Let us not praise famous men: Too early to forgive male celebrities taken down by #MeToo

Redemption might be on the horizon for Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Mario Batali and Matt Lauer. Have they earned it?

By Erin Keane

Chief Content Officer

Published April 22, 2018 2:00PM (EDT)

Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mario Batali (Getty/AP)
Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Mario Batali (Getty/AP)

Even F. Scott Fitzgerald learned — flogged-to-death quote from his unfinished novel “The Last Tycoon” notwithstanding — that second acts in American lives are possible, as he wrote in his less-frequently quoted essay “My Lost City”: “I once thought that there were no second acts in American lives, but there was certainly to be a second act to New York’s boom days.”

Several recent stories suggest a collective hope for second acts endures, as speculation gathers on how celebrity men disgraced by #MeToo reporting might stage comebacks after being accused of sexual harassment, misconduct or abuse, and losing lofty platforms and incredibly lucrative jobs as a result.

The truth is America can’t resist a second act; our national myths are founded on them. A fervent belief in personal reinvention for men (of mostly European heritage) runs through the country’s creation. And so it’s no wonder that after several months of what was described as a “reckoning” — the falls from grace of many powerful men accused of sexual harassment and abuse, sparked by the New York Times and New Yorker Pulitzer Prize-winning exposés of Harvey Weinstein’s long trail of rape and abuse allegations and fueled by the rallying cry of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo movement — which is by no means over yet, we're simultaneously waiting for the curtain to rise on the next part of the story.

Whiling away the days in shamed exile? Boring. A redemption arc — now there’s a story.

The possibilities are so intriguing that similar comeback narratives have been floated recently about Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Mario Batali and Matt Lauer, all wondering if — but mostly about when and how — the fallen heroes will stage their triumphant second acts.

Louis C.K.: Just tell jokes about it!

Earlier this week, The Hollywood Reporter talked to a number of comedians about whether or not a comeback is feasible for Louis C.K., who admitted to acts of sexual misconduct after years of rumors about his abusive treatment of women comedians finally became a reported story in the New York Times.

THR posits that this is basically a done deal, as in, “the question is not really whether C.K. will eventually come back but when, where and how” perhaps because the “consensus is that while his behavior was clearly wrong it was not at the level of a Harvey Weinstein, James Toback or Bill Cosby.”

Christopher Titus thinks C.K. should avoid the mea culpa interviews. “He needs to work on his best comedy about how he was a douche and how he is trying to make amends to women.”

Comic Sean Patton echoes that notion, saying, “The only way he comes back is if he heals — he should do an hour special that breaks down why it was wrong and how he’s made amends.”

Both [Carolines’ executive talent producer Louis] Faranda and [Comedy Cellar owner Noam] Dworman say they’d hand C.K. their microphones tomorrow.

If a genius like C.K. could just apply his talent to his current predicament, this thinking goes, he could buy his way out of exile with the powerful currency of his act. (Self-deprecation, it would seem in his case, would qualify as “punching up.”)

Charlie Rose: Just make yourself the story!

Meanwhile, at home in tony yet low-key Bellport, Long Island — the “un-Hamptons,” if you will — Charlie Rose lurks where he once held court, an April 12 feature from THR reports. Rose was fired from CBS and PBS for sexual harassment allegations made by eight women, including Kyle Godfrey-Ryan, who worked for his show in 2003 and 2004 and, according to THR, “feels both anger and sympathy” for Rose.

"I believe he is struggling, and it pains me knowing he is in pain," she says. "Charlie's entire life was defined by who he was as a journalist — and he is one of the best we have ever had … [but] Charlie used his power, at times, to assault many women who worked for him. This pattern went on for almost 30 years," continues Godfrey-Ryan, who says she endured Rose's nudity as well as phone calls expressing his fantasies of seeing her naked in his pool.

The consensus among Rose’s friends seems to be that he won’t return to the public eye, but an ostensibly accidental tweet — simply the letter “H” posted on March 18 on his timeline, which had been silent since he posted his statement responding to the accusations on November 20 — elicited an outpouring of enthusiasm from fans who would love to see him return to work.

“I miss U on tv!” replied one fan, adding a sad emoji face. “Please come back,” another implored. “We've all made mistakes in life but it's how we learn and grow that matters,” writes another. “Keep your head up. This too shall pass.”

At 76, it might simply be time for Rose to retire. But there still remains some interest in how Rose might have reported on the #MeToo movement and his role in it. Godfrey-Ryan, who tells THR that she is rooting for Rose to undergo a transformation and get his second chance, thinks “someone as brilliant as Charlie” could have found a way to pull it off.

"He could have dived into research about the male ego and tried to get to the root of why this pattern of abuse is so common with positions of power. He could have used this moment to change the state-of-play in journalism," she said.

Louis C.K. and Charlie Rose don’t have similar careers — one’s a profane comedian, one a venerable TV news anchor — but they both occupy a similarly breathless stratosphere of respect from audiences who apparently find a certain combination of intellectual rigor and relentless self-absorption irresistible.

If geniuses like these two men can apply their superior talents to telling their own sordid stories, evidently, fans won’t be able to help but welcome them back into the spotlight.

Mario Batali Who Just Do Good Stuff?

On April 2, New York Times food writer Kim Severson reported from a meeting between Mario Batali and a member of an ad hoc war council of trusted advisors who have been helping the celebrity chef “figure out how his life and career might recover from a disastrous turn.”

That disastrous turn, as Severson explains, happened to be the fallout from allegations of “a decades-long pattern of abusive behavior” in the workplace and at his friends’ restaurants, “from lewd, drunken propositions to physical groping, including one incident at the Spotted Pig in the West Village in which a woman appeared too intoxicated to respond.”

