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Woody Allen: Issues and Principles

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This is the sort of post that costs me vast numbers of Twitter followers, so if that’s going to happen, I want to at least see if I can express my position clearly.  I’m not going to review the case; if you want to know what it’s about, google “Woody Allen  Hachette Book Group.”

1) Presumption of innocence in the courts is the legal reflection of the principle that we need to be certain someone is guilty before inflicting punishment, that, “it is better 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man be punished.” The principle pre-dates its legal reflection, which, in Western society, we can find in sixth Century Rome, as well as both Talmudic and Islamic law. The principle has always been fought for by the oppressed, and for good reason: it is the oppressed who are most vulnerable, and most likely to be abused both by the legal system and bourgeois public opinion. Those who want to chuck the presumption of innocence, whether in law or in the public arena,* are doing the work of the oppressors.

2. In this case, it goes beyond presumption of innocence, however, because the innocence has been demonstrated. Two separate investigations into Mr. Allen have determined there are no grounds for the accusation.

3. Those who triumphantly cry that this isn’t a legal matter never take the next obvious step: no, it is a matter of media. In other words, the case is being tried in The New York Times and The Washington Post, who are under no legal obligation to fairness. If you accept that an individual should face punishment for what appears in the Times, are you prepared to face punishment for what appears on Fox News? Maybe it would be better if we just didn’t go there.

4. One of the problems we face today is the immense power of corporate finance to determine access to information. Exerting pressure on a major capitalist institution to exercise more control—whether by demanding Facebook give itself the job of determining what is true, or by demanding publishers respond to political pressure in what they publish—is pushing in exactly the wrong direction, and the odds that this will be turned against the most easily silenced groups approach 100%. Please, think things through.

5. Even were we to presume guilty until proven innocent, and even if we ignore that the investigation showed no grounds for the accusation, by denying the individual a public platform after trying that individual by public media, you are denying the individual the opportunity to prove innocence.  If you support that, the word “justice” ought to stick in your craw.

6. And even aside from all of that, it is always the right-wing who says, “I don’t like your opinion, or what you’ve done, so I will target your career or livelihood.” On the left**, we believe every human being has the right to a career. To work to harm someone’s livelihood is both morally repugnant and tactically foolhardy, as we are a million times more vulnerable to such attacks than our enemies.   I’m sure Mr. Allen is well-to-do, and this will not damage him financially; will this be true of the next person who, after this precedent, is denied publication because of a scurrilous accusation? Will this be true of you if someone goes on the internet and claims you have done something repugnant?

 

*I should add that, given the media’s profound effect on jury pools (see the history of racism in the US), these are not as completely separate as I’m making them sound.

** This has caused some confusion. To clarify, I’m talking about what is traditional on the left, not the current crop of pseudo-left posers, who I have a lot of trouble considering leftists.

skzb

Author: skzb

I play the drum.

18 Comments

  1. I don’t disagree with your basic premise, but where does the burden of proof lie when no witnesses or cameras are there to prove guilt or innocence? Then it is one person’s word against another’s. And yes, the accusations can pile up and maybe the accused is innocent. But when we are discussing a majority over a minority (Hell, even if we aren’t) I am curious as to where your POV lands.
    (Coming from someone whom you know agrees with you on most everything…) 🙂

  2. A couple thoughts:

    5. It is beyond our capacity to deny someone as wealthy as Woody Allen a public platform. Nothing prevents him from self-publishing his memoir. The claim, from the left, that collective action such as protest should not be permitted the power to check morally repugnant action by a man worth $80 million is really weird to me. Other than direct organized action of the masses, what possible power can we bring to bear against someone?

    6. This point is hogwash. There’s absolutely nothing to support it. No, not every human being has a right to *their chosen* career. And the left emphatically does not believe they do – in fact, the left specifically believes that capitalists of many if not all stripes ought to be systematically denied their chosen career. We also wish to break up imperialist militaries, even when conscription is not practiced. We do not defend organized crime.

    We, in short, do not defend someone’s right to a chosen career when their participation in that career does disproportionate harm to others. And the harm that the continued careers of Polanski, Weinstein, Allen, & CK do to countless victims of sexual violence who are already told by society that they are wrong for speaking up, that the harm done them renders them broken and less valuable than their attackers, that a man’s ability to joke about sexual violence is more important than a woman’s right not to be subject to it –

    Steve, this attitude is loathsome and destructive. I mean, seriously nasty stuff. Over half of all assaults are not reported. No more than eight percent of reports are false. And under one percent of felony rapes result in convictions.

    For every one rapist we punish, ninety-nine guilty go free.

    I truly don’t know how you can look at that number and believe we’re being too harsh to a multimillionaire who groomed and married his stepdaughter.

  3. skzb

    Chris: I stay with innocent until proven guilty, even with those I despise. Especially with those I despise, because if we’re willing to change our concept of when punitive action (legal or otherwise) is permissible based on how much we like someone, we’ve just turned our society over to the op-ed writers. I think that’s a terrible idea.

