The March of ‘Me, Too’, Media and the Women Who Knew

The distinction between media and social media is, as I’ve forecast, disappearing. Years ago, when gossip tabloids first started reporting, accurately as it turned out, about the American president’s sexual dalliances, the establishment media, such as the New York Times, driven by competition with the rise of the Internet and sites such as Matt Drudge’s aggregation website, followed suit. This smut-based media coverage came to dominate the Clinton presidency, causing some to accuse the president of launching military strikes against Islamic terrorist camps as a diversion. The strikes, as has been reported, were very limited, extremely ineffective — the president refused to approve bombing the terrorist planning to attack the World Trade Center, for instance, because intelligence indicated that he was in a tent being used as a mosque — and America was attacked on September 11, 2001.

The terrorist group that launched the attack still exists. Other terrorist groups have been created. The states that sponsor Islamic terrorism have, or can get, nuclear weapons.

The media matters. How reporters approach topics matters. So, when social media, with its instant and direct access to the public and lack of proofreading, fact-checking, editing, selectivity or curation and double and triple-checking, came to dominate the media — the news media is now driven by social media and vice versa — the facts, stories and analysis became less reliable, less credible and more suspect (as I wrote here).

No where has new media’s impact been greater than in the Me, Too movement targeting, naming, accusing, maligning and attacking men for sex crimes and transgressions. Stories with unsubstantiated allegations, anonymous sources and multiple discrepancies, claims which often cannot be corroborated, would have been spiked before going to press. The media knew, for instance, about President Kennedy‘s dalliances, which include accusations of drugging at least one subordinate woman for sex, and did not report it. Similarly, there were rumors about Clinton, Bush and other powerful men for decades which went unreported unless legal or publishing, i.e., an accusatory memoir, action had been taken. As recently as a few years ago with the rape claims against Bill Cosby, the media was cautious in its reporting and careful to point out that these were, whatever their volume, claims and allegations, not proof of guilt.

Not anymore. Ever since the New York Times and New Yorker reported at random on certain claims against Harvey Weinstein, ushering in the wave of countless, largely unsubstantiated and difficult to corroborate sexual assault and harassment allegations against numerous men, the Me, Too movement marches on. Even before that, the media was becoming as salacious and smutty as the gossip tabloids. The San Francisco Chronicle published a column by an ex-wife detailing alleged infidelity of movie director Joss Whedon. As I forewarned in a post about the public campaign to destroy Harvey Weinstein, dozens of men in prominent positions in business, many of outstanding ability, have been maligned, most without charges or evidence, accused and marked for total ruin in a national frenzy conflating sex claims of varying degrees of accused wrongdoing. Though some of the men admit to actions they claim to regret, most of the accused deny wrongdoing.

Note that most of the accused men are neither charged with crimes nor named in civil court proceedings by the victims. Weinstein, for instance, has not been charged with a single crime, though he was, in fact, physically attacked by a stranger who photographed the attack. The Me, Too campaign to persecute accused men by public opinion through social media rages on. Any woman who makes a claim is instantly branded a heroine. Any man who is accused is instantly branded a monster.

I first questioned this herd mentality and mob action through social media with posts questioning the punishment of Brian Williams. Last year, with the coordinated attack on the nation’s top cable news host, I questioned the firing of Bill O’Reilly. By last October, New York’s vaunted publications were publishing major pieces accusing a studio boss of rape and sexual harassment. I questioned then, too, swift and sudden pronunciations of guilt without evidence or trial of moviemaker Harvey Weinstein, who, like Brian Williams, had immediately admitted certain transgressions, showed remorse and sought to make amends — in each case, not on the grounds of innocence or guilt but because the means by which the accused, maligned man was being judged, persecuted and punished was deeply flawed, lacking or disproportionate.

Recently, others started questioning this mob mentality, expressing doubts and criticism of the Me, Too movement. Challenges and questions have recently been raised by Margaret Atwood, Liam Neeson, Catherine Deneuve and others.

As I forewarned, the Me, Too movement is becoming an anti-sex movement intent on imposing government controls on people’s private affairs, dictating work terms, contracts, sex training, demanding the purge of men from the workplace to be replaced by women because they are women. The Hollywood commission proposed by Disney’s powerful Lucasfilm boss, Kathleen Kennedy, who demanded that feminists, activists and college professors be put in charge of strict new workplace controls, already exists. The commission boss is Anita Hill, who embraces the aim to restrict contracts and impose programs designed to spread workplace egalitarianism based on one’s sex.

