John Oliver questions Dustin Hoffman over groping allegations

Comedian John Oliver pretty well nailed it while participating in a panel he was moderating about the 20th anniversary of the film “Wag the Dog” when he asked Hoffman about allegations that he groped a 17-year-old intern on the set.

Hoffman provided an explanation of how to apologize without admitting anything.

“I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation,” Hoffman said last month when the woman stepped forward. “I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”

Oliver called that a cop out and he wasn’t any more patient about Hoffman’s questioning why it took a woman 40 years to come forward.

“I still don’t know who this woman is,” Hoffman said. “I never met her; if I met her, it was in concert with other people.”

“Do you believe this stuff you read?” Hoffman asked.

“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because there’s no point in [an accuser] lying.”

“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman said.

“Oh, Dustin,” Oliver said.

  • MrE85

    We thought he was The Graduate, but he turned out to be Ratso.

  • crystals
  • Al

    Suki Kim, John Oliver–so much respect for people who won’t let these pseudo-apologies lie.

  • Rixware

    Hoffman’s defense is a train wreck, delivered with an actor’s studied calmness so that it seems reasonable. But if you can get past the delivery, you quickly see that it is not reasonable, and he inadvertently reveals the sordid underbelly of the problem.

    Hoffman essentially admits that sexual “banter” on film sets between takes is normal, “to break up the tension of shooting for 16 hours a day.” What he clearly fails to realize is that THAT is a big problem. At the very least, sexual “banter” creates an environment in which inappropriate behavior, like what he has been accused of, is tolerated or even encouraged — “to break up the tension.” That’s horrifying. It is also essentially an admission that something like what he has been accused of certainly COULD have happened, that he might not have thought twice about it, and it would not have seemed unusual in that context. It probably would have gotten a laugh from others on the crew. The strong implication is that movie sets ARE locker rooms.

    And he does himself no favors by claiming that, “We are a family,” on a film set. That approach implies that whatever goes on within a “family” is acceptable, all in good fun, and that those who speak about such things are betraying the “family.” That is a crazily scary notion that appears ripped from the script of a bad gangster movie, and gives another good explanation for why victims find it very difficult to step forward.

    According to other coverage of this event, Hoffman wrapped up his self-defense with the absurd assertion that anyone who could star in “Tootsie,” and experience some form of misogyny “first hand,” must necessarily respect women and could never have treated someone inappropriately. It is a slick attempt at distraction. What he learned or did not learn from that role may very well be the issue here. His tone deaf comments seem to indicate that he really didn’t learn much of anything from that role, at least as far as the conditions that real women face in the real world.

    All in all, I’m embarrassed for Mr. Hoffman. His defense is one cheap excuse after another, and Oliver was right to call him out for giving responses that lack a sufficient amount of self-reflection.

    • Steve Hellerstedt

      Not to let Hoffman off the hook, I was a wee lad during the Summer of Love (1967) and remember Woodstock. We’ve come full circle in the past 50 years, from a generation that surrendered itself to hedonism to the current one, which wallows in puritanism. I mean, college kids are still signing contracts before engaging in sex, no?

      So, not letting Hoffman off the hook, I’m not sure how harshly we should judge someone for something they did 30 years ago, someone who came of age during the free love generation. If we go too far in this direction, judging the past by the standards of today, none of us are safe.

      • Kassie

        Somehow you confuse consensual with puritanical. Our society is much more open than any time in the past. Women openly talk about sexual partners. More people are cohabitating than ever. LGBT people can live (mostly) without fear. Demanding consent doesn’t make anyone puritanical. It makes them ethical and follows the law.

      • Jerry

        The issue is not Puritanism, it is consent.

        Edit: multi-post was an accident.

      • Free love did not mean groping women against their will. Wake me when one of these guys says, “yeah I definitely did that” in their “apologies” and then we can talk more about whether they get a pass.

        • Steve Hellerstedt

          Hoffman was as much a Prince as Weinstein, Spacey, or Franken. In their minds, apparently, anything short of forcible rape was excusable – as long as they were the perpetrators. But they were also products of their time. They all should have known better, had malfunctioning moral compasses, did these things and got away with it time after time after time.
          I’m not defending Hoffman – okay, I am in a sense – but I am concerned about putting the full weight of today’s attitudes, mores and social acceptability on their past actions.
          And, for the record, when you (meaning me) go down this path, which I tend to do a lot on the net, I usually find myself defending people I don’t like who have committed reprehensible acts.