Fired by his TV network gigs with his branded merchandise yanked off shelves, he has largely dropped out of professional sight, following a time-honored script of celebrity scandal-weathering.

In his downtime, Batali's been working on some ideas for the next act: Create “a new company led by a powerful woman chief executive,” traveling to Rwanda and Greece to work with refugees and launching a program to travel with fellow chefs to work with displaced Rwandans. Good deeds are a time-honored PR strategy for repairing a damaged reputation, and one of the handiest tools in a beleaguered celeb's box.

It might even work, although one of Batali’s advisors cautioned, in regards to the entire industry, “this is not a scandal, this is a paradigm shift. The old ‘wait it out and return appearing humbled’ prescription no longer applies.”

According to Severson, though, while his fellow food celebrities might be shunning him publicly, privately, some “suggest the time has come for a more nuanced approach to replace the scorched-earth policy toward men who have harassed women — one that allows something resembling redemption.”

And the guy to pull that off just might be Batali, they’re saying — he’s that talented, and has a committed fan base calling for his return. A bold charitable gesture would give his more conscientious fans reason enough to claim that he’s a good man under it all, so can't we move on and get back to business?

Matt Lauer: Find out if anyone actually misses you first

Disgraced former “Today” host Matt Lauer, fired from his plum NBC perch after a laundry list of allegations of sexual harassment and predatory behavior in the workplace came out back in November, recently emerged from the actual Hamptons to let himself be spotted — oh so casually — by Page Six at the same Manhattan restaurant where Donald Trump’s embattled attorney Michael Cohen was dining.

Lauer, who ate with the owner of Modell’s Sporting Goods, “is said to be testing the waters for a public comeback by coming out of hiding.” Now that his marriage is over, “he’s ready to restart his life, pals say.”

This is a shrewd approach — let the gossip trickle out that Lauer is considering a comeback, and see how people react. Too much shade and he might, like the groundhog after seeing the shadow of his bold-faced name, decide to retreat back to the Hamptons to continue to lick his wounds and wait for the details around his firing to become a bit fuzzier in the collective memory.

After all, Lauer — unlike C.K. and Rose and Batali — is not often hailed as a genius. He’s a decent TV anchor who is now known as “the guy with a dungeon button in his office,” and that guy is a guy the entire universe can probably live without. He wasn't even particularly beloved before the terrible stories came out. And as Harvey Weinstein could tell him, when the guy everyone secretly hates gets taken down, few will stand around cheering for him to get back up.

Are we ready for the #MeToo men to return to the spotlight?

Cheering for a jerk to get his act together and figure out how to be a decent person can be a wonderfully rich and cathartic experience, albeit one that's best experienced through a Netflix sitcom or a late-model Jack Nicholson film. Real creeps have real victims, and if anyone deserves a hand up from humiliation first, it's the women whose careers and personal lives have been damaged by predatory men.

Don’t you believe in redemption? That’s the troll cry of those nursing secondhand grievances against a culture that, for at least one moment, had finally put the brakes on powerful men treating the women who work with and for them however they wanted and getting away with it. Mistakes were made, that’s all — are we supposed to punish them forever for these “not as bad as Harvey Weinstein or Bill Cosby, at least!” errors of judgment?

A decent person has to support second acts, right? Without the hope of redemption, there’s little incentive for any of us to ever seek rehabilitation, to offer forgiveness, or to work for justice. For this whole human experiment to work, we have to hold space in our collective sense of justice for a possible reconciliation between offender and wronged.

But in this larger narrative, the expectation for swift mercy takes on, yet again, a disturbingly gendered tone. The women who have insisted on accountability and are finally being listened to will now be expected to be gracious, to defer to someone else’s timing and sentiment when high-profile harassers return to the spotlight of their choosing, because that’s how we will know that they are truly women who were worth losing our admiration for respected men over.

Once women collectively demonstrate the proper amount of sympathy to the disgraced, the rightful order can be restored. After all, vengeance is an emotion reserved for powerful men. Hell hath no fury? Please. Another thing we learned from the painstaking exposure of the Harvey Weinstein Power-Abuse Machine is that brutal retaliation is truly a man's game.

There may be a path to redemption for these men, but it might not lead them where they want to go. "Redemption" is not a thing for them to receive, after all. It's a clearing of a debt, which they must pay through action. True atonement doesn't look like public acts of narcissistic self-abnegation or half-baked apologies plus time, but rather conscientious efforts to make things right to the individuals they wronged.

Whatever that means to each woman, none of it can be performed for applause. Men whose identities seem inexorably entwined with their public profiles might struggle with this. Struggle is good. They should embrace it, and learn from it. And then, if they are able, they should dedicate the rest of their careers to playing a side role to any talented women who will agree to employ them.

The alternative? It's pretty comfortable, actually, since we're talking about wealthy men who aren't exactly facing the same employment barriers post-offense as the once-incarcerated working poor. As Batali's friend, fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, told Severson, Batali should just skip the comeback. "[R]etire and count yourself lucky," he said.

“I say that without malice, or without much malice," Bourdain told the Times. "I am not forgiving. I can’t get past it. I just cannot and that’s me, someone who really admired him and thought the world of him.”

I hear the Hamptons — or the un-Hamptons, even — are perfect for that.

By Erin Keane

Erin Keane is Salon's Chief Content Officer. She is also on faculty at the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University and her memoir in essays, "Runaway: Notes on the Myths That Made Me," was named one of NPR's Books We Loved In 2022.

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