The Liberal Conspiracy of Silence Protected More Than Eric Schneiderman

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman / Getty Images
May 8, 2018

As politicians and reporters alike were reeling from the news that four women had accused Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of physical and emotional abuseNew York Times justice reporter Katie Benner drew attention to one passage that really drives home why the prominent Trump critic survived as long as he did.

"There’s long been a conspiracy of silence around 'progressive' men who abuse women," Benner tweeted, highlighting this infuriating testimony from one of the women abused by Schneiderman:

After the former girlfriend ended the relationship, she told several friends about the abuse. A number of them advised her to keep the story to herself, arguing that Schneiderman was too valuable a politician for the Democrats to lose. She described this response as heartbreaking.

Benner isn't some conservative hack. On the contrary, she just won the Pulitzer Prize as part of the Times team reporting on workplace sexual harassment. If anyone can speak with authority about conspiracies of silence, progressive or otherwise, it's probably her.

Of course, there have been a host of recent stories indicating we don't need to take Benner's word for it that far too often, progressive men and women prioritize their politics over victims. When two Center for American Progress staffers reported their boss for sexual harassment, the liberal nonprofit responded by retaliating against one and then failing to inform the man's new employer that credible allegations had been made against him.

HuffPost likewise reported that a 2004 Howard Dean staffer told her boss during the presidential campaign that a co-worker tried to rape her, only for the male staffer to face no consequences.

"What if it goes public and takes down the campaign?" one Dean staffer said, trying to account for how that happened. "No one wants to be the story or be part of the story that takes down their candidate." Despite six separate people telling HuffPo they were aware of the attempted rape at the time, he went on to be a progressive star for close to a decade.

Then there was the revelation that Hillary Clinton was informed one of her advisors was accused of sexual harassment, but shielded him anyway. Or the revelation that she tried to cancel an interview with Ronan Farrow because he was reporting on Harvey Weinstein's history of rape, which came after another revelation that her campaign was supposedly warned about Weinstein.

Even when prominent liberals are publicly accused of sexual assault, the wall of silence from those who purport to advocate on behalf of women is deafening. It was Gloria Steinem who summed up the liberal feminist defense of Bill Clinton for the New York Times in 1998. Confronted with allegations from White House volunteer Kathleen Willey that Clinton grabbed her breast and rubbed his erection against her without her will, and from Paula Jones that Clinton showed her his genitals and demanded oral sex, Steinem wrote that "even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment."

Steinem didn't bother hiding that the feminists of the day brushed off the allegations because of Clinton's stance on abortion. "If President Clinton were as vital to preserving freedom of speech as he is to preserving reproductive freedom, would journalists be condemned as 'inconsistent' for refusing to suggest he resign? Forget it," she argued.

Steinem was the worst offender, but for decades bringing up the fact that the Democrats' most powerful and popular surrogate was credibly accused of abusing women was treated like some embarrassing fringe theory. It was "a discredited and long-denied accusation," MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell might tell you, or maybe "decades old and discredited," per ABC's Tom Llamas. "Let's not go there," CNN's Brooke Baldwin might lecture you. Just shut up, okay?

When the mea culpas finally came, it was after Hillary Clinton lost her long-expected presidential run and there was little to be gained from protecting Bill. Even Democratic New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand eventually came out and said that Clinton should've resigned the presidency.

Gillibrand then showed even more "bravery" by ignoring a woman accusing her fellow Democratic senator Al Franken of sexual misconduct and another woman accusing Al Franken of sexual misconduct and another woman accusing Al Franken of sexual misconduct and another woman accusing Al Franken of sexual misconduct and another woman accusing Al Franken of sexual misconduct and another woman accusing Al Franken of sexual misconduct, but then leading a campaign to oust him when a seventh woman accused Al Franken of sexual misconduct.

Even for that belated effort to oust Franken after being basically embarrassed into it by Republicans, Gillibrand has been punished by several powerful female donors, who tell reporters they'll no longer donate to her. "She shouldn't even bother to call," said one. In a similar vein, one Minnesota Democrat was punished by donors not for denouncing Franken, but for outing her own abuser, on the theory that "softened the ground" for Franken's demise.

As with Clinton, liberal women even argued publicly that Franken should stick around. "I’m a feminist. I study rape culture. And I don’t want Al Franken to resign," read one Washington Post op-ed. The author, the host of a feminist podcast, was coldly calculated and consequentialist. While Franken would be replaced by a Democrat, she wrote, she was worried about setting a precedent for a case where a Democrat accused of sexual harassment would be replaced by a Republican governor.

Let that sink in. A so-called feminist wrote a piece siding with an accused sexual offender over women, not because it would set back the liberal cause today, but because she might need to protect a hypothetical future liberal. Now that's commitment to the code of silence.