  4. skzb, I agree completely.

  5. skzb

    Doylist: Thanks for making a thoughtful contribution to the discussion. Let me address a few things.

    First, your point 5 is deeply troubling in one sense, merely mistaken in another. The troubling sense is it implies we need to cast a financial balance sheet on someone before deciding whether the individual deserves simple justice. The point you’re mistaken on is conflating mass movements based on an issue or against a government or corporation, with those directed against an individual. (To be strictly technical, an individual not in a political position–there are times to demand someone be removed from office, but even then, that’s as far as it ought to go absent proof.). I want to see Dick Cheney punished for war crimes, but I want to see it AFTER a fair trial–ideally a workers tribunal, but even there he should get an attorney, the right to confront witnesses, and the presumption of innocence. I would have opposed efforts to prevent his book from being published; although I find it bitterly ironic that no such effort was made–after all, he was only accused of being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, not nearly as bad as what Woody Allen is almost certainly innocent of.

    Point 6: “Capitalist” is not a profession.

    Your contempt for the human rights is expressed in the contempt in which you hold even the basic facts. He neither groomed nor married nor had any liaison with his stepdaughter. Follow the link Will posted above, or learn the basic facts, and then give some thought to why it is those who wish to set the human rights clock back two hundred years distort or ignore facts in cases like this.

  6. Freedom of press should work both ways. Allen’s is being denied. Just because someone has their say doesn’t mean we have to believe what is written. That’s called choice and his is being denied. My right to read what he has to say is being denied. As usual without writting a dissertation this is a simplistic thought on the situation.

  7. What an extremely troubled family. And just because sexual assault in general is largely under-reported, does not make this one accusation true. It appears to be super untrue. Does that matter? I believe it should.

  8. Doylist, this seems relevant to the issue of whether it’s okay to cancel a book you had agreed to publish:

    When Clark University invited Norman Finkelstein to speak, then canceled the speech in response to protesters, Sarah Wunsch of the ACLU wrote:
    “…the cancellation of his speech violates the basic principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom which are so fundamental to an institute of higher learning. The existence of an opportunity to speak at another time or in another location does not remedy the wrong of censorship.
    …Nor may complaints from those disturbed by Finkelstein’s writings about the post-Holocaust “industry” justify a decision to prevent the lecture from taking place. Indeed, even if demonstrators came to protest against Finkelstein’s views, the obligation of a university is to protect the speaker’s right to be heard and prevent disruption of the speech by others. By censoring speech because of complaints about offensiveness or the controversial nature of the speaker, the university has essentially allowed what the courts call a “heckler’s veto” over what speech can be heard.”

  9. I have, in fact, read Moses Farrow’s account, and Ronan’s, and almost everything written about this case by anyone with personal knowledge. None of it suggests to me that I should assume a false report of abuse by anyone; once again, when ninety-nine percent of rapists are acquitted, and ninety-two percent of rape accusations appear to be factual, I see no statistical reason to rely on the justice system for commercial decisions. I think it likely from all accounts that Mia and Woody are both guilty of abuse in different ways.

    If you suggested lynching or imprisoning Woody Allan or any similar person without a court, I would oppose it. But there is not the remotest comparison between being imprisoned and being deemed too commercially risky to publish.

    Soon-Yi Previn, who was Woody Allan’s stepdaughter, though not his adoptive daughter, is now his wife. This is not a distorted fact.

    I believe that this is part of a mass movement based on an issue – the issue of mass injustice in the protection of sexual predators – and to pretend that this is about a specific individual and not part of a three-year groundswell against hundreds of high-profile abusers is, indeed, contemptuous of the facts.

  10. Doylist, should we convict people based on statistics? Statistics say black people commit more crimes. Now, as a socialist, I say that’s because of racism and the US’s awful class mobility, not race, but whatever your take may be, statistically, black people are more likely to commit crimes. Should we therefore assume that whenever a white person says a black person is guilty, the white person is telling the truth?

  11. Great post! And I don’t think it should cost you twitter followers, as you’re just expressing an opinion, but apparently, opinions are too toxic today for some minds to handle! Let me say that my own personal beliefs tend towards the Libertarian. If it gives me any street cred, I voted for Clinton in ’92. 😉

    On point #5 – I will say that I agree with you – a person is innocent until proven guilty – and, unfortunately, it seems in our litigious society, the only recourse that Allen has is to sue for damages. Having said that, I see the flip side of that, and Hachette has no moral obligation to publish *anyone*. If they deem a book is going to net them a loss going in, it’s their right to change their mind, particularly in the perilous position the publishers find themselves in these days. (And don’t even get me started about how the Publishers put themselves in that position in the first place!)

    On point#6 – I beg to differ that it’s only the Right that wants to put people out of work. The Left has also shut down free speech and it’s been the typical “politically correct” that created the “Cancel Culture.” It’s primarily a function of Twitter, (or more recent social media) and those are overwhelmingly dominated by the young and thus the Left. (As recently as 2018, the youngest voters were Left by a ratio of 5-1.) Also, the concept of “wokeness” is overwhelming Left wing, and it’s that very wokeness that is what happened to Mr. Allen.

