In an interesting Hollywood Reporter piece published yesterday, Stephen Galloway addresses media coverage of the sex scandals involving Harvey Weinstein and others. Galloway asks,
[M]ay I confess that I’m scared?
I’m terrified that, in our righteous quest to do good, we’re sweeping up the innocent as well as the guilty. We’re accepting allegations in the place of solid proof. We’re conflating those guilty of more minor crimes with perpetrators of egregious and even criminal behavior.
Journalists have a responsibility to stand firm, to not get swept up in the rush to judgment or the race to break a story, remembering that some of the most incendiary material — just like the McMartin allegations — may turn out to be less combustible than it seems. There’s a lot more fire behind the smoke today than there ever was in the McMartin case — the proof: Halperin, Spacey and others’ tentative apologies — but that doesn’t mean smoke is always accompanied by fire.
And yet most journalists are rushing forward without pause. And in doing so, they’re increasingly stretching the limits of what’s acceptable to report, breaching the thick wall between gossip and fact.
I share these concerns (see my two most recent posts), but have been thinking about a different part of the problem — the extent to which private entities such as employers, before terminating or otherwise repudiating an accused employee, should ensure that potentially damaging allegations are fully investigated and that the accused person has a fair chance to dispute them. Galloway’s take, by contrast, is that journalists are falling down on the job in reporting this story, abandoning standards of professionalism under which “it was inconceivable to print such damning reports without having iron-clad facts, or without giving both sides a chance to air their stories. But [those standards have] altered in the course of three weeks [in the wake of first published reports about the allegations about Weinstein]. Faced with white-hot competition, we’re giving up tried-and-tested codes of conduct, knowing that if we don’t, we’ll lose the battle to get the story first.”