          • I keep seeing this reference to the past, suggesting that forcing yourself on a woman was somehow acceptable.

            I’m not sure you were alive then. I certainly was. And while the attitudes toward sex changed in the ’60s, it was not an affirmation of sexual harassment or abuse or assault or rape. It was none of that. Actually it was quite the opposite.

            This line of thinking reflects that this is about sex.

            This isn’t about sex. It’s about power. It’s always been about the abuse of power.

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            Well, I was born in 1957, so yeah – I was alive then. Why would I lie about that? I’m an old man, Bob, who doesn’t normally have his honesty questioned. I appreciate you reminding what that feels like.
            And yeah, it is about power, but it’s also about the social milieu Hoffman grew up in. It was post-sexual revolution, we were freed of the repressive shackles of the past.
            I just read Hunter’s article. That is bad – it crosses the line no matter the era or the prevailing attitudes.

          • I’m not questioning your honesty; I’m questioning your accuracy.

            You’re not a victim.

            // we were freed of the repressive shackles of the past.

            Freed of that, how did that change your relationship with women in the workplace?

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            Well, I joined the work force in the mid ’70s, and I don’t recall a change at all until the early ’90s, when we started having sexual harassment training. The first one or two were taught by a person – the place I work for was taking it seriously. That did change how we interacted (in my case I stopped complimenting women on their dress and appearance. It didn’t seem like a big deal to me before that, but – in all honesty – I didn’t want to jeopardize my job over something like that.)

          • Right but if it was normal and you were in the workforce, can you describe how you interracted with women in that time when it was normal? It wasn’t normal or acceptable in the places I was. Might have been common. But certainly not normal nor acceptable. Still is common now, but also not normal or acceptable.

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            The big difference for me was complimenting women on their looks. I do remember seeing pinching and other groping activities. At some point in the ’80s a woman dressed me down – at work – for saying how hot she looked in something – blouse, skirt, something like that. As naïve as it makes me sound I thought that was a normal compliment, but she told me otherwise. It took me a while to process that – I didn’t say it to exercise power and make her squirm. Meant it as a compliment, and it obviously had the opposite effect, which mortified me a bit.
            These stories – even the Hockenberry one – are so beyond what I’ve witnessed or engaged in I can’t really speak to them. It’s not because of a faltering memory, either. I recall a number of suicides, one truly terrible accidental death, a couple of attempted murders.

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            A couple other ‘that was then this was now’ things – verbal flirtation was allowed, even if it got raunchy (assuming we weren’t doing it in front of customers) and physical contact, hugging, occurred a lot. I’m not much into hugging acquaintances and co-workers, so I didn’t miss that when it went. Flirting, the verbal sparring part, could be fun – and did mourn that passing a bit.

        • Steve Hellerstedt

          Wake up, Bob. Louis CK, to the best of my understanding, admitted to everything he’s been accused of.

          • Your point (especially since I referred to the number of men who’ve copped to allegations in last Friday’s post)?

          • Steve Hellerstedt

            Response to your post above. Louis CK said ‘I definitely did that’ in his ‘apology’. I may be a bit confused about the ‘these guys’ you’re referring to.
            If your point is that the overwhelming majority of these offenders are ducking, covering, and evading, I agree. Louis CK stands out in this regard.

          • No, I’m referring specifically to the non-apology apologies and if you look at the video, you’ll see — as I indicated in the post — how Hoffman describes the art of making one.

      • Rixware

        None of us are safe? That’s ridiculous. That type of response fails to acknowledge that every infraction matters, regardless of era, context, or detail. It implies, “Hey, everybody did it, so it must have been OK back then.”

        Your argument about “free love” is a non-sequitur. This isn’t about the changing sexual mores across generations. Would you claim that sexual harassment in the 1920s was acceptable simply because every Hollywood studio boss did it? That spousal abuse of the 1950s was acceptable because it was everywhere, and all within a “family”? I hope not. I hope we can all recognize that the current moment is about people who misbehaved, and are finally being called to account. It is in no way about people who experimented with sexuality and unknowingly crossed some sort of line that has since moved. It’s about people who did things that they should not have done because they victimized others.

