Beginning in late 2017, a slew of sexual harassment and abuse allegations brought down more than a few powerful men. But for the predators who avoided criminal charges in the #MeToo wave, merely being “canceled” — career derailed, legacy tarnished and pariah status conferred — a comeback was never out of the question. After all, the primary social critique of these guys is that the system enables and excuses their misconduct, turning it into an “open secret” that goes unpunished, no matter how often it’s brought to light.
The people working with TV journalist and interviewer Charlie Rose, for example, knew of his inappropriate advances on women in his orbit well before 35 of them came forward to make the details public in 2017 and 2018. So, although fired by CBS and PBS, Rose stood ready for a redemption arc that would affirm the premise of institutional indifference. He’d gotten away with the groping and lewd comments for years; what was to stop him from securing yet another pass? Only the memory of his downfall. Given time, he might easily resurface as if nothing happened. And that’s more or less what he’s doing now.
While celebrities like Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson have gone on the offensive to discredit their accusers with defamation suits, cheered on by obsessive fans, Rose has opted for a quieter approach befitting an 80-year-old broadcaster: going back to the work he’s known for and trusting that the air of respectability he once enjoyed in that role will return. Since April, he’s shared four new videos on his personal website, interviews with people including billionaire investor Warren Buffett and actress Isabella Rossellini — to admiring comments from viewers who are glad to welcome him “back.” The reason he was gone is not mentioned, leaving only the sense that he was lost to the wilderness for a vague while.
Rose isn’t alone in this stealth strategy of non-rehabilitation. Jeffrey Toobin was reinstated at CNN eight months after exposing himself to New Yorker co-workers during a Zoom call. Former Senator Al Franken, who has been accused of harassment by nine women, says he regrets resigning over it — and other lawmakers now see their calls for his ouster as a mistake. This year, he hinted he might run for office again. These reversals depend on a cultural amnesia that minimizes offense and muddies the specifics of many similar stories. Who can remember exactly what any of these creeps did, or how extensive the pattern of their bad behavior was? The Harvey Weinsteins stand out as monstrous while the Toobins, Frankens and Roses come to seem harmless in comparison.
Rose, for his part, has reportedly written a 75-page treatise on why he deserves to return to the spotlight, but declined — wisely — to share it with the media. The statement is only for his highly placed friends and acquaintances. The rest of us, he knows, won’t entertain this defense, which we’d take instead as an opportunity to rehash his wrongdoing. Better not to rationalize but to slip back into the persona that defined him until the truth disrupted it. That way, there’s no forgiveness required, only passive acceptance. The familiar face, voice and intellectual role can overwhelm whatever fading impression people have of his “problematic” side.
Again, it’s just what the shrewdest commentators noted even as professional contrarians lamented the lives “destroyed” by #MeToo — that the consequences are minimal and rarely permanent. Empathy for the famous perpetrator exceeds that shown to the now-forgotten victims. Really, what did Rose suffer beyond a lengthy sabbatical? Look for other men like him to return from leaves of absence as well. None of them has the decency to stay hidden forever.