The Me, Too movement, which has been heralded by the left and the right alike, not only threatens sex, privacy and free trade; the movement suppresses free speech. Again and again, anyone who speaks out against the Me, Too movement is castigated and maligned — observe the Me, Too response to Ms. Atwood or The Atlantic reporter whose article questioned comedian Aziz Ansari’s accuser — and any dissenter, no matter her nuance or deviation, is crushed on social media. Meanwhile, daily claims based on pictures, posts and Tweets destroy careers within hours.

Even men who are not accused of sex crimes are presumed guilty. The deal to adapt Jeffrey Toobin’s bestselling book about convicted felon Patty Hearst as a movie was terminated hours after Hearst attacked Toobin’s book on the grounds that she was a sex crime victim.

The hysteria is stirred by short-term gains in ratings and ad revenue but the feeding frenzy continues to inflict real damage to and prohibition of the free exchange of thought, speech and ideas. The most diligent observer and rational consumer can’t avoid today’s constant onslaught of posts, headlines and articles about the flimsiest of claims. A barrage of vulgar and lurid sex scandals, as against a thoughtful examination of sexual assault and impropriety, regardless of the legitimacy of any claims, overshadows crucial and urgent news about more deadly and imminent dangers.

Consider, for example, an Islamic terrorist’s June 12, 2016 act of war at a gay nightclub, in which the jihadist, Omar Mateen, gunned down 49 Americans and clubgoers (and wounded 68 people). The trial of the woman charged with lying to investigators and aiding and abetting the Moslem terrorist, Mrs. Mateen, Noor Salman, who admitted seeing her husband leave the day of the shooting with a backpack full of ammunition, starts March 1. How widely is this fact known? How many in the news media reported this fact, which is based on actual evidence, and how deeply was it examined?

Do you know about the disclosures of facts about Mrs. Omar Mateen? Did you know that she knew her husband “was going to do something very bad” before the Islamic terrorist attack?

Did you know that the fingerprints of the Las Vegas shooter’s partner, Marilou Danley, are reportedly all over the weapons used in the attack, which killed 58 Americans and wounded 851 concertgoers, replacing Islamic terrorist Mateen’s assault as the worst mass gun murder in modern U.S. history?

You may have known that she had left the United States and was traveling but did you know that Danley deleted her Facebook account before the attack? Did you know that she has not been charged with a crime? Did you know that she was considered by the FBI to be “the most likely person who aided or abetted Stephen Paddock”, according to federal court documents made public last week?

As hysteria replaces journalism and the New Yorker, New York Times and broadcast news mimic the tabloid gossip they once, not long ago, routinely dismissed as speculative sensationalism, blowing accusations out of proportion, publishing what amount to smears and insinuations and dropping the context of someone’s claims while failing to report news that matters, consider the toll this takes on how you know what you know. Whether you knew that Marilou Danley knew that Stephen Paddock was acting strangely before the mysterious attack on over 20,000 concertgoers may be a byproduct of chronic media attention to gossip that is not news.

Or consider whether you know how an errant missile launch alert happened this month in Hawaii. And who, in particular, down to his (or her) name, rank and specific job responsibilities, activated the missile warning. When one knows only that a man is accused of sexual wrongdoing, and that, hours later without a legal claim let alone criminal charge against him, he’s lost his job, his career, and, possibly, his livelihood for life — but you do not know the name of the person who sent millions of civilians running for cover from a nuclear strike — the free press is severely diminished and compromised. So, too, is your ability to learn, sort and judge facts, information and new knowledge.

When the free press becomes a farce, and the exercise of free speech is mocked, maligned, suppressed, attacked and all but vanished  — when, in essence, only the claim “Me, too” is reported and tolerated — your rights and your life are more than ever at risk.

Movie Review: 12 Strong

This is a good war movie with moments approaching greatness. If you’ve enjoyed Thank You for Your Service, 13 Hours, American Sniper and other movies about the nonstop, unending U.S. military response to the Islamic jihad slaughter on September 11, 2001, you’re likely to appreciate 12 Strong for its pointed depiction of American heroism.

I figured this would be a proper, which is to say relatively straightforward and unfiltered, dramatization from its setup scenes. 12 Strong rightly begins in 1993, when Moslem terrorists first attacked the Twin Towers. Then, to other acts of war on America in 1998 and 2000. So, right off, there’s at least an attempt to provide pretext to the story of 12 heroes who volunteered to deliver America’s first post-9/11 military retaliation, which is one of the few the U.S. got exactly right.

