"Fascinating conversation," CNN's Lemon says: In English-speaking North America, the sacred nostrum, "Believe the accusers," got its start long ago.
It got its start in Salem Village. In those days, the watchword wasn't, "Believe the women." It was, "Believe the girls."
For whatever reason, the girls went on a bit of rampage; the village chose to believe them. Midway through the moral panic, the Reverend Hale flipped on the wisdom of this belief after his wife, the former Sarah Noyes, daughter of the Reverend Noyes, was herself accused by the girls.
Whatever! By the time the village finally decided to stop believing the girls, twenty-five people were dead. The leading authority on the event totes the carnage like this:
"The trials resulted in the executions of twenty people, fourteen of them women, and all but one by hanging. Five others (including two infant children) died in prison."
Which of the twenty didn't get hanged? That was 81-year-old Giles Corey, who received "an archaic form of punishment...in which stones were piled on his chest until he could no longer breathe."
(Medicare didn't exist. Neither did Corey, by the time he got through being accused.)
"You say you want a revolution?" That's what the Beatles said in 1968, when Chairman Mao, and some over here, were trying "to change the world." With regard to revolutions of saints, this following point should be made:
There's no circumstance in which it makes sense to believe some whole class of accusers, full stop.
There's no circumstance in which that makes sense. Let's try to remember how that unwise practice will sometimes turn out:
In the 1980s, "believe the accusers" became "believe the children" in the various preschool alleged child abuse cases. Quite a few people went to prison as the children, who were like four years old, told investigators, among other things, that their teachers had sometimes been spotted flying on brooms as they arrived at school.
How dumb did people have to be to "believe the children," full stop, in those lunatic preschool cases? They had to be extremely dumb, but we humans were up to the challenge.
That said, dumb and dumber can lead to dead and deader when saints stage revolutions. In the current moment, cable news is involved in this timeless stew.
Below, we'll show you a bit of "cable news" from this past Thursday night. As you may already know, absolutely nothing gets dumber than the brain-dead Salem Village of our contemporary, painfully corporate, ratings-based cable news.
In Thursday's chunk of cable news, an "excitable boy" kept saying, again and again, that Bill Clinton is a rapist. This Tuesday, Michelle Goldberg said much the same thing, saying in part that "We should err on the side of believing women."
Is that a helpful bromide? For ourselves, we'd be inclined to suggest erring on the side of not erring! Erring on the side of avoiding judgments we aren't in position to make.
(For Joe Conason's assessment of the claim in question, you can just click here. You'll note that Conason seems to err on the side of saying he can't really know what happened, the same judgment he attributes to the highly impartial Kenneth Starr.)
As we liberals proceed with our latest "revolution of the saints," the question of Bill Clinton's accusers has been raised anew. In point of fact, some of his accusers were extremely shaky, and didn't compel belief.
This was true even though all the accusers were women. Right through the disastrous fall of last year, the mainstream press corps, especially the New York Times, refused to discuss this rather obvious fact. In this manner, they chose to "believe the accusers" in an unstated way.
Believe the accusers, full stop? It's what the professors said at Duke. After that, Rolling Stone took the same unwise approach at UVa.
Last Friday, Jamelle Bouie also took that approach, within a day of the Washington Post's first report about Roy Moore. As in a certain village of olde, he began assailing the "if true" crowd, who were choosing to wait a few moments before they formed their judgment.
This instinct never seems to die, though some of the accused do. Repeat after us, then memorize:
There is no circumstance in which it makes sense to believe some whole class of accusers!
There is no such circumstance! There will always be an accuser or three who 1) is simply making something up, or 2) is seeking some sort of reward, or 3) is perhaps in need of "professional help." including the help a person can get, at least in theory, from a professional journalist.
"Fascinating conversation," Don Lemon says in the excerpt presented below.
Fascinating conversation! Good lord, dear readers. Good lord!
This is your cable news press corps on drugs: Do you believe Roy Moore's accusers? Do you believe Bill Clinton's?
Do you believe Al Franken's accuser? She was less than a million percent convincing to us, though she hasn't sought Franken's head in her "Receipt-of-apology tour," and though we think Franken's been asking for this with his Ahab-like pursuit of the big liar Jeff Sessions.
(To our eye, Franken, along with several others, has mainly been trying to hang a witch. To our eye, he hasn't mainly been trying to develop information.)
So you'll know, John Phillips is a colleague of Leeann Tweeden's at KABC in Los Angeles. As you'll see, he had a bit of a one-track mind on "cable news" last Thursday night. Lauren Duca, four years out of Fordham, is a columnist at Teen Vogue.
