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Dear Media: Stop Grouping all Sexual Harassment Accusations Together

by Kristina Vakhman

I have to start this piece off by saying that there is no excuse for what Harvey Weinstein did. There is also no excuse for what Louis C.K. did. Or for what Charlie Rose did. You get the gist; the list goes on and on.

The #MeToo movement has unmasked these monsters. It is safe to assume that more of them will be revealed in the near future, too. Hiding in plain sight, some of these allegedly perverse beasts were people I considered role models before their horrendous actions were divulged from underneath their televised personas, like Rose, whose journalistic contributions I admired.

It is refreshing to now be in-the-know about those I used to look up to—to now have to rethink whose work I want to emanate when I graduate as a professional journalist. It is immeasurably crucial, especially in this line of work, to be informed. I am thus grateful to those who have spoken up.

However, as amazing as it is to see men and women gather the courage to voice their disturbing accounts, casting aside their fears to take down—with the help of good journalism—the predators who targeted them, one thing continues to bother me. This irksome feeling especially came to fruition when The Washington Post pictured two photos side-by-side: one of Senator Al Franken and the other of Alabama senatorial candidate, Roy Moore.

At the time this opinion was written, four women have come forward alleging Franken groped them without their consent. Again, there are no defenses to be made for this sort of behavior, especially when it comes to a political figure who has participated in drafting legislation to protect victims of sexual assault. The hypocrisy, if these allegations are true, is painfully hysterical.

In Moore’s case, nine women have accused him of sexual harassment. There is a stark difference, though, between Franken’s situation and Moore’s: while Franken’s delinquencies were limited to groping, Moore’s sexual misconduct crossed the line into pedophilic territory.

When he was a district attorney in Alabama, Moore allegedly sexually assaulted teenage girls as young as 14 years old. He went so far as to supposedly tell victim Beverly Young Nelson—who was 16 when Moore purportedly forced himself upon her in his car, grabbing her crotch and trying to force her face between his legs after giving her a ride home—not to speak about what had transpired between them because no one would believe her anyway.

Bias and political affiliation aside, there is a clear distinction in severity of crime between groping an adult woman and pursuing sexual relations with defenseless minors.

When The Washington Post published a side-by-side of these two cases, they executed a false equivalency. When other media outlets issue unnecessary comparisons between the circumstances surrounding the accusations against Franken and Moore, they send a sense of false equivalency as well. Equalizing Franken and Moore tries the crimes in a duplicate manner when they are enormously at variance; while both men’s actions are inexcusable, they are not the same.

It does not matter what the initial intention behind these works is; most readers unfortunately only digest the headline and its corresponding photo(s), not bothering to read the adjacent article that can be accessed with an extra tap or click. Consequently, the fallacious equity then pools in readers’ minds.

This malpractice is a symptom of sensationalism: these serious instances of sexual misconduct are overhyped as different outlets compete to outdo each other in viewership and subscriptions. The news is a business; there is the constant pressure to be the first organization to publish a story and to be the one with the most customers. The truth is manipulated along the way, either by the published works themselves or by the consumers who twist the facts and give the lies lives of their own.

Sensationalism will not stop in the news media, not even if it means people’s abilities to differentiate the austerity of two separate cases will be distorted or that pedophilia is placed on the same level as groping—the latter, by the way, is incredibly dangerous, as it trivializes how seriously demented pursuing sexual encounters with minors is.

You can put Weinstein and C.K. and Rose in the same basket. However, Franken does not compare to them, nor does he come close to Moore and his pedophilic promiscuity. The media needs to stop making it seem like Franken—and those like him—are the same.

What Franken did was wrong, but not a disrobing-and-kissing-and-fondling-a-14-year-old level of wrong.