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How could I have been so stupid?

Dana Milbank on

WASHINGTON -- I was amazed by the #MeToo outpouring by women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted. So many women I know have been victims, and yet, I marveled, I had spent my career in charmed workplaces where such things didn't happen.

But this week I learned that, earlier in my career, I worked in a place that was the very definition of a hostile work environment -- a place that is now one of the most visible examples of the Harvey Weinstein fallout. Worse, one of my dearest friends was a victim -- indeed, the one who first went public.

Michelle Cottle and I worked together at the New Republic in the late 1990s, as did Leon Wieseltier, the magazine's brilliant literary editor who Friday was fired by The Atlantic after apologizing for past "offenses" against female colleagues. Cottle published a brave and devastating account in The Atlantic on Friday quoting, on the record, many women Wieseltier had harassed.

Cottle wrote of the couple of occasions in which "he hit me with an abrupt, decidedly non-platonic kiss" with "a hint of tongue."

She quoted Vox's Sarah Wildman, with whom I also worked at TNR, saying: "Leon cornered me by the bathroom and kissed me. I clapped my hand over my mouth and he said, 'I've always known you'd do that.'"

Cottle reports about many women about being touched and kissed by Wieseltier. And then there was the blackmail: that if Cottle divulged something he had told her, he would (falsely) "tell people we're f----ing."

How could I possibly have missed all of this?

Cottle, when we spoke Friday, was generous in offering absolution. She didn't tell me about it. She didn't file a complaint. Even she didn't know until recently how pervasive the behavior was.

That's awfully charitable of her, but undeserved. No, I didn't know Wieseltier was doing these things to my friend and other women (and, in fairness to Wieseltier, he is accused of nothing like what Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein are). But we all knew that Wieseltier was a flirt and a bit of a playboy and that he had a strong if vague reputation for being lecherous. Like many, I figured he was a harmless scamp.

But here's what I did know:

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