Is there room for due process in the #MeToo movement?
That question is increasingly being asked as more allegations of sexual misconduct surface and both the accuser and the accused risk their careers and reputations rehashing decades-old allegations of harassment and rape.
On Monday, writer and podcaster Bob Lefsetz published an email he received from a woman alleging she was drugged and assaulted by a well-known music executive 15 years ago. Lefsetz sent the email accusation out to his thousands of email recipients as part of a series of letters he has received in the wake of recent allegations against Charlie Walk with Republic Records.
The letter that Lefsetz forwarded was actually a copy of a letter the accuser had sent to the accused back in November as the #MeToo movement was picking up steam. Because of the nature of the allegation, I’ve decided not to name either person. I’m not sure how Bob’s site works, but we are indexed by Google News and any mention of either name would be impossible to undo, putting both individual’s identity forever in the public domain. I have serious misgivings about how Lefsetz handled this story (more on that in a minute) and I think it’s best to refer to the parties as simply the male and the female.
This story begins late Monday when the female individual sent a letter to Bob — he’s received and published dozens of similar letters, although what stands out here is the female identified both herself and the accused male, telling Bob she was “roofied” after a show “confronted my attacker” and “bcc’d his whole team” but “didn’t hear one word back. I would love to get this email out.”
The November email, which the female sent to the male, says that after a concert “15 years ago” and a few drinks at a bar, the male “took me home and assaulted me in my downstairs bathroom on Hayes Street,” adding she “woke up fully clothed at 1pm with your semen all over my sweater and skirt. I then went to planned parenthood and had a rape kit done. I tried to hire a lawyer, but you hired a better one and my lawyer advised me to drop the case. I then had to retrieve my clothing from police custody where I dry cleaned your semen off my wool sweater.”
About two-and-a-half hours later, the male responded with his own letter which Bob published, saying “I had a one night consensual encounter” with the female “15 years ago, we have not spoken since that night. The day after our encounter I received a call from the police, which really freaked me out, saying she could not remember the end of the night, and what happened. I hired a lawyer, willing cooperated in every way, and this matter was dismissed.”
As I said earlier, the difference between what Bob published and what I just wrote is that Bob published both individuals names — it seems like he received the email and just forwarded it to his readers, perhaps allowing them to make up their own minds.
To me, and others I’ve spoken with, that seems irresponsible. I’m not sure if Bob considers himself a journalist or simply a writer of a letter, but it seems like he skipped two crucial steps when dealing with these allegations. First, he didn’t attempt to make contact with the female to get a little more context about her story. This could be helpful in making the decision whether or not to publish the accusations.
Second, he should have reached out to the male and at least attempted to allow him to share his side (the male’s response was only published after the initial allegation went public hours earlier). It seems Lefsetz did very little to vet or contextualize this accusation — he just blasted it out to thousands of people as if it were the top item of the day, his pick of mailbag musings to share with readers.
We offered Lefsetz a chance to respond to this piece — he didn’t write back. We also made contact with both the female and male involved and neither expressed interest in speaking to me, the male saying “I am surprised Bob would just post this, but what’s done is done.”
One thing Lefsetz might consider is that he could be sued for publishing the allegations without making any attempt to determine the truth. Neither party is a public figure and the standard for libel is much lower than if a celebrity was involved. Private individuals need only show that the accused defamer showed negligence in publishing a statement they argue is false. While it’s highly unlikely that the aforementioned male will sue Lefsetz (requiring the original rape allegation to be litigated) it could be used as evidence of a pattern of negligent behavior if someone else wants to challenge Lefsetz in the future.
Bottom line, Lefsetz’s actions seem reckless when one considers the most basic standards of anyone in publishing (even if he argues he’s not a journalist) and I’m not sure it really advances the #MeToo Movement in any meaningful way. The whole episode is just one more moment of Bob looking to bring attention to Bob, consequences be damned.