My absolute favorite tabloid newspaper headline ever appeared in something called the Weekly World News: “3-Breasted Gal Joins Clinton as His New Intern.” I still have a copy somewhere. Supposedly, the former president hired the “three-bosomed bombshell” after Hillary got caught cuddling with a space alien.
Alas, the more colorful supermarket tabloids are on the way out, victims of the Internet age, along with theoretically more serious publications like Vanity Fair and The New York Times. Titillating gossip about the sexual sins of movie stars, TV celebrities, athletes and politicians has been replaced by impassioned brawls about their moral fitness on social media.
Woody Allen, genius or pervert? Mia Farrow, mother of the century or virago? Dylan Farrow, victim then or victim now? And by whom? Almost everybody’s got an opinion, and it says here that nobody knows what they’re talking about. Sometimes it appears that the hardest words in the English language must be “I don’t know.”
Slate’s legal affairs correspondent Dahlia Lithwick put it best: “in the Court of Public Opinion there are no rules of evidence, no burdens of proof, no cross-examinations, and no standards of admissibility. There are no questions and also no answers….[it’s] what we used to call villagers with flaming torches. It has no rules, no arbiter, no mechanism at all for separating truth from lies.”
Journalism 101: Anybody can say anything about anybody else. That doesn’t mean it belongs in The New York Times. I question the professional ethics of Nicholas Kristof’s using his column to intervene in a friend’s brutal family dispute where he admittedly has no idea what happened. It’s a 20-year-old charge that was investigated and dropped. There’s no new evidence. The statute of limitations has run out. Other than revenge, what’s the point?
It’s an online rite of Dionysian celebrity sacrifice; a 21st-century pagan ritual, although not without its entertainment value. Previous to the Internet, who’d have known how many seers, augurs, necromancers and mind-readers live among us? Innocent or guilty? Let’s get out the Ouija board, throw the I-Ching, and fetch the dunking stool from the barn. Bind the witch and throw him in the pond. If he floats, we’ll hang him.
Comment lines can be amazing. Show me an entry beginning “As a board certified child psychiatrist,” and it’s 20 to 1 what’s coming: a few hundred words of factually-challenged speculation followed by an online diagnosis and a guilty verdict. Have Woody Allen’s films featured “a steady theme of a male protagonists finding love with a younger woman?” (Unlike, of course, Clint Eastwood’s.)
Very well then, he must be a pedophile.
News flash, frigid gentlewomen of the jury: ALL straight men find 19 year-old women desirable. They just don’t want to make fools of themselves.