Trying to absorb the latest mindless presidential attack on the First Amendment and the media outlets that don’t genuflect to him, it seemed a good day yesterday for a little therapy.

So, we watched Spotlight, the film about the Boston Globe’s expose of the scandal of child molestation by Catholic priests and the cover-up by the Boston Archdiocese.

We hadn’t seen the movie since it was released two years ago, and it seemed the perfect medicine for these troubling times, not just to cope with presidential tweets but to hope for a watershed moment that shows sexual harassment and abuse for what it – a cultural crisis.

The Messages

One, Spotlight is a reminder of how powerful institutions so often defend themselves at the expense of the people it exists to serve, particularly the most vulnerable.

Two, it is a reminder that there are people with authority who use the full clout of their institutions – even the federal government – to punish and deride people who dare speak the truth.

Three, it is a reminder of the reasons that people suffer in silence for decades rather than face the blowback and attacks from going public.

Four, it is a reminder of the importance of newspaper journalism in the life of this country and the price we are paying as the industry declines.

The chilling message of the movie – about how victims are victimized twice and marginalized by institutions intent on looking the other way.  Whether they take place in Hollywood, corporate suites, the military, or the nation’s capital, harassment and assault are intolerable.  Hopefully, they will now be punishable as well.

Inspirational Actions

It begins by all of us who are male reflecting on our own life experiences, to look back on our own actions, and to consider if workplaces have the rules that encourage victims to come forward, and equally important, to ensure that if complaints are made, the people lodging them are not later punished with missed opportunities and promotions.

It is incredible that in a country where the majority of us are husbands, brothers, and sons, institutional acceptance of the mistreatment of women has been accepted as just part of life.  We should take the time to ask the women in our lives for their own experiences with sexual innuendo, harassment, and groping, which most of the time was not even communicated to us.  This, most of all, says volumes about the pressures put on women to go along to get along, even to the point of putting up with boorish behavior, if not actual assault.

It is inspirational to see so many women stand up and say enough is enough.  We must stand with them.  A world in which our daughters and wives are subject to harassment is not a world we can justify or explain away.

The shame and guilt that traumatize victims – whether they are women competing on the job or boys violated by priests or teenaged women raped on dates – often lead them to remain mute, and more than anything, we need to insist on a culture where their voices are heard and where we want to be part of healing while changing a culture that has laughed off for way too long innuendoes, justified “boys will be boys” behavior, and used the system to threaten anyone who upsets the status quo.

Men’s Rights

That the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has rolled roll back Title IX protections in higher education for victims of sexual assault and harassment should have all of us marching in the street.  The change in Obama Administration policy dismantled protections for victims at a time when universities were making significant progress in combating rape and sends the message that our federal government has become an apologist for violence against women.  Even more, the change in policy bought into the lie that there is a large-scale problem of treating accused rapists too severely.

Universities that cared for their students welcomed the requirements and put in place policies that ended the days when sexual assaults were swept under the rub.  We are hopeful that these universities will keep in place the processes that will comply with the Title IX regulations that required them to avoid any form of discrimination if they are receiving federal funds.

Hopefully, somewhere, someone will create a list of universities that have reverted to the old ways of doing things so women are armed with the information when they select where to attend college.  Mrs. DeVos’ changes came after meetings with the so-called “men’s rights” groups and she clearly adopted their position that most of these rapes are just sex that accusers regret.

Soon, the fight will likely turn to a backlash arguing that the accusations have gone too far.  That is to say that changing the culture – in the face of federal agencies determined to keep them the same – will not easy, but it is the fight of our generation and we cannot lose.

Targeting News Reporters

Speaking of the federal government, another reason we were watching Spotlight was to purge as much as possible President Donald Trump’s latest tweet: “Fox News is MUCH more important in the United States than CNN, but outside of the U.S., CNN International is still a major source of (Fake) news, and they represent our Nation to the WORLD very poorly. The outside world does not see the truth from them!”

CNN quickly answered, first, by pointing out that it’s not its job to represent the U.S. to the world but to report the news objectively and professionally, and second, by putting together a powerful video clip of its reporters in war zones, in countries ruled by authoritarian governments, in refugee camps, in hospitals being bombed, and a place where human beings were being auctioned.








On most days we shake our heads once again at the bully-in-chief or laugh off the latest easily disproven lie, but tweets that can have the effect of putting targets on the backs of American reporters doing their jobs in hostile environments are not humorous in the least.

His tweet attacking CNN International came on the exact day and only four hours after President Vladimir Putin cracked down on foreign media in Russia.  It’s not hard to imagine that the former KGB agent feels like he has now been given a green light to go even further by the president of the country that enshrined press freedom in the First Amendment to its Constitution.

Already, our foreign policy shifts have notified countries suppressing their citizens’ freedoms that the United States’ policies are not anchored in programs advocating democratic reforms and press freedom.  “It’s none of our business” is the new mantra for the U.S. foreign policy and it’s no wonder that positive democratic developments of previous years are at risk or are being undone.

The Fatal Flaw

We’re not saying that American foreign policy has not been fraught with its own set of missteps over the decades, but the notion that we would give up our traditional commitment to democracy in exchange with helpful authoritarians as part of our counterterrorism goals will in the long run ricochet against us as a result of the growing power of violent extremism.

Then again, we should not be surprised by a Trump Administration that devalues democracy abroad.  After all, many of its policies, comments, and positions attack democratic institutions here at home, particularly the First Amendment, as part of the dark vision promoted by the president in his inauguration address.

The Administration’s brand of ethno-nationalism has a fatal flaw, because it imagines that calling for nations to act in their own self-interest is the same as promoting America’s national interest.  On one hand, Mr. Trump rails that other countries are taking advantage of the United States, and on the other, he urges them to do that even more.

The tell in how much the nation’s impact has already been diminished was seen in the fact that leaders of other major countries did not even attend the 72nd United National General Assembly to hear what he said.  The president’s spokespeople – who regularly tell us what he meant when he said something diametrically the opposite – said that he is more interested in outcomes than ideology.

Sadly, in his worldview, press freedom is ideology.


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