As familiar as I am with the pastime of giving white men maximum credit for minimum effort, even I was taken aback by this recent Vanity Fair headline: “Matt Lauer Is Planning His Comeback.”
To the credit of Hilary Weaver, who wrote the piece, she was only going off of a Page Six report that included a little tidbit about the former Today show host ousted by NBC News over allegations of sexual harassment late last year. According to a source, “Lauer is said to be testing the waters for a public comeback by coming out of hiding from his Hamptons home.” Now that his marriage is over, friends told the Post, “he’s ready to restart his life.”
In other words, Matt Lauer went outside. Is that really a comeback? Not to be pedantic, but words mean things and it sounds like all the man did was show his face. To quote my beloved Mariah Carey, uh, ya thirsty, media. Not long after reading the Lauer headline, I soon discovered there were other recent stories touting purported comebacks for high profile men whose stars have fallen in the #MeToo era.
Stuart Miller wrote Louis C.K.’s comeback profile for The Hollywood Reporter, which features various comedians and comedy club owners debating how C.K.’s career can rebound. “I don’t think people want this to be a life sentence,” Comedy Cellar owner Noam Dworman remarks, before making the prediction that C.K. will return within a year, “making fun of his mistakes.” Eileen Koch, founder of the branding and public relations firm Eileen Koch & Company, argues that he wouldn’t even have to wait that long if he offered a sincere apology.
Similarly, the New York Times’ Kim Severson wrote a piece headlined “Disgraced by Scandal, Mario Batali Is Eyeing His Second Act.” It notes that Batali, who declined to be interviewed for some unimaginable reason (like not being dumb enough to talk right now—particularly when others are doing the work for you), “is traveling to Rwanda and Greece to work with refugees as a private citizen.”
I know there ain’t nothing going on but the rent, but with all due respect to these writers and publications: WYD?! How can folks already be talking about comebacks for men who have barely been out of the spotlight?
Let’s recap: In early November, the New York Times revealed that numerous women had accused Louis C.K. of jerking off in front of them at random and without invitation, leading to several media companies to cut all ties with the comedian. Weeks later, Matt Lauer was fired by NBC News after women went public with accusations of harassment and abuse of power (some of which was facilitated by a button under his desk that allowed him to lock his door from the inside while seated). The next month, Mario Batali announced a leave of absence following an expose in Eater outlining a constellation of sexual harassment allegations, including grabbing women’s breasts and butts, demanding that a woman straddle him, and inquiring whether a female employee was a lesbian.
All these allegations span from several years to several decades. And yet, less than a year after facing any type of consequence for their alleged harassment, these men are enjoying talks of a comeback in major media outlets.
Even Billy Bush—who was booted from NBC following the discovery of a tape in which then-reality star Donald Trump boasted that when it comes to women, his celebrity allows him to “grab ‘em by the pussy”—had to at least wait a year before trying to launch his redemption tour. Perhaps it’s because he’s a less public figure than the aforementioned men, but it feels unfair all the same.
Matt Lauer stepped out in the fresh air, but has he undergone therapy? Has he reached out to his victims in an effort to make amends? Has he deeply thought about the pain he inflicted on his female subordinates through the years? Apparently, Lauer is “truly devastated” and “wants to make up for anything he has done to hurt people,” but wanting to and actually doing so are two different things. He is free to go outside as he pleases, but keep his ass off my TV and stop trying to push a narrative that fast-tracks a potential return.
And has Louis C.K. thought about the trauma he’s said to have inflicted on many women over the course of his career? I haven’t heard a peep. Stop suggesting apologies and bits on his next special. Let that man figure it out on his own. It’s the least he could do.
When asked about his accused behavior in the Eater expose, Mario Batali said: “I apologize to the people I have mistreated and hurt. Although the identities of most of the individuals mentioned in these stories have not been revealed to me, much of the behavior described does, in fact, match up with ways I have acted.” Yes, he said he took “full responsibility” and is a”deeply sorry for any pain, humiliation or discomfort I have caused,” but the fact remains: He couldn’t even match the accusations to specific victims because the number of them is seemingly that high. As we talk of his “comeback,” I’d love to know if he’s managed to recall every woman he is said to have harassed.
What does it say about us and this movement that it takes a very long time for predatory men to face repercussions, only to realize that some of them may ultimately face miniscule consequences? This is already the case for L.A. Reid, who was ousted by Epic Records for sexual harassment, only to secure a reported $75 million in funding for a new label venture. That label, announced in March, has already signed Big Boi of Outkast fame.
The #MeToo movement has already lagged in holding predatory men accountable in the music industry, but it would be a shame to see its progress tainted by assigning these men redemption narratives that they haven’t even earned. The rush to forgive those who have not made clear they deserve forgiveness suggests that the movement has a long way to go in convincing the masses of the severity of predatory behavior.
I am not suggesting we consign these men to being social pariahs for the rest of their lives. This isn’t about total banishment and isolation. I appreciate the power of forgiveness and I believe in rehabilitation. But rehabilitation depends on genuine reflection and time and work. It’s not just a well-executed PR campaign. If you don’t understand that, you are part of the problem.
I’m sure the likes of Matt Lauer and these other men would very much like to “restart their lives,” but we all need to exercise greater sensitivity to the lives of those harmed by their actions. We owe it to them, and to all the other women that have endured abuse. The #MeToo movement has caused men to now more than ever question their behavior, and more importantly, the consequences of their actions; to fasttrack the redemption narrative for men who have been held accountable undermines that. If we allow these high profile men to get a slap on the wrist, other men will think they will enjoy the same perks. And ultimately, that will just go to show how little regard we still have for survivors.