To underscore this unequivocal rightness, the Army team’s single-minded captain (Chris Hemsworth, Thor: Ragnarok) asks the helicopter pilot after the pilot tells him that the aircraft is descending over northern Afghanistan: “On purpose?!” The captain’s short, urgently repeated demand signals the caliber of soldier about to disembark and confront the guerrilla Islamic terrorist state. The band of men do not just listen, obey and follow orders: they make crucial distinctions, take command and act with swift thought and precision, leaving nothing to the aims — and sloth and errors — of others, including those in their own army.

The captain’s leadership is based on study, clarity and reason. From camping his men at an allied Afghan base 40 miles from their terrorist center target to leading the horse soldiers’ charge toward the enemy’s worst weapon, Hemsworth’s captain examines every angle, nuance and trajectory necessary to achieve his goal. Director Nicolai Fuglsig shows fidelity to the essential facts of this hard-fought, extraordinary and, yes, glorious military victory. He doesn’t adorn the movie or characters with frenzied or slow-motion moments of blood splattering and bombs exploding. There’s no showboating. There’s the hard work and grit of men fighting to avenge their country and defend their lives, fortunes and future.

The men include the silent loner (Trevante Rhodes, Moonlight) who becomes the fixation of an Afghan boy. And his opposite, an expressive fighter who once taught history (Michael Pena, Lions for Lambs, The Lucky Ones). Or the team’s chief warrant officer and voice of reason (Michael Shannon, Mud, The Shape of Water). Some of the 12 Strong have wives, some have kids, and most have gripes and doubts, though 12 Strong stays on track and avoids war movie cliches. They all trained for war in the Middle East and they all want nothing less than victory. 12 Strong does not deal with the fact that Bush, Obama (and, so far, Trump) equivocated, appeased and never came close to wiping out states that sponsor Islamic terrorists let alone declaring, waging and winning the war the enemy started.

The Jerry Bruckheimer (and scads of others) produced film, co-written by Peter Craig and Ted Tally and based on the book by Doug Stanton, does, however, allude to U.S. military incompetence. So-called smart bombs fall on the wrong coordinates. There’s an implication about friendly fire (remember Pat Tillman). And then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s bravado, which would thrust America into an unwinnable war in Iraq, gets an apparently and deservedly fact-based dig.

12 Strong focuses, though, mostly on what it takes to render the deadly counterstrike to 9/11. From the Northern Alliance faction leader skillfully portrayed by Navid Negahban to the sharp colonel incisively portrayed by William Fichtner, the team earns and keeps the support of superiors and natives alike to trudge through the passes and trails of the Taliban-run country. Without neutralizing moral judgment on Islam, the religion which motivates the enemy, 12 Strong puts the campaign in clear perspective. Females are slaughtered like American infidels, simply for seeking knowledge. “God is great!” goes the familiar death call as the U.S. first applies its antiquated rules of engagement (which got worse after this campaign). So don’t expect the now-incessant and tired evasion of any mention of what makes the enemy evil. A murderous mullah speaks the truth about his religion.

Also, don’t expect evasion of what makes Americans good. Though 12 Strong is a good, not great, war movie depicting soldiers in a particularly grueling combat, and I do wonder whether the team declined to wear helmets throughout the battles and trek, the two-hour film lets its heroes shine.

Thankfully lacking vulgarity, and with a stirring gallop to answer the Flight 93 passengers’ call to arms, “Let’s Roll”, 12 Strong is the inspiring tale of the twelve soldiers who rolled. They did it weeks after America was attacked in New York City and Washington, DC.  They did in weeks what experts projected would take two years. This combat picture shows that twelve men rolled with the thunderous strength and purpose that America and Americans deserved. It pretty much ended there. It hasn’t happened since. 12 Strong demonstrates with power and skill that this victory did happen.

The Year Ahead

I’ve started 2018 recovering from influenza and, at least for now, still in contention for fiction writing competition and submission. I am writing new stories and will keep you posted.

