women.
Writing for Crooked Media, Brian Beutler essentially primed readers to be suspicious of future sexual misconduct allegations that surface in conservative media outlets because they are consumed by "the rot of bad faith."
Here's a key excerpt from his article:
“Believe women” is an important movement, but it also obligates its adherents not to dismiss thinly-sourced allegations out of hand, even when they appear in outlets that have torched their credibility—and that impulse will be magnified by the mainstream media ethic of manufacturing symmetry between partisan teams.
I can’t imagine a more straightforward way to force liberals into a toxic cycle of recriminations. Obviously, as in the cases of Weiner and Weinstein, liberals don’t reflexively circle wagons around accused abusers, but propagandists thrive on the proliferation of doubt, and in this case, the doubt would stem from the far right’s inherent lack of credibility. We underrate — as in haven’t considered at all — how low the rot of bad faith in conservative media could drag the rest of us, the whole country, all on its own. But the test of it is almost certainly coming.
Reports of misconduct in conservative media, Beutler argues, will damage the credibility of the "believe women" movement in two ways: "First, because many people will understandably distrust allegations of misconduct if they’re ginned up by the bottom-feeders of Breitbart. Second, because if the accusations unravel, the believe-women movement will have sustained a terrible blow by failing on its own terms." Thus, conservatives do damage to victims of sexual misconduct by reporting on it because they are totally devoid of credibility.
Beutler is arguing that conservative media will cynically exploit society's growing willingness to trust women who make allegations of sexual assault by manufacturing baseless accusations against Democrats.
His argument in short: "believe women" but be skeptical of the women whose stories are in right-of-center media outlets.
Even if you accept this premise, it's silly to assume the moral purity of the Left means they lack people who would do the same. The only outlet Beutler cited, by the way, was Breitbart, but he applied his critique of them to conservative media in general without bothering to show why the entire industry is at fault. (It's also worth noting that Breitbart first broke the story of Anthony Weiner's impropriety, and liberal bloggers said Breitbart "invented it.")
What of all the "mainstream" or left-of-center outlets that appear to have been complicit in the enabling of Harvey Weinstein? "Propaganda merchants are feeding this right wing cohort — smearing Moore’s accusers and attacking the foundation of the 'believe women' movement," Beutler wrote. Isn't that what non-conservative outlets did for Weinstein? What of those publications that for decades have gone relatively easy on Bill Clinton?
Rather than seriously tackling the Left's enabling of Clinton, Beutler devoted less than one sentence to acknowledging "[t]here is more than a kernel of truth at the bottom of the idea that Bill Clinton was a sexual deviant, or that he deserved more social and legal censure than he endured," before slamming Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign for raising the issue.
The sad reality of this current moment is that actors in both parties have treated allegations of sexual misconduct like political footballs. Going on as though that's not the case is unfair and unproductive.