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How could I have been so stupid?

Dana Milbank on

I knew that Wieseltier could be a bully. At editorial meetings, he would harshly cut down those he didn't like. I was advised before I took the job that if I wanted to get ahead at TNR, I needed to be on his good side. He would protect those he held in favor and sink those he didn't. I was one of those he protected. I think he liked me. I liked, and greatly admired, him.

I also knew the magazine was a boys' club and most top editors were men. The real power was Wieseltier, by virtue of his close relationship with the absentee owner; no editor could remain in place without his blessing.

Did that mean we should have known what he was doing? Not necessarily. But there were clues -- not just the occasional lewd comment but mean and bullying behavior in editorial meetings.

I didn't get it at the time, but sexual harassment and sexual predation are, at core, about the abuse of power. Not all bullies are sexual predators or sexual harassers. But most sexual harassers and predators are bullies.

I met Mark Halperin around the time I met Wieseltier. Halperin, too, had a reputation for mistreating women. Until now, I hadn't heard specifics. But I could see with my own eyes that he was a bully who, lacking Wieseltier's charm, enjoyed power plays over colleagues and other journalists. Our president, likewise, routinely attempts to humiliate aides and opponents alike; is it any wonder that he has also boasted of assaulting women?

I and many other male alumni of TNR, feminists all, are shaken by what we've learned this week. We weren't a conspiracy of silence, but we were in a cone of ignorance. My friend Franklin Foer, a former editor, recalls being uncomfortable with Wieseltier's lewd comments when he first arrived at the magazine. But "they just seemed accepted. I said nothing -- and certainly didn't think hard enough about how those remarks would be suggestive of private behavior or created a hostile environment."

Maybe this is because Foer and I were both members in good standing of the same boys' club. "One of the byproducts of benefiting from male privilege is that it blinds you to the costs of the system," Foer continues. "I abstractly understood this and even tried to combat it. But the toll wasn't evident to me until now."

Me too.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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