Another week another daft article in the Guardian (here). This time, Moira Donegan (author of the Shitty-Media Men spreadsheet), argues that we are in an antifeminist backlash that is silencing women. Opening the discussion with the defamation lawsuit brought against Amber Heard is not a good place to start if you want to make that argument. The case was not, as Moira seems to think, about a powerful man shutting down allegations against him but about defamation. That is, making false allegations. After hearing all the evidence, the jury decided that Amber’s allegations were not believable. It was not a free speech issue.
Moira’s simplistic idea that Amber was operating against a more powerful man requires further scrutiny. In the wake of MeToo and BelieveAllWomen, Amber had immense power. For example, she only had to point the finger at Johnny Depp for her allegations to be believed and promoted by the ACLU without further questions or investigation. The Washington Post also reproduced the allegations without further examination or enquiry. That is real societal power, the capacity to ruin a career on the basis of an unfounded allegation and Amber paid the price for misusing that power. If there is an injustice it is that the ACLU and the Washington Post haven’t also paid the price.
Amber Heard knew she could physically attack Johnny Depp and she would be safe because nobody would believe him. Amber’s recorded words, after she had hit Johnny Depp, also tell of the power she possessed.“Tell the world, Johnny, tell them: ‘I, Johnny Depp, a man, I’m a victim too of domestic violence,’ and see how many people believe or side with you.” That was power within a relationship. Amber thought there was an asymmetry operating and that she could abuse Johnny because his complaints, unlike hers, would never be taken seriously. She was so nearly right.
Moira Donegan is an alumna of Bard College a private American Liberal Arts college. I don’t know what subject she studied there but she appears to have a pretty standard set of ‘progressive’ beliefs so I wonder if it was English Literature or one of the ‘grievance studies’ subjects. Moira came to fame in the wake of MeToo and BelieveAllWomen when she published the ‘Shitty Media Men’ spreadsheet which named media men, where they worked, together with their alleged misdeeds which included harassment, stalking, rape and physical intimidation. The problem was the lack of evidence to support many of these allegations. Despite this, the damage to the careers of many men was immediate and far-reaching. For example, (read the account here) Mike Tunison was on this list, but to this day he denies all of the charges. If you look at the image below, taken from his article you will see that he was a freelance journalist so he would have had no ‘power,’ no security of employment and he was probably leading a hand-to-mouth existence. He was accused of stalking, harassment and physical intimidation but he does not know who made these claims or on what basis. Also, according to the spreadsheet, an HR file relating to the issues had been compiled at the Washington Post. This gave the impression that some sort of due process had been followed – it had not and there was no such file and he has never been afforded an opportunity to defend himself. Despite this, his work in journalism dried up, and Mike now works as a janitor.
Now, another man who was named on the list, Stephen Elliott, is suing Donegan for libel and emotional distress. According to the Shitty-Men spreadsheet, multiple women had accused him of physical sexual violence, a claim that Stephen denies. Moira has used the same defence that media giants such as Facebook and Twitter use, that she was merely enabling 3rd party content. Although Elliott doesn’t have evidence that securely places Donegan as soliciting the evidence accusing him of rape, the judge has ruled that evidence destruction in the form of deleted communications and lack of recall means she should face trail. Why would you delete evidence immediately after being accused of legal liability? The question will be, did Moira Donegan specifically encourage unlawful content? If she did, she may be found guilty.
I have no personal animus against Moira Donegan, I suspect she was immature, naive and the product of a dysfunctional education system. I hope she does not face the financial ruin that some of the accused men have experienced – Mike Tunison, for example. However, there are important issues that need to be aired in a court of law and, in turn, I hope that will encourage some nuanced discussion and balanced coverage of Moira Donegan’s actions in the better parts of the media, if not in The Guardian.
Feminists are wrong to cast this case and the Amber Heard defamation trial as freedom of speech issues. Amber and Moira are free to think and write anything they like about men, our newspapers are full of that kind of thing. They are free to make accusations about a specific man. However, if those accusations are false and he suffers loss as a result, like anyone else, he is entitled to some remedy in the courts.
This case also brings to mind the differences between male and female forms of aggression. Men tend to be more physically violent though the overwhelming majority are not. Female aggression, on the other hand, tends to be more indirect and relies on reputational destruction and social exclusion and through these means, women wield immense social power. A type of power they may have misused in the form of the Shitty Media Men list.
It is true that powerful individuals, not always men, misuse libel laws to stifle dissent and scrutiny. A good example of that, in my opinion, was Aaron Banks’ unsuccessful attempt to sue Carole Cadwalladr. However, the case involving Moira is much more subtle than that and I await the outcome with interest.
*Postscript. Stephen Elliott has won his case and has received a six figure defamation settlement from Moira Donegan. I understand from the reporting of this case in Quillette that Moira, unlike some of the men she targeted, came from a wealthy background, so she should not face ruin. Moira has not just damaged herself but also the #MeToo movement. Feminist ire should be directed at her rather than Stephen Elliott.