‘Accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody, whether it’s the leader of a network or the leader of the free world,’ said the ‘Late Show’ host.
Stephen Colbert wants accountability for all — even his own boss.
The “Late Show” host kicked off Monday’s show by addressing six women’s allegations published in the New Yorker about “CBS chairman and man I hope isn’t watching tonight’s monologue” Les Moonves and his alleged “practiced routine” of sexual misconduct. “Well, you know the old saying: ‘How do you get in a Ronan Farrow article?’” Colbert joked. “Practice, practice, practice.”
During a desk piece later, the comic tackled the issue more seriously: “For so long, for women in the workplace, there was no change, no justice for the abused,” he said. “So we shouldn’t be surprised that when the change comes it comes radically. This roar is just a natural backlash to all that silence. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do believe in accountability — and not just for politicians you disagree with.
“Everybody believes in accountability until it’s their guy. And, make no mistake, Les Moonves is my guy. He hired me to sit in this chair. He stood behind this show while we were struggling to find our voice. He gave us the time and the resources to succeed, and he has stood by us when people were mad at me, and I like working for him,” Colbert added. “But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody, whether it’s the leader of a network or the leader of the free world.”
Colbert joins several others in his industry who’ve weighed in on accusations against friends or colleagues. “House of Cards” star Robin Wright, for example, broke her silence earlier this month on sexual misconduct allegations against her former co-star Kevin Spacey — telling the “Today” show in an interview that they were mere “coworkers” with a good on-set relationship. “I didn’t really — I didn’t know the man,” Wright told host Savannah Guthrie. “I knew the incredible craftsman that he is.”
“GLOW” star Alison Brie fielded a question about her brother-in-law, James Franco, at January’s SAG Awards after he was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. “Above all, what we’ve always said is that it remains vital that anyone who feels victimized should and does have the right to speak out and come forward,” Brie, who is married to actor Dave Franco, told E! News’ Giuliana Rancic. “I obviously support my family, and not everything that’s been reported is fully accurate, so I think we’re waiting to get all the information. But of course, now is a time for listening and that’s what we’re all trying to do.”
And after NBC axed Matt Lauer in November over allegations of “inappropriate sexual behavior,” his colleagues Guthrie and Hoda Kotb were left to process the news on air. “It’s hard to reconcile what we are hearing with the man who we know, who walks in this building every single day,” Kotb said. Norah O’Donnell and Gayle King also struggled on air with news of their CBS colleague Charlie Rose’s suspension over alleged sexual misconduct. (“Both my son and my daughter called me; Oprah called me and said, ‘Are you OK?’” King lamented. “I am not OK.”)
Sarah Silverman earlier broke her silence on Louis C.K., her friend of 25 years who’d copped to having masturbated in front of women without their consent. “I love Louis, but Louis did these things. Both of those statements are true,” she said on her Hulu talk show, “I Love You, America.” “So I just keep asking myself: Can you love someone who did bad things?” Lena Dunham took the opposite approach, defending a “Girls” writer accused of rape before apologizing for weighing in on the matter.
Each of the prominent men accused in recent months of making unwanted sexual advances — Harvey Weinstein, journalist Mark Halperin, ex-prez George H.W. Bush and Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, to scratch the surface — has family and friends no doubt wrestling with similar pain, defiance and doubt. You may also find yourself in such a position. So what do you do?
“This is really hard stuff,” said Vaile Wright, a licensed psychologist at the American Psychological Association who has researched sexual harassment and sexual violence extensively. “These are important conversations to have, and part of why we don’t have these conversations is that they’re so hard and uncomfortable.”
Here’s expert advice from Wright and Debra Borys, a Los Angeles-based psychologist and sexual harassment expert, on how to handle a friend or loved one who’s been accused of sexual harassment or assault:
Resist the knee-jerk impulse to defend. “When we immediately defend a person, it comes across as if we’re defending their actions,” Wright said — and it’s important to separate the essence of a person from the bad acts they may commit. Instead, try to help people understand the difference. “One does not need to be defined by a single bad act,” she said. “It doesn’t erase everything that you’ve done up to that point.”
Give yourself time to process. You’re likely percolating with some “scary, diametrically opposed and contradictory feelings,” said Borys. Allow yourself to feel those conflicting emotions without judging yourself one way or the other, Wright said. And recognize that your feelings may change over time, especially if new bad behavior comes to light, your self-reflection dredges up past offenses you didn’t call out in the moment, or the person does or doesn’t take steps toward accountability.
Talk to someone. Seek feedback from a trusted confidante, Wright suggested — preferably a person who is “relatively open-minded and nonjudgmental,” and who will “listen without immediately going to giving advice or telling you what to do.”
Ask yourself some tough questions, Borys said: If you feel obligated to stand by your friend, at what point would you no longer do that? Why draw the line there and not here? What determines your level of tolerance? Is there anything in your own personal history of harassment or abuse that could be coloring your perception of either the victim or the accused?
Take time before confronting the person. Approach them “when you feel the most capable of communicating your thoughts without engaging in blaming statements,” Wright said, and opt for in-person, phone or even handwritten communications over social media. Identify your objective for the talk: “If your goal is to get them to admit to something that they’re not ready to admit to, you’re probably not going to be very successful,” she said. “If your goal is to express to them your disappointment, then that’s something that is in your control to do.”
Don’t attack the person, Borys said, even if they rightly deserve your rage. Be authentic, using simple phrases like “I have heard this,” “You have been accused of this,” “I’m having a hard time reconciling this” and “Can you tell me what’s going on?” suggested Wright, and realize they may or may not be truthful. Listen for the “music” in between their words, Borys added: Do they seem contrite and self-reflective, or defensive and disparaging of their alleged victim(s)?
Decide whether you want to maintain the relationship. Consider the act itself — for example, a lone transgression might be more forgivable than a longstanding pattern of bad behavior, Wright said — as well as the level of your relationship with the person and the degree to which they’ve expressed remorse or tried to make amends. “If you’re the kind of person who can support a perpetrator towards moving towards accountability and better behavior, while still maintaining your own feelings of disappointment … I think we do need people who can do that,” she said. Alternatively, your friend may benefit from talking to a mental health professional.
Remember: It’s your choice to speak publicly about this. “You don’t have to answer questions that people ask you. You don’t have to justify your friendship with somebody,” said Wright. “That being said, when we don’t come forward and condemn or provide our opinion, then it has the potential to maintain that status quo — that we don’t talk about this sort of stuff, that it should all stay hidden. So there’s two sides of that coin.”
This article was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated.
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