On Monday night, John Oliver hosted a panel to mark the 20th anniversary of the acclaimed political satire Wag The Dog, leading a discussion with the film’s producer Jane Rosenthal, director Barry Levinson, and stars Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. But what was most likely billed as a light conversation quickly turned into a heated argument when Oliver began pressing Hoffman about the multiple allegations of sexual harassment against him.
Oliver began to allude to the accusations made by Anna Graham Hunter, who recently said that, when she was a 17-year-old intern working on the set of the 1985 TV movie adaptation of Death of a Salesman, Hoffman had groped her and made sexually explicit comments at her. (You can watch the confrontation in the video below.)
After accusing Oliver of making “an incredible assumption” about him, Hoffman stated, according to the Washington Post and Variety, “I still don’t know who this woman is. I never met her; if I met her it was in concert with other people.” He repeated that he felt he didn’t do anything wrong:
He said he had not engaged in groping, didn’t recall meeting Graham Hunter and that all his comments on set were simply how members of “a family” talked to one another.
This response is a slight departure from his initial reaction (though not by much!) to Graham Hunter’s allegations, which was, “I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
To his credit, Oliver didn’t let up, taking issue with Hoffman’s statement:
“It’s ‘not reflective of who I am’ — it’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “It is reflective of who you were. If you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. It feels like a cop-out to say ‘it wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
Another fun interaction:
“Do you believe this stuff you read?” Hoffman asked.
“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because there’s no point in [an accuser] lying.”
“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman said.
“Oh Dustin,” Oliver said disapprovingly, putting his head in his hand.
Rosenthal even jumped in, in an attempt to move on from the conversation, citing the fact that Harvey Weinstein didn’t produce and Kevin Spacey didn’t star in Wag The Dog as a testament to Hoffman’s character, imploring Oliver to “look at real sexual criminal predators.”
Then, in an incredible display of missing the point, Hoffman cited his work in Tootsie as evidence that he was indeed a friend of women, perhaps even a feminist.
“I would not have made that movie if I didn’t have an incredible respect for women,” Hoffman said. “The theme of the movie is he became a better man by having been a woman.”
Ladies and gentlemen, the Tootsie Defense: When men cite an extremely basic revelation about women made when partaking in an ostensibly pro-woman project as evidence for a near-biological incapability to disrespect women.
He said he had an awakening of sorts when, dressed as a woman for that film, he was ignored by some men on the set. “I said when I came home to my wife that I never realized men were that were brutal, that men are that obvious,” Hoffman recounted. “They didn’t find me attractive and they just erased me.”
It’s really impressive that Oliver took the opportunity to confront Hoffman and bring the conversation we have all been having over the last couple months straight to one of the accused. Oliver said he did think about ignoring the allegations completely and just holding a discussion about the movie, but thought again:
“I can’t leave certain things unaddressed,” the host said. “The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why the…didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”
It just goes to show how empty the immediate apologies offered by the men who have been accused of sexual misconduct and/or their publicists really are, how much men in power are unwilling to actually address the root of their behavior, and how important it is to continue to hold those in power accountable.