More info on my social media course

Otherwise, I make notes and revisions and screenwrite for others. No two scripts are alike and the process is unique to the individual. I’m enjoying the challenge of hunting, harvesting and essentializing data for a short research and interview assignment on someone’s forthcoming book. I also write copy and articles for clients’ websites, publications and books. Small projects can yield surprising rewards. For instance, I recently helped a friend, a published author, get organized. I performed menial tasks, really, yet I gained valuable insight from observing his approach.

Another client asked me to coordinate a campaign and compose letters for an effort to persuade authorities to reconsider and re-open an investigation into a child welfare case. As I always do, I gathered facts, read relevant case files, conducted an independent review, asked questions and formulated my conclusions, drafting final documents accordingly. The project was an unusual assignment in some ways, if typical in other ways, and, while I am not always able to accept such writing assignments, I found the challenge invigorating. My customer was fully prepared and a pleasure to work with. This makes the initial outcome — the district attorney’s office contacted my client upon receipt of the documents, opening the prospect of further investigation — only more rewarding.

More info on my writing course

As this year begins, I’m looking forward to creating each new theme, campaign or story. Twenty eighteen marks ten years of blogging and I plan to keep at it for now, adding selected book, movie and TV reviews and cultural commentary with occasional updates and announcements. I also plan to return to teaching my media courses this spring, so please note that Writing Boot Camp and Maximizing Social Media are open for registration and will commence as 10-weeknight classes at the Henry Mingay campus of Burbank Adult School near Bob Hope Airport. Enroll in social media studies here and my writing course here.

Here we go into what I want to be a Happy New Year!

Movie Review: Phantom Thread

Writer and director Paul Thomas Anderson’s dark, brooding horror-comedy Phantom Thread lets you in on its essential theme in the opening shots. Drawings and pictures of elegant women’s clothes from when women wore clothes that accentuate the female figure appear. Then, comes a preview of the point of the movie: a musical note (well, what the audience is supposed to discern as a musical note, anyway) which becomes a loud, irritating audio distortion which can only be described as noise.

Sonic assault fits the darkly comic, ponderous soap opera film. Phantom Thread invites you for its sumptuous designs and treats you to dastardly deconstruction. All this while masquerading as an important movie with something important to show and say about the artisan and his creations, romantic relationships and life. “It’s comforting to think that the dead are watching over us,” one character says as plainly as possible in this frank exercise in depicting an eccentric fashion designer’s days and nights.

This is as profound as Phantom Thread gets.

The lead character, a designer named Reynolds Woodcock, is portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis (The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Lincoln, The Last of the Mohicans) in his first role since 2012’s surprisingly good Lincoln. It’s also his re-teaming with Anderson, with whom he worked on the similarly campy and utterly empty 2007 diatribe against capitalism, There Will Be Blood. This time, Anderson (Magnolia) carefully lays out his case against the creator in finer strokes.

The result is as cutting and comical as that other film, intentionally or not. Day-Lewis, in what he says is his final movie performance, is toned down, letting co-stars and the movie’s other central parts — costumes, score, cinematography — shine. And they do, they really do. Pictures from the back of a car traveling to an idyllic hotel overlooking the waterfront take the audience into a new and inviting world of dressmaking and design. The dresses, threading and stitching are lavishly featured in 70mm. Jonny Greenwood’s mostly nonstop musical score distracts from the nothingness as intended. Vicky Krieps (A Most Wanted Man) as a clumsy, young waitress half Woodcock’s age delivers an even performance, portraying a woman who turns good fortune into a wicked, conniving and manipulative act of sadism. Lesley Manville (Mr. Turner) stands out as the designer’s arch accomplice.

Though it touches on sexual perversion and what it means to take advantage of a delusional man of ability putting woman on a pedestal, which might have made an interesting cultural and character study, ultimately Phantom Thread is putting us on. The put-on starts with Woodcock’s syrupy come-on lines to the waif — he removes her red lipstick on a creepy first date with “now, there’s the real you” and later has her caked in red lipstick for fashion modeling — and cascades down from there. Factor Woodcock’s seriously disturbing mother complex into this puzzle, too, and midway through Phantom Thread, you start to wonder if this is another remake of Psycho. But Kriep’s waif, who apparently has no family and nothing else to do, schemes her way to fulfilling the masochist’s unspoken fantasy.

Costumes, transitions and pacing are fine. Harriet Sansom Harris (Bebe on Frasier) does a wonderful turn as a patroness of the arts in a pivotal plot point. Scenes of Woodcock at work, which means thinking, drawing and dressmaking, are well done. A running joke about his intolerance for distraction lightens the mood. But, from the nubile waif’s early reference to the sixtysomething designer as a boy to the final scenes of complicity in sado-masochism as Anderson’s view of romantic love, Phantom Thread‘s master-pupil depiction too pertly delivers its vacant point that, in the end, everyone gets all dressed up with no where to go.

