Back at the height of the sexual revolution, Gene Kelly directed a film that poked fun at the whole idea. The movie, “A Guide for the Married Man,” starred Walter Matthau and Robert Morse, with Matthau, playing the otherwise happily married husband (to none-other than the loving and sexy Inger Stevens), who is being schooled in the art of cheating by the philanderer Morse.
The movie is a hoot even 40 years after its original release. It contains many vignettes wherein Morse (in scenes acted by a variety of stars) gives specific instructions to Matthau. One such scene deals with the possibility that the wife catches the husband “in flagrante delicto.” The scene features Joey Bishop as the husband and Imogene Coco as the wife. As the scene begins, Coco enters the couple’s bedroom to find Bishop in coitus extremis with another woman. As Coco screams at Bishop and demands to know what he is doing, he and the woman nonchalantly disengage. Coco continues screaming as Bishop and his mate dress. She keeps up her screams as the woman leaves and Bishop makes up the bed. Throughout the scene, Bishop responds to Coco’s accusations with denials, issued so casually that he doesn’t even indicate he knows what she’s talking about, even as the evidence is literally right before their eyes. The scene ends with Coco (now wondering what she actually did see, with the bed now empty and nicely made, the woman gone from the scene, and her husband casually sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper and smoking his pipe) asking Bishop what he’d like for dinner.
Denial – total and complete denial – is one of two possible tactics to employ in the face of charges of sexual misconduct. It involves, quite simply, refuting whatever allegations have been made, even to the point of calling the accusers liars. In the movie skit, Joey Bishop doesn’t go that far in his denial. He just keeps questioning his wife’s questions.
She: “What are you doing?”
She: “There, with her!”
She: “Her. How could you?”
She: “You and that woman!”
He: “What woman?”
She: Aren’t you even ashamed of yourself?”
It’s a tactic that works in the movie, but it can also work in real life, especially if the evidence is less blatant and can instead be turned into a “he-says, she-says” contest. And, difficult though it might be to employ in specific instances, if the accused plays it as well as Joey Bishop’s character does in the movie, it can at least reinstate the status quo ante, whatever that may have been.
The second tactic is less complicated but also less likely to end well. It consists of an abject apology followed by promises to, in order, never do it (whatever it was) again, seek treatment, allow (if not support) a full investigation, and accept whatever punishment is deemed appropriate. The result will often be far less than status quo ante and may be complete termination (of whatever was put at risk by the disclosure).
Two current examples will more than adequately suffice to substantiate the likely results from either tactic.
Roy Moore, current Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, has been accused of dating teenage girls, at least one of whom was only 14 years old, and of forcing some degree of sexual contact with them. To date, nine such women have made the accusation (all claiming the incidents occurred while Moore was in his 30s (he’s now in his 70s) and they were still in their teens, so we’re talking some 40 years ago.
Moore denies all of the allegations. He denies them in classic Joey Bishop mode, claiming not only that the incidents never happened, but that he doesn’t even know any of the women (and has never known any of the women). In one instance, he even denies that a high school yearbook signature (on one of the accuser’s yearbook) is not his. His attorney has even demanded that the yearbook be tested for forgery, thereby putting the accuser in the position of being accused. (That’s going one better than Mr. Bishop’s character.)
The allegations against Moore were at first troubling to his campaign, but he appears to have succeeded, at least to this point, in righting his ship. It certainly has helped that President Trump (himself a sex-abuse denier of the first order) has given him a post-allegation endorsement (it was lukewarm, mostly urging the defeat of his “liberal” opponent, but this week Trump went all in for Moore). But primarily, Mr. Moore is just letting his denials (and counter-accusations) work their way into the public consciousness.
Alabama is a strong Republican state, so he has that in his favor, and his opponent would have to turn out a large minority vote (historically difficult in off-year elections), so even with the charges of what many in Alabama might consider immoral (or at least highly offensive) conduct, Moore is a good bet to win the election next week. And that certainly would qualify as a solid status quo ante result and then some.
Al Franken is representative of the other tactic. Last month, Franken (the junior senator from Minnesota) was accused of posing in a photograph that showed him about to fondle (or grope) a sleeping woman’s breasts. The woman produced the photograph and also accused Franken of forcing her to kiss him in an offensive way in a rehearsal for a skit the two were preparing on an overseas USO tour. (Since that accusation, five other women have accused Franken of groping them in photo opportunities.)
Had Franken chosen the denial tactic, he would have absolutely denied the kiss (producing a “he-says, she-says” contest) and would have claimed the photograph was a joke that both were in on (in essence that the woman was deliberately pretending she was asleep) as her part in the “joke.” Franken would have then claimed he was being falsely accused, essentially accusing the women (all six of them) of lying (as Moore has done with his nine accusers). He would have faced condemnation from some (Moore has been shunned by many of his would-be Republican Senate colleagues, although now Mitch McConnell admits Moore will be accepted into the Senate if he is elected), but he would have likely survived the accusation.
Franken, however, took the more “upstanding” approach, admitting his wrong-doing, apologizing profusely, expressing shame in his actions, asking for a full Senate Ethics Committee investigation, and promising to take whatever punishment is meted out as a result. He now faces possible disciplinary action that could even include the loss of his Senate seat, or, at least, the loss of his stature within the party, which had included talk of a possible presidential candidacy. Hardly, in other words, the status quo ante.
And so the lesson to be learned is that if you are accused, you must deny the accusation as forcefully as you can to preserve any chance of maintaining your position and your career ambitions. To admit and apologize will destroy your career at worst, or severely diminish your future ambitions at best.
As to the two current examples, I look for Moore to be elected next week by a fairly sizeable margin and for Franken to be forced into retirement from the Senate, never to be heard from again.