        The lesson we are learning now is that what some people THOUGHT was acceptable behavior at a certain point never really was. The only appropriate response is to acknowledge sexual misconduct for what it is and always was — completely unacceptable, despite whatever the prevailing norms may have condoned, ignored, or excused.

        If this represents any sort of generational shift, it’s merely in the stripping away of the mechanisms which protected these unacceptable behaviors for so long. For that, we should all be grateful.

        • Steve Hellerstedt

          So you would argue that judging action we’ve taken in the past by today’s standards is acceptable? The NAACP was racist for using the term ‘Negro’, rather than the (currently) socially acceptable ‘African American’ in its title? You really want to go down this rabbit hole?
          I’m not arguing that abuse of any type is now, or ever has been, acceptable. And you reiterated the point I was making – Hoffman may have thought his behavior was acceptable. He’s did it openly, nobody challenged him about it at the time, he grew up in an era when it was viewed as normal.

          • // he grew up in an era when it was viewed as normal.

            // I’m not arguing that abuse of any type is now, or ever has been, acceptable.

            Those two sentences are contradictory.

            And, again, forcing yourself on women was not acceptable in the ’60s. or ’70s, the latter of which is when this particular incident occurred. And we know that because men kept it a secret.

            Your comment that “nobody complained” is a truly poor barometer of whether it was permissable and the only way you can reach that inaccurate conclusion if you deliberately refuse to listen to the women in the last few decades who have said why they remained silent.

            This is a time for men to stop talking and start listening and start learning.

          • Rixware

            Your example isn’t very good. (How people refer to themselves is entirely their own prerogative.) Try this one:

            How should we react to the sending of Rosa Parks to the back of the bus?

            At the time, despite being wrong on many levels, and despite the fact that many people who would have ignored or condoned such an action would have KNOWN it was wrong on some level, it was nonetheless acceptable by the standards of the time and place. Does that give us permission to dismiss it?

            Your argument appears to be that we should judge the action exclusively by the mores in place at the time. My argument is that some things are unacceptable, despite what the mores of the time may have allowed.

            I believe that, in order to change a rotten culture, we must consider specific behaviors and react by how the culture SHOULD HAVE treated them. In this way, we highlight the behaviors which need to change, and set the stage for actual progress.

            The alternative, dismissing unacceptable behaviors because not enough people yet acknowledged them to be unacceptable, will yield little or no progress. It allows bad mechanisms to remain firmly in place.

            By refusing to go to the back of the bus, Rosa Parks effectively said, “It was wrong of you to do what you did. You shouldn’t have done that.” And until someone said that, there was no reason for that bus driver, and the society around him, to make any change whatsoever.

            It would be great if societies, all of a sudden, woke up and realized what they were doing wrong and changed their ways. But that’s not how it works. It is the pressure put on people whose actions are deemed, in retrospect, to have been wrong which creates progress. And that very much involves viewing past actions through modern, more enlightened lenses.

            The trip down that “rabbit hole” is what this is all about.

          • When we talk about what is and what wasn’t “acceptable” in history; it’s also important to note who it was acceptable TO? And also, maybe, who isn’t wasn’t.

            The fact it was acceptable to SOME isn’t a reflection that they didn’t know. Because the fact it was unacceptable to some reveals that the reason the behavior persisted, is because one had power over the other.

            Unless the observers are today actually believe women “back then” didn’t say “no”.

          • Rixware

            Indeed. The definition of “victim” is something along the lines of someone who has been subjected to an action they find unacceptable (which includes unwelcome). The power dynamic involves the perpetrator (person or system) saying to the victim, “I’m telling you that you should accept this because that’s the way it is.”

            Progress is initiated when someone first identifies as the victim of an unacceptable act, and then stands up to say, “I do not accept this.” At that point, perpetrators have options — most of which are not good, but some of which have the potential to lead to progress.

            It’s up to the system, if it is to correct itself, to call out perpetrators and their actions, declare them unacceptable, and create mechanisms by which they are disallowed in the future. I think that’s what John Oliver gets credit for doing in this conversation.

            In answer to Steve’s argument, however, all of this involves viewing past actions through the lens of the present.

  • Gary F

    “Oh, Dustin”.
    That’s all he’s got?

    • Well, “Oh Dustin” and putting your head in your hands is about all he needed to say to make the point he was making. But, the video did not record after that, picking it up later.

      What would you have answered to the Hoffman’s comment?