Harvey Weinstein Is Not a Hyena: On Bret Stephens's Very Bad New York Times Column

Harvey Weinstein. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Harvey Weinstein is not a hyena.

Weinstein does not have nonretractable claws and striped fur and massive jaw muscles and an innate need to prey on foxes and birds and jackals and other animals for daily survival. Weinstein does not whoop and howl and hunt daily in the savannahs of Africa.

Weinstein is an adult man of 65 years, with the full capacity to exercise a moral compass and impulse control and whatever else is required to not harass or assault women with whom he interacts in the film industry.

This seems obvious but evidently needs to be explained to New York Times columnist/neoconservative-in-residence Bret Stephens, who describes his latest piece as "a defense, of sorts, for Harvey Weinstein."

A defense, of sorts, for Harvey Weinstein: https://t.co/CCTYKZUVP9

— Bret Stephens (@BretStephensNYT) October 12, 2017

Stephens's piece exhibits all the hallmarks of a bad New York Times column: a limp, offensive premise (that Weinstein's behavior is somehow defensible because the man "inhabited a moral universe" that enabled it); two or more consecutive sentences that begin with the word "perhaps"; a pathological need to defy liberal orthodoxy in search of profundity; a headline that includes the phrase "our culture of [X]"; and, in the above tweet, an impressively terrible ratio of retweets to replies.

Less typically, it contains the most upsetting appearance of hyenas since The Lion King:

If you’re curious about exactly how Bret Stephens is going to absolve Harvey Weinstein of moral responsibility, I’ve got you covered pic.twitter.com/APnLyJuL7p

— Gabriel Roth (@gabrielroth) October 12, 2017

Weinstein, to be clear, can and should help his own nature, because—I don't know why this needs to be repeated so many times—he is not a hyena, nor any other member of the Hyaenidae family. (He is, for this reason, making a show of checking into rehab for "sex addiction.") And the Hollywood culture that enabled his abuse serves as context, not defense, for behavior that should plainly be indefensible.

Related: A timeline of failed attempts to expose Harvey Weinstein's behavior

It should be emphasized that hyenas do not enter rehab for "sex addiction."

Here is a picture of a hyena:

One of the two hyenas that survived the Ivorian post-electoral crisis stands in its cage at the Ivory Coast's Abidjan Zoo in July 2011. ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images

Here is a picture of Harvey Weinstein:

Among Stephens's other insights: Weinstein was "just another libidinous cad in a libertine culture," and his nauseating excuse of having come of age in the 1960s and '70s, when such behavior was accepted, "contains its truth." It is strange how much this attempt to absolve Weinstein of wrongdoing dispenses with the fetishized conservative doctrine of "personal responsibility."

Anyway, Stephens joined the Times the month before the newspaper eliminated the public editor role, apparently for good, which increasingly seems like a questionable decision. At his or her best, the public editor was well suited to address (or defend!) the sorts of pieces that seem to spring into being purely as grist for the Twitter outrage mill (see also: "Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation").

Like Stephens's previous greatest hits—including a willfully ignorant piece of climate change denialism—this latest column succeeds in sparking conversation, though many of these conversations begin and end with "Bret Stephens should not be employed by The New York Times." (Elsewhere, in previous venues, the columnist has dismissed campus rape statistics and told Vox that he believes Black Lives Matter has "thuggish elements.")

this is like lindsay lohan without the intellectual heft and cogency https://t.co/d8CemTmNTp

— Philip Gourevitch (@PGourevitch) October 12, 2017

The only "liberal conspiracy" I possibly believe is that the NYTimes picks the dumbest possible conservatives for their op-ed slots. https://t.co/x8wbHweYft

— Nicole Cliffe (@Nicole_Cliffe) October 12, 2017

Those who question the utility of a well-paid columnist using the platform of a prestigious newspaper to halfheartedly defend a serial abuser will probably be labeled opponents of "ideological diversity." Which is not fair, considering the Times op-ed staff's ideological diversity does not usually extend to socialists or leftist thinkers or Muslim-American writers or young people. This phrase—"ideological diversity"—is generally deployed as a friendly buzzword for buffoonish center-right mediocrity.

Stephens will continue to write tone-deaf polemics of this nature because it is his job, and the denizens of Twitter will continue to call for his dismissal.

Which probably won't happen, though if it does, the Spotted Hyena Project of the Ngorongoro Crater might be hiring.

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