    Today’s cancel culture (that has finally started to recede, possibly thanks to brave comics like Dave Chapelle finally saying “enough is enough”) – however, it’s obvious from this action by Hachette, that it’s not over.

    It’s interesting to see the complaint about Norman Finkelstein above, when bastions of the Left, like Berkeley University, have had far worse instances of thought-control and anti-free-speech efforts.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2017/08/28/black-clad-antifa-attack-right-wing-demonstrators-in-berkeley/

    And if that were a one-off, you’d think, hey, misguided youth, right?

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2017/09/23/uc-berkeley-says-free-speech-week-is-canceled-milo-yiannopoulos-says-hes-still-coming-to-campus/ – cost Berkeley a few hundred grand in security measures for a cancelled event. Free Speech lost that day.

    Little side note – don’t you think it’s time we dropped the “anti” from antifa? I mean, they’re the ones showing up in masks, intimidating people, tearing everything up – just like a bunch of fascists, circa 1933.

    And the beat goes on:

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/21/ann-coulter-berkeley-protesters-arrests

    https://www.wsj.com/articles/antifa-attacks-a-journalist-11562021361

    But back to the cancel culture:

    Just in 2019:

    https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/12/19/21029852/jk-rowling-terf-transphobia-history-timeline – Not only is the think-tank employee cancelled (and she’s going to court over it!) but JK Rowling, and apparently, her universe, is now considered spoiled over following over a dozen “TERFs” on twitter.

    And not to just stick with celebrities:

    Kyle Kashuv lost his admittance to Harvard over some comments made as a teenager.

    And then there’s the whole Carson King episode. Reason details it all here: https://reason.com/2019/09/25/local-man-uses-viral-fame-to-raise-1-million-for-charity-journalist-digs-up-offensive-tweets-he-made-at-age-16/

    True irony is the cancelling journalist himself got cancelled. Says he was wrongly fired, but still doesn’t consider it wrong bringing up tweets of a 16 year old who was just trying to be a nice guy.

    And then hitting close to home was the Amélie Wen Zhao fiasco – where she ended up pulling her book from being published at all.

    Steve, I think you are right to blame the Right for McCarthyism, there’s no denying that. (I’m assuming that’s who you mean in point #6 above.) But that was a LONG time ago.

    For right-wing cancel culture, I can think of the most-awesome James Gunn who was also cancelled – from GotG2, but he’s since been returned to the director chair after some sanity set in. I believe in his case, though, he had been outspoken about Roseanne Barr, and those on the Right basically retaliated for that. I’m just glad he’s back where he belongs. 🙂

    When I think of modern day censorship (and I don’t mean by the government – that’s far too overused and rarely happens over the last 50 years) – I used to think of the likes of Tipper Gore. But now, it all comes from Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, et al – in other words, Big Tech.

    Facebook is the only one even making an attempt at keeping it fair by essentially letting politicians lie. (That’s like saying allowing humans to breathe of course, but try to say that to someone whose political beliefs don’t align with yours. 😉 )

    And, as someone who leans libertarian, the idea that it’s a bunch of unregulated tech billionaires who have the reins of power for true censorship in our country – well, that frankly scares me. But, they also tend to lean Left, politically. One place where I agreed with Elizabeth Warren was in the idea of breaking up big-tech. But I digress. And apologies for going off on something of a tangent – a related one, but a tangent nonetheless.

    Sorry for the eyebleeder. And if it’s not self-evident, I wouldn’t write this here if I weren’t a ginormous fan of your work. Recently read through all twenty of the Dragaera stories. 😉

  12. Agree with you wholeheartedly except about targeting coming always from the right.

  13. skzb

    doylist: “But there is not the remotest comparison between being imprisoned and being deemed too commercially risky to publish.” This strikes me as disingenuous, though I’m certain unintentionally. The article was not directed against the publisher, but against those who campaigned to bring about this result. I oppose such campaigning.

    Of course, I cannot help but notice the irony that there is such outrage at the publication of a book by a writer, actor, and director who has come through two investigations, but no one said one word about the publication of books by mass murdering war criminals like Cheney, Kissinger, and Obama. I would oppose such campaigns against the publication of those books, too, and I would oppose any punishment of those individuals without a fair trial; but it is ironic that the pseudo-left has not a word to say on the subject; apparently murdering hundreds of thousands of innocents isn’t enough of a crime to warrant their attention.

  14. skzb

    stevepatterson93: ‘The Left has also shut down free speech and it’s been the typical “politically correct” that created the “Cancel Culture.”’ Yes. I should have been more clear. I meant *traditionally* the left has held the position I identified, and, moreover, I have a lot of trouble considering those you refer to as leftists, for the reason you mention and others. In general, I quite agree with your comments on censorship.

  15. skzb

    stvessels: Yeah, fair point. See my answer to Steve Patterson above.

  16. SKZB: Fair point, and I agree with innocent until proven otherwise.

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