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.