Movie Review: The Post

The Post manufactures its own spin on the true story of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, thousands of copied top secret pages disclosing the U.S. government’s systematic deception over the Vietnam War, to fit what redounds to a feminist perspective. This drama by Steven Spielberg (E.T.) may be the first major post-sexual harassment claims hysteria movie, given its director’s stature, though the proto-feminism of Star Wars: The Last Jedi arguably merits that distinction. If you can stand this shift, which tilts the movie’s plot, performances and theme, The Post capably depicts brave and decent acts of journalism.

But The Post is not Mr. Spielberg’s best work and, unlike the dignified Lincoln or like his tunnel-visioned Bridge of Spies or his dismal Munich, it lacks crucial context and essential dramatic points. As Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, Meryl Streep is, as usual, overly mannered, this time to distraction. Her Graham is less like a real human being and more like Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady, Kramer Vs. Kramer, Into the Woods), all facial tics, fidgeting and halting, breathy playacting. It’s one of her worst performances and that’s saying something because Streep is already the most overestimated actress of our time. Tom Hanks (Sully, Philadelphia, Saving Private Ryan), on the other hand, in the less showy role, performs as well as can be expected as Kennedy crony and Post editor Ben Bradlee. Hanks is largely confined to what amounts to impersonation, a few mini-speeches and gruff concern, hobnobbing and consternation. Both leading actors give the net impression with this script that this is not at all how Graham’s and Bradlee’s decision-making and conferences over publishing the historic papers really happened.

An opening ambush scene in the wet jungles of Vietnam provides the only hint at what ought to drive any serious movie about Daniel Ellsberg’s act of defiance against the government to reveal shocking truths about what the military and executive branch knew was a futile, unwinnable war in Indochina. But other than tossed in references to soldiers, the heft of what values were at stake in 1971 are never sufficiently dramatized to the necessary degree.

What’s left is a sometimes stagy, sometimes skillful, newspaper suspense about the urgency of exercising the right to free speech (in this case, defying the status quo with the free press). The Post scores its best scenes when depicting the incestuous connection between members of the press and government officials, an incestuous link which climaxed under the Obama administration, the presidency which most closely resembles the Nixon presidency depicted here, not just because of the readily apparent parallels with Obama’s stubborn, anti-American, horrifying persecution of journalists, Apple and the heroic Edward Snowden.

Streep’s Graham is rarely shrewd or intelligent, which strikes me as far from the truth. For a widow who inherits her wealth, she chiefly spends most of her time plagued by self-doubt, which makes her sudden, abrupt decision to publish the papers seem more strikingly random and emotional, at least as portrayed by Streep. Her defining characteristic is her comfort with cronyism, complete with parties and lunches with big shots such as the former secretary of defense (Bruce Greenwood, Eight Below) most responsible for the highly irrational Vietnam War quagmire. Graham’s best line — “it’s my company” — goes completely unearned on The Post‘s terms. There’s not a single moment or scene in which she shows real interest in the creative byproduct of her newspaper, let alone making money from it.

Details of the tense hours leading to the article’s publication provide some of The Post‘s most compelling drama, though it’s muted by the focus on Graham, which takes up most of the screen time. Long takes of dogged research and lawyering at Bradlee’s home, where his wife and kid serve sandwiches and lemonade (reducing Sarah Paulson to wifely, if empathetic, sisterhood), sustain interest in these makeshift smoke-filled rooms. But newsroom scenes are dreadfully dull and uninspired, as if Mr. Spielberg consciously avoids comparison to All the President’s Men and other newspaper-driven movie classics. The Washington Post‘s competition with the New York Times similarly gets drifted (read the truth of the Pentagon Papers publication, including the Times‘ great Abe Rosenthal, here) in the Bradlee-Graham vs. old boy network paradigm shift.

The Post is not a bad movie. There’s a plot, benign characters with a sense of purpose and clear progression. But what drives the tale of reporting the Pentagon Papers in defiance of the state and the recent history of a whistleblower and those who amplified his whistling are too obviously and conveniently — and much too histrionically — downsized and revised to depict what should be spine-chilling drama. And isn’t.