Opinion

There's a pattern to credible #MeToo allegations. The one against Steve Paikin doesn't fit: Robyn Urback

Many people will take the case of TVO's Steve Paikin as evidence that #MeToo has gone off the rails: that a man can be destroyed by a single allegation. If anything, it shows the opposite: that evidence, corroboration and good judgment still matter.

Sexual misconduct is pathological, and there are almost always multiple victims. Yet here, there's just one

Many people will take the case of Steve Paikin as evidence that #MeToo has gone off the rails: that a man can be destroyed by a single allegation. If anything, it shows the opposite: that evidence, corroboration and good judgment still matter. (Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images, Bruce Reeve/CBC)

There is a pattern, of sorts, to almost every legitimate high-profile #MeToo allegation.

A credible media outlet publishes a claim against a particular man, usually after months — sometimes years — of investigation. The accuser or accusers are typically named, but occasionally their identities are withheld for fear of public retaliation.

In the days following the initial report, other victims often come forward. This happened in the cases of Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer, Calgary MP Kent Hehr (though allegations against him started on Twitter) and many others.

The reason is simple: sexual misconduct is usually pathological, and where there is one victim, there are commonly others. The act of one woman coming forward can embolden others to share their stories — especially where there are marked similarities in encounters with the man in question — which explains why we frequently see a wave of accusations following an initial report.  

What happens next depends on the accused: some men will concede they behaved inappropriately and step away from the public arena, while others will remain bizarrely defiant, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. In most cases, though, the accused's reputation is in tatters and his career likely ruined.

Allegations against Steve Paikin

The situation involving Steve Paikin, the TVO host accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to former Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson, bypasses almost every element of this pattern.   

The initial accusation came via a blog entry Thomson wrote on her Women's Post website. She didn't name Paikin in that post, writing only that a political talk show host with whom she shared a lunch (along with her assistant) during the 2010 mayoral campaign had asked her for sex in exchange for a spot on his show. 

Thomson also emailed her accusation to Paikin, who immediately brought it to the attention of his superiors at TVO. The next day, TVO announced it was launching a third-party investigation, something that Paikin has since said he welcomes wholeheartedly.

In the days following the initial accusation, there has been no corroboration. A handful of people who worked on Thomson's campaign said they had no knowledge of the incident. The public has heard nothing from the assistant who was reportedly at the lunch.

More telling is the fact that no other women have come forward. Paikin has been on the air for decades, and he has probably interviewed thousands of women. Thomson wrote that Paikin bragged that his offer of sex for a guest spot worked "50 per cent of the time," which would imply he has propositioned numerous other women. We haven't heard from a single one.

Meanwhile, Paikin's confidence that he will be exonerated is so robust, you either have to believe he's innocent or completely deranged. I believe the former. I know Paikin in a professional capacity. I've appeared on his show a few times (for the record, the only thing I had to give up was a release form) and he's always been kind, courteous and almost impossibly fair-minded. 

There is of course the possibility Thomson's allegation is true. And indeed, some people will insist that all women — Thomson included — are to be believed regardless of whether there is evidence to support their assertions. But to subscribe to such a world view requires a willingness to sacrifice any man's reputation and livelihood simply for the sake of a principle, regardless of whether he actually did something wrong. We have the capacity to weigh probabilities and analyze information for a reason. Justice is hardly served by setting those capabilities aside.

Vetting rumours

Readers often accuse those in the media of rushing to judgment on these sorts of things. On that note, I'll let you in on a little Media Party secret: most bombshell allegations of sexual impropriety are rarely bombshells in newsrooms. There were rumours about Jian Ghomeshi. Rumours about Patrick Brown. Rumours about other high-profile men whose stories may or may not ever become public. It's possible I'm out of the loop on this one, but as far as I know, Paikin's name was never in that mill.

A former colleague recently pointed out to me that readers might perceive an absence of due process in #MeToo cases because they are never privy to those rumours, nor do they hear about the extensive research that is necessary to turn a rumour into a publishable report. Hours are spent interviewing friends, family members, colleagues, poring over saved social media posts, reviewing cellphone records, vetting drafts with lawyers and so forth.

Patrick Brown speaks during a news conference at Queen's Park last month to address allegations of sexual misconduct reported by CTV. He denied the allegations but would step down as leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives hours later. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Ultimately, we're all terrified of getting it wrong, knowing that our news outlet's reputation is on the line, along with the reputation of the man in question. The decision to publish is never taken lightly.

All of which is to say, unless you believe the theory that Fake News is everywhere, there is good reason to trust in the veracity of allegations reported in the mainstream media.

And one more thing. Many people will take the case of Steve Paikin as evidence #MeToo has gone off the rails: that a man can be destroyed by a single allegation. If anything, it shows the opposite: that evidence, corroboration and good judgment still matter, and that in the absence of a reasonable degree of proof, a man's reputation can withstand a claim of impropriety (this is not to minimize the personal turmoil Paikin must have endured over the past week, mind you).

Paikin is still in his hosting chair and will soon moderate an upcoming debate for the Ontario PC leadership. And unless there is corroborating evidence to the contrary, that's exactly where he should be.  

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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