Former President George H.W. Bush had to respond to allegations Wednesday after a second actress accused him of inappropriately touching her while he was sitting in his wheelchair during a photo op. Actress Jordana Grolnick had a similar story to that of "Turn" star Heather Lind, telling Deadspin, "I’m afraid that mine is entirely similar.”
In a now deleted Instagram post published Tuesday, Lind wrote that she was "disturbed today by a photo I saw of President Barack Obama shaking hands with George H. W. Bush in a gathering of ex-presidents." Lind went on to write that when she met Bush while promoting her TV show "Turn," the former president "sexually assaulted" her while she was posing for a photo.
"He didn't shake my hand. He touched me from behind from his wheelchair with his wife Barbara Bush by his side. He told me a dirty joke. And then, all the while being photographed, touched me again," Lind wrote.
Deadspin reported that rumors about Bush groping actresses in this manner have existed for quite sometime. Deadspin reported receiving a tip over a year ago that Bush would grope actresses and tell them that his favorite magician was “David Cop-a-Feel.”
Bush spokesperson Jim McGrath provided the following statement in response to the reports:
At age 93, President Bush has been confined to a wheelchair for roughly five years, so his arm falls on the lower waist of people with whom he takes pictures. To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke — and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.
The 41st president of the United States has become not only an unlikely figure amidst a flurry of sexual harassment and assault allegations made against powerful men, but a flashpoint of sometimes fiery contention.
Unlike abusers such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill O'Reilly, the outrage over Bush's actions have not exactly been universal. Indeed, much of the outrage surrounding this story has been directed at both Lind and Grolnick.
Take, for instance, veteran NBC News reporter Andrea Mitchell, who defended Bush in a tweet, noting that he has Parkinson's syndrome.
Mrs Bush was at his side. He is in a wheelchair with Parkinson's syndrome. Really? Someone should be ashamed and it isn't '41. https://t.co/CGhy8yNX5i
— Andrea Mitchell (@mitchellreports) October 26, 2017
She was not the only person to denounce Lind for speaking up about her experience. New York Post columnist John Podhoretz also didn't express any sympathy for the actress, instead tweeting, "Shame on her."
He's a 90 year old man in a wheelchair. Shame on her.
— John Podhoretz (@jpodhoretz) October 26, 2017
Bush's condition at 93-years-old has set off a debate on Twitter over when health and age becomes a factor in cases of sexual abuse. Some have posited that Mitchell and Podhoretz would have a different opinion if the victim was somebody they knew personally.
Yes, Bush's age and state of mind might be mitigating factors in this instance, even though it's never been made fully clear that he is indeed mentally incapacitated. There is a true and relevant question as to whether men who reach a certain age, who have certain diseases, can even control their impulses.
Yet, none of that should be used to incriminate Lind or Grolnick of any wrongdoing. The actresses merely relayed uncomfortable experiences they had with the former president, validating, it appears, other stories about him. No charges have been filed. No lawsuit is pending.
Soledad O'Brien spoke to this issue.
But, as she later explains, Lind and Grolnick are both allowed to feel violated.
Well both can be true. She can feel violated AND the elderly person can just be inappropriate as a function of age. https://t.co/bJRNtIo8rS
— Soledad O'Brien (@soledadobrien) October 26, 2017
As with most cases of sexual assault and harassment, these were uncomfortable and unacceptable situations. That the president's spokesperson has tried to delegitimize complaints made against him, by excusing his actions as "humor" or his "good-natured manner," makes it all that much worse and speaks to the issue of disbelief that fuels the ongoing harassment epidemic.
If there is one lesson we have learned this past year, it is that women should always feel comfortable addressing instances of sexual misconduct. Right now, people across the spectrum are making these two women feel very uncomfortable, just as the president did.