November 18, 2014

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On February 27, 2013, Canadian historian and (more or less) conservative political operative Tom Flanagan gave a lecture in Lethbridge, Alberta. Driving home without a cell phone, listening to an audiobook instead of the radio, he found out when he reached Calgary two and a half hours later that in the meantime his reputation, career, and even some friendships of many years had been shattered.

It sounds like a Philip Roth novel, but the story is all too real: Flanagan tells it in his slender memoir, Persona Non Grata: The Death of Free Speech in the Internet Age.)

I think about what happened to Tom Flanagan a lot. And about Richard Jewell. And the McMartin family.

I thought about them that Sunday evening late last month when Ghomeshi-quiddick started trickling its way onto my computer screen and into my email inbox.

That’s why my first reaction to apparent witch hunts, moral panics, and similar popular delusions is almost invariably: wait and see.

“€œThe “€˜abused children’s graveyard”€™ trope must be stored in a particularly excitable area of the brain, where we also file away Grimms”€™ fairy tales and similar kinder trauma.”€

It helps that I worked for Catholic newspapers during not only the American priest sex abuse scandal, but also the Canadian one that burst forth a dozen years earlier. So I”€™ve had it involuntarily drilled into my mind that:

a.) Powerful people do evil stuff, which is

b.) frequently covered up by other powerful people, but

c.) opportunistic “€œvictims“€ with “€œrecovered memories”€ are also prone to magically materialize, and furthermore

d.) all investigations, reports, exposés, and royal commissions into said evil stuff will either be ignored completely“€”or they will draw precisely the wrong conclusions and recommend dubious courses of action. (Like … more reports!)

Oh, and this supposedly world-historical story will quietly peter out of the mainstream press when emerging facts challenge the elite narrative. (For instance, when those child-abusing priests turn out to be overwhelmingly gay, not straight.)

I”€™ve tried and failed to concoct a quick “€™n”€™ easy, Kevlar-coated formula to distinguish diabolical low-fact pitchforking (remember “€œJoe the Plumber”€?) from legitimate lynchings (Jian Ghomeshi, as it turned out awfully quickly).

A formula more sophisticated than gut instinct or the smell test would be handy. Even a raving Islamophobe like myself stupidly refused to write about those “€œRotherham Muslim/schoolgirl grooming“€ stories at first, especially when confronted with headlines like “€œMissing girl’s body “€˜put into kebab.“€™”€ They all sounded too “€œMaria Monk“€ to be legit.

Except, as I”€™m forced to acknowledge, the Awful Disclosures hoax of 1836 was factually inaccurate, but weirdly, intuitively right; while no such “€œgruesome graveyard under the convent for the slaughtered babies of the nuns”€ existed beyond nativist fever dreams, we now know that the abuse of many Catholic children”€”although not as many as we were told”€”was buried throughout the following century.

The “€œabused children’s graveyard”€ trope must be stored in a particularly excitable area of the brain, where we also file away Grimms”€™ fairy tales and similar kindertrauma. No sooner do we, well, bury one of these bizarre “€œnews”€ reports than another rises from the grave to take its place. “€œTory MP “€˜murdered”€™ boy at orgy, abuse victim claims”€ popped up just yesterday.

I remind myself that time and again, multimillion-dollar investigations fail to turn up any evidence of these “€œpedophile rings.”€ Yet that troublesome part of my brain sparks to life, whispering, “€œWell, they would say that, wouldn”€™t they …?”€

So what to make of Amy Berg’s new documentary, An Open Secret?

The film focuses on Michael Egan, a one-time aspiring underage actor who now claims he was sexually exploited by director Bryan Singer and some other Hollywood bigwigs during casting-couch-type house party orgies. (Here’s a helpful industry-watcher’s scorecard explaining who’s who.)


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