(To hear my Cancel Me, Baby! podcast episodes on this with behind-the-scenes stories and input, check out PT 1 on IGTV, YouTube, Spotify, or Apple, and PT 2 on IGTV, YouTube, Spotify, or Apple. As always, please share.)
Author: Taylor Ferber
Four years ago, countless A-listers donned black dresses and Time’s Up pins at the Golden Globes, gloating with pride like no pageant girl you’ve ever seen. 6.9 million people tuned in to watch. I was there. As a red carpet reporter, I documented the event with passionate social media posts about how monumental this would be for women and my future daughters, while I challenged the Hollywood elite to keep the momentum by walking the walk and naming more sexual predators. I even called out celebrities’ and E!’s hypocrisy around Me Too in Huffington Post.
You’d think four years later the morale would be stronger. But unfortunately, like our culture’s ability to have a disagreement, my optimism has dried up. More than ever, I hope I will never have a loved one who survives an assault and needs to tell their story. I fear they wouldn’t be believed. And we can thank the media for that.
Recently, Business Insider published a story on Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy attempting to peg him for sexual misconduct, called, “‘I was literally screaming in pain’: Young women say they met Dave Portnoy for sex and it turned violent and humiliating.” It paints Portnoy as a racist and misogynist while highlighting two women who allege him as being rough and traumatizing during sex. But unlike recounted stories about convicted felons like R. Kelly and Harvey Weinstein, it seems the experiences were consensual. They recount “sliding” into Portnoy’s DMs and communicating with him for weeks.
Full disclosure: I met with Dave Portnoy last year about a pitch I had for Barstool, but it didn’t happen. So I’m not in bed with him (no pun intended) and don’t inherently have a stake in defending him. But when I see mainstream media, like Gawker, calling him a “piece of shit,” it feels a little aggressive.
Oddly enough, I was also in contact with BI this spring who was interested in an Op-Ed I’d penned on my Chrissy Teigen bullying experience and cancel culture. I turned it down because I felt they wanted a story that painted me as a victim which wasn’t what I wanted, and the piece ultimately ran in USA Today.
Almost immediately after BI’s piece on Portnoy was published, he posted a video speaking for himself by clarifying and denying the allegations. In an era of woke tribalism and threatening people into silence, I respected his refusal to stay quiet. His fans flooded his account showing support. But they also revealed feelings I wasn’t at all surprised by: fatigue around women “speaking out.”
There’s valid concern for men, like Portnoy, being guilty until proven innocent at the sight of one allegation that may or may not be true yet could destroy their life faster than you can say ivermectin. Hastily skewering men doesn’t actually help Me Too, but instead has created a tidal wave of people discrediting women, including those with legitimate claims that can’t be dismissed.
I don’t know what these women’s motivations are or what really happened, and none of us may ever know. This actually isn’t on them. It’s on BI for putting them in such an exposed position with a piece that has a clear bias and seemingly botched reporting.
While we’re at it, where are the exposés on infamous womanizers like Leo DiCaprio or Colin Farrell? Or on celebrities with women half their age like David Foster and Zach Braff? Last I checked, they’re celebrated. I’m not judging them. But the media is awfully particular about who they target in this arena.
Portnoy and his fans questioned if this is because he interviewed Trump and has been on Tucker Carlson. It’s been all of five minutes since the Time’s Up organization’s downfall due to exposed alliances it had with elites like Andrew Cuomo. It seems political affiliation superseded alleged victims. And it painted the cause as a complete and utter joke to anyone with a pulse. Especially someone who saw it unfold from its seemingly humble beginnings, like me.
I also don’t like how the piece and others about it portray these women as weak and incapable during their encounters with Portnoy. None of this is black and white. But if at that age, they have the right to consent to life-altering decisions like fighting in war, getting an abortion, or permanently changing their gender, it really doesn’t serve women to act as if they don’t have authority when it comes to sexual consent — or saying no.
The piece was also put behind a paywall. If these stories are important, why make people cough up change for them? Ronan Farrow would never. Portnoy subsequently invited the BI team on his podcast for a fair, open discussion they could use however they’d like, yet they turned it down to let the story “speak for itself.”
I want to see this toxic cancel culture disappear faster than David Copperfield, and love that Dave Portnoy is taking a stand while his pizza is flying off the shelves (his “One Bite” sales just outperformed any other weekend). What I can’t get behind is what the media has done to destroy what Me Too was supposed to be about.
These women will continue to get dragged because of a backlash against so many accusers. What happens when real victims of assault need attention, help, and resources? Ones who were forced against their will, perhaps drugged, coerced, or didn’t have a choice to consent? Harvey Weinstein had 87 accusers and was found guilty of rape. R. Kelly was found guilty of dozens of accusations, some including minors. Both went on for years.
In late 2019, I interviewed a handful of R. Kelly survivors. Their plea to women, especially powerful famous women, to speak out in hopes of saving and protecting people like themselves was strong and sincere. “You gotta encourage the nobodies to tell their stories so the somebodies can acknowledge it,” Faith Rodgers said. Because speaking up matters. It carries significant weight. It’s not meant to be tokenized, weaponized, or thrown around haphazardly.
That’s why I encourage BI and the mainstream media to think twice about its motivations and who and what they amplify, if they really want to help women — to report fairly on factual, non-consensual or illegal abuse with full transparency. I want the nobodies to be taken seriously and have the power of the somebodies. Not be blown off and mocked.
By the way, I pitched a piece with this input from R. Kelly survivors and their message to the Hollywood elite to every mainstream publication under the sun in November 2019. Business Insider was one of them. They didn’t pick it up. If you’re baffled by their priorities, so am I. For the sake of real victims, let’s hope they can sort them out.