in the Case of Danny Masterson
Although the MeToo Era began with Harvey Weinstein I choose to first examine the Danny Masterson case.
The series literally is called alleged sexual villains. Harvey Weinstein’s possible guilt carries greater weight and primacy for a large number of reasons but the accusations against Masterson are vastly different than those against Weinstein in that they were publicly leveled nearly immediately after when they purportedly took place and weren’t buried; proper legal authorities actually investigated.
Danny Masterson is known to me through two television shows: That 70s Show, which I abhor, and The Ranch, which I enjoy.
For the sake of argument I’m going forward with the premise that Danny Masterson never raped four women, let alone within the last twenty years. Taking that premise as fact, at least for my purpose here, is very important, especially since I assume that allegations towards Harvey Weinstein, Judge Roy Moore, and President Bill Clinton regarding sexual predation are all true. With the premise that Masterson is genuinely innocent and has not gotten away with crimes of sexual violation, his statement in response to his recent firing by Netflix perfectly illustrates both a modern concern and a modern confusion.
“I am obviously very disappointed in Netflix’s decision to write my character off of The Ranch,” Masterson said in a statement distributed to the media. “From day one, I have denied the outrageous allegations against me. I have never been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of one. In this country, you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, in the current political climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused. I understand and look forward to clearing my name once and for all.”
Rather than exhausting a statute of limitations or finding women that refused to come forward, the opposite occurred
One of Masterson’s accusers filed a police report in 2004 saying that she was raped in 2003, but the case didn’t move forward. The Los Angeles Police Department started an investigation in late 2016 after “three women have come forward and disclosed that they were sexually assaulted by Masterson during the early 2000’s,” LAPD said in a statement in March. The police referred the case to the district attorney in April of this year but no charges have been filed yet.
Masterson might actually have raped the last three women, which doesn’t undermine my point, but would undermine the relevance of Masterson’s statement.
Presumption of innocence and due process are both legal doctrines that exist within a legal context. Outside of a Constitutional, government, and/or legal usage those words have entirely different meanings, meanings actually contrary to the legal purposing. Let’s go to the Cornell legal dictionary for how/where presumption of innocence applies:
One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged.
Essentially presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of the Rules of the Game whereupon criminal charges are being pursued within the legal system. Outside of the legal system, however, when it is apparent if unproven that someone committed a wrongful act then it’s proper for each individual involved to decide whom to believe. This decision and the possible responsibility entailed is entirely separate from any action or inaction from a criminal or civil court. The legal system is responsible to determine what legal consequences occur to Masterson based on crimes he may or may not have committed within certain laws; due process is usually used to describe the rules and methods that the legal authorities must follow in order to properly pursue the case.
That presumption and that process are not what Netflix is due, given the interests that they steward. Netfilix is obligated to serve the interest of the company’s owners, investors, and the bulk of their employees and contracted interests. Due process as generally used, if not commonly understood, describes the government’s relationship and responsibilities to a citizen.
Due process, in the context of the United States, refers to how and why laws are enforced. It applies to all persons, citizen or alien, as well as to corporations.
In that, the “how” is procedural due process. Is a law too vague? Is it applied fairly to all? Does a law presume guilt? A vagrancy law might be declared too vague if the definition of a vagrant is not detailed enough. A law that makes wife beating illegal but permits husband beating might be declared to be an unfair application. A law must be clear, fair, and have a presumption of innocence to comply with procedural due process.
The “why” is substantive due process. Even if an unreasonable law is passed and signed into law legally (procedural due process), substantive due process can make the law unconstitutional.
Masterson’s interpretation demonstrates, perhaps deliberately, a misapplication of the legal doctrines involved and their role in the social order. Netflix doesn’t need for the courts, the police to determine conclusions before making their own decisions regarding the best interests of their own company, nor should they. Netflix terminated their relationship with Masterson not based on whether he actually raped women; there are different agencies that determine the consequences of those events; Netflix removed an actor from one of their currently ongoing television programs because the problems with his reputation have the potential to become problems for the company’s reputation.
Essentially private companies hire people to serve the interests of the company. When association with and employment of an individual benefit the company more than they cost the company in expenses, that association is profitable and continues with full approval and sanction by the individuals hired to run the company and makes those decisions. In that vein Danny Masterson’s professional relationship with Netflix brought the company enough viewers, subscribers, and money to the point that the 2005 claim was irrelevant to the company. That is the only process that Netflix is due anyone. When the three additional accusers came forward subsequent to the Weinstein Revelations and the dawn of the MeToo Era the Masterson became too expensive, too much trouble for the company.
Even if Danny Masterson committed no crimes the damage to his reputation is such that Netflix deemed the continued association unprofitable. The company was not judging him guilty or ascertaining guilt, but cost to themselves.
However, in the current political climate, it seems as if you are presumed guilty the moment you are accused.
The contemporary political climate undoubtedly contributed to the dissolution of his acting role. Enough people presumed his guilt to influence his immediate professional future, if not to deprive him of life, liberty, and property.
In the end it’s not apparent whether Netflix believes Masterson or the four women and they didn’t even need to make that decision; that it’s a public question without an immediate answer is enough to deem the actor too much of a hot potato to keep in hand.
Over in Social Media Land, for me observed primarily on the Facebook, numerous people declare that their guy, be it Republican or Democrat, is definitely innocent until proven guilty, and that we must wait for due process to take its due course.
These people mistakenly apply the orthodoxy the same way Masterson does, yet he does it on purpose and they fool themselves.
In the case of Judge Roy Moore, I have no responsibility or obligation to make any judgment over whether or not he played Uncle Badtouch to a non-zero number of teenage girls back in the 1970s, let alone whether those claims against him should have bearing over he should be elected United States Senator in Alabama this year.
There are individuals that sort of responsibility and there are people that choose to involve themselves monetarily, logistically, for whatever reason.
Rather than explain due process and presumption of innocence again, I should carve out time this week to explain what processes do apply to Roy Moore, and where responsibility lies to judge Judge Roy Moore, if not in the criminal or civil courts.
I don’t actually know who raped whom, how many times, or why. That’s not my interest. The phenomenon of public accusation and reputation as currency, on the other hand, are very interesting.