Below, you see some "cable news" from last Thursday night. We haven't found videotape, so we can't fact-check the transcription.
That said, we watched this "discussion" in real time. This transcription very much captures the pitiful gist of the gruesome exchange:
PHILLIPS (11/16/17): What Bill Clinton did wasn't OK. I mean, Bill Clinton is a rapist.As some in the elect can see, the lunacy was general. But Joyce's thoughts on the dead aside, welcome to Salem Village!
LEMON: And John, would you include the president in there, as well?
PHILLIPS: I think that he certainly uses language like he is on a loading dock. Absolutely. Nonstop all the time.
OBEIDALLAH: He bragged about sexual assault.
DUCA: Specific accusations, he doesn't just talk like he is on a loading dock.
PHILLIPS: We had a rapist in the White House for two terms and had a woman who ran interference for a rapist.
DUCA: More than a dozen specific details at how, John—
OBEIDALLAH: Let's talk about who is in the White House today. Donald Trump is not giving us the moral leadership we need. The country is moving forward.
The time of Mad Men was a different period of time. We have moved forward from that. Now we are about to move forward again. We are at another cultural norm movement. We don't have a president to show leadership on this issue.
PHILLIPS: Do you think Bill Clinton is a rapist?
DUCA: That doesn't matter.
OBEIDALLAH: That's the truth right now.
PHILLIPS: Do you think he is a rapist?
OBEIDALLAH: Let people who can have moral leadership have a discussion on this issue.
PHILLIPS: Do you think he is a rapist, though?
LEMON: Hold on, hold on. I know this is an uncomfortable conversation, but this is what we are here to do, to talk about the way people are talking. And this has been definitely political.
People have brought up Bill Clinton. And he asked you a specific question. What do you say?
DUCA: Yes. Bill Clinton is absolutely guilty of sexual misconduct. I don't understand that—
LEMON: Again, again, that has not been proven in a court of law. But that's what people believe. Go on, you can go.
DUCA: He is absolutely been guilty of the same—of having the same level of accusations of sexual misconduct that we are seeing with these figures. But Bill Clinton "what aboutism" is not relevant rhetoric to what is going on with the president.
LEMON: So, John, what is—
DUCA: So, John, are you going to admit that Donald Trump is a sexual harasser?
PHILLIPS: Yes. I mean the, based on that Access Hollywood tape, that was totally out of line. That is language that shouldn't be used under any circumstances.
I'm not going to defend him just because he is a Republican. We as a society, those of us in politics, those of us in media, we have to put our foot down with this sort of thing.
SETMAYER: You voted for him!
PHILLIPS: Well, did you vote for Hillary Clinton?
SETMAYER: No, I did not. I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton or Trump. I actually maintained my integrity.
PHILLIPS: We had the option for voting for a woman who ran interference for a rapist or a guy who uses really nasty language.
LEMON: Hang on! Hold on! Let me get that language specific for CNN. An accused rapist, and the current president an accused sexual harasser.
SETMAYER: Bragged about being a sexual harasser. I mean I just want us to be—I just want the conversation to be intellectually honest, because that is the problem I have with this. This is clearly a bipartisan issue, right?
SETMAYER: I mean it happened on both sides. And my issue with this conversation is that there are people who are making moral judgments against Roy Moore, right?
They are saying, "Oh well, Roy Moore"—we are not supposed to believe his accusers and we are not supposed to believe Donald Trump's accusers, but we are supposed to believe Bill Clinton's accusers. It can't be both ways. It shouldn't be partisan.
LEMON: Thank you all. Fascinating conversation...
Lemon thought that he'd just hosted a "fascinating conversation!" According to Lemon, he and his panelists had been there "to talk about the way people are talking." Setmayer, who's typically very sharp, just wanted the conversation to be intellectually honest!
Does Phillips actually know whether Clinton "is a rapist?" We're going to say he doesn't. Nor did he mention other presidents accused of rape, including such recent figures as Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Trump.
(He did acknowledge, several times, that Trump has used bad language. This is the type of mental giant presented first by KABC, then by CNN!)
A great deal remains to be said on this topic, and on such related topics as 1) how you ever know what's true and 2) when you should maybe accept the fact that you can't really know what's true in some particular instance.
(There are no ultimate answers. Moses wasn't given a tablet resolving such thorny points.)
Judged by any traditional norm, that conversation was madness. But crap like that is the wholly familiar, straight outta crazy, modern-day "cable news" norm.
"Fascinating conservation," Lemon enthused. And readers, let's understand:
As this lunacy continues, a certain under-discussed tax bill may be slip-sliding through Congress!