When Jeffrey Lord, then a pro-Trump talking head on CNN, appeared on the Real Time With Bill Maher earlier this year, Maher described Lord as one of the nicest, kindest, and most decent people in politics. (Lord would later be fired for "using a Nazi slogan" on Twitter.) Seeing as Lord was so kind and decent, how could he possibly support Trump?
MAHER: He's the most vulgar human being. Vulgar. Why do you, nice, genteel, polite Jeffrey Lord, have this affinity [for Trump]? What is it? What is the attraction?
LORD: Two things. I have to say as someone who knows him and considers him a friend, he has always been, in my presence, polite, charming, sensitive. Truly. Truly.
Lord's defense of Trump basically boils down to this: "Well, he never grabbed my pussy." Donald Trump, an admitted sexual predator, gets a pass from his friend Jeffrey Lord because Trump never sexually assaulted Jeffrey Lord. Trump was always a perfect gentleman in my presence, says Lord, the president never did anything unseemly in my presence. And for Lord this is somehow proof that his friend Donald Trump couldn't have done the things Trump himself admitted to doing when he wasn't in Lord's presence—the things Trump admitted to doing when he was alone with women, the things more than twenty women have come forward and accused Trump of doing to them when Jeffrey Lord wasn't present.
Like a lot of people in Seattle, I've known Dave Meinert a long time. But it was only in the last couple of years that I began to see him socially and consider him a friend.
When we received a tip that Meinert had been accused of sexual assault and sexual misconduct by more than one woman, the story was immediately assigned to Sydney Brownstone. Then I recused myself, because Meinert was a friend; another editor—the editor to whom the tip was given—was also recused, as they were close to one of the alleged victims. Sydney left the paper before the piece could be completed and it was ultimately published by KUOW.
The side of Dave I saw—the person Dave was in my presence—was good company. Argumentative, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and always entertaining.
The side of Dave revealed by Brownstone's reporting isn't one I've seen.
But that doesn't mean this other side of Dave doesn't exist.
As Megan Seling pointed out in her post earlier today, a lot of people—mostly men—are reacting to what we now know about Dave Meinert the same way Jeffrey Lord reacted to what we've long known about Trump: "He has always been polite, charming, etc., in my presence. So this can't be true. I refuse to believe it."
Men on the internet and men on the television will say, "Well, he's never done anything that in my presence," as if that's exculpatory. Sometimes women will say it too. Call it the "He Never Grabbed My Pussy" defense. Many of us impulsively and thoughtlessly make that case—that's not the guy I know—when we're confronted with evidence that someone we know and someone we like did terrible things to women.
Or to boys.
The Seattle Times first reported the allegations against Ed Murray on the afternoon of Thursday April 6, 2017. I was already booked to appear on KUOW's Week In Review program the following day. When the news about Murray came up, I said (I'm paraphrasing from memory here), "I've known Ed for 25 years and that doesn't sound like the Ed I know." While not quite as bad—or clueless or tone deaf—as, "Well, He Never Grabbed My Pussy," it came close. It amounted to, "I'm having a hard time believing this since, you know, Ed Murray never molested a teenage boy in front of me."
I felt obligated to withhold judgment because Ed was a friend—note the use of the past tense—and while I'd had nearly a day to sit with the story before the taping, it felt like I'd barely had a chance to digest the news before I was sitting in front of a microphone. I could've said, "I honestly don't know what to think," or, "I'm still digesting this." But my first impulse was to wish it wasn't true—as much to exonerate Murray, my friend, as to exonerate myself, for having been Murray's friend in the first place.
And I'm not alone in this. Too often our first, incredulous reactions to the news that someone we know and like or love has done something terrible—or done many terrible things—serves to reinforce the attitudes and assumptions that allowed for those terrible things and others like them to happen. And for people we knew and like and love to get away with doing terrible things.
When we allow our shock to be expressed as disbelief, we may be attempting to say, "How could anyone do a thing like this?" But things like this—children sexually abused, women sexually assaulted—happen all the time.
I learned something from my initial reaction to the news about Ed Murray. Because as I read the story at KUOW yesterday, I didn't think, "My friend couldn't have done this." Instead I thought, "This man, someone I thought of as a friend, has done terrible things to women." Terrible things he admits to, and terrible things he's been accused of doing but denies. But an honest reading of the story—a reading that isn't clouded by a desire for it not to be true, a reading that isn't clouded by the impulse to exonerate a friend or oneself, a reading that isn't compromised by a desire to exonerate the whole awful world—points to one conclusion: these women are telling the truth. This happened. Someone I thought of as a friend did these things.
Just because these things didn't happen in my presence doesn't mean they didn't happen.