Are Sexual Harassment Claims ‘Fake News’? Lawyers Weigh In

Hundreds of women have come forward to accuse celebrities of sexual harassment and assault, but could some of them be “fake news”?

The question was part of a 23-minute discussion between two lawyers, Jason Beckerman and Derek Kaufman, on TMZ’s “Behind the Bars” podcast. Since early October, Hollywood has been rocked with numerous sexual harassment, assault and other sexual misconduct claims against celebrities and powerful men.

The wave of sexual harassment claims have targeted producer Harvey Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, filmmaker Brett Ratner, actor Dustin Hoffman, former head of Amazon Studios Roy Price, director James Toback, and many others.

During the podcast, Beckerman, the head of Legal and Business Affairs for TMZ, argued that it would be “naive” to think that “every single allegation that has ever been put forward against somebody like Harvey Weinstein is a true allegation.”

The TMZ lawyer elaborated by saying that it is “undoubtedly true” that some of the people who have accused U.S. President Donald Trump of sexual harassment, and some of the people who are accusing Weinstein are “either exaggerating what happened to them or they are just making it up out of whole cloth in an effort … because there’s money at the end of this rainbow.”

Kevin Spacey at the 2017 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall in New York City
Kevin Spacey is being accused of sexually assault and attempted rape. [Image by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions]

Beckerman then cited a precedent from the past, recalling the infamous Tawana Brawley sexual assault allegations in the 1980s. Brawley, a then-15-year-old girl alleged that she had been raped by a group of police officers. The case thrust itself into the national spotlight, but a grand jury later ruled that Brawley made her allegations up and it was all false.

The lawyer concluded that situations in which women and men falsely accuse people of sexual misconduct do exist. Beckerman also argued that the rush to judgment both from the public and from the media is “so quick that it really does sometimes gloss over the contradictions or doubts within the stories themselves.”

Kaufman added that because there are such “low barriers to entry” to become part of the #MeToo movement, a social media campaign sparked by allegations against Weinstein, is “also part of the problem.” The lawyer explained that when someone is sexually assaulted, they usually go to the police to report it or they consult an attorney to file a lawsuit.

“That’s an affirmative step in the direction of taking your allegations in a very serious fashion,” Kaufman argued, adding that posting something on Twitter, on the other hand, can be done by anyone.

The lawyer warned that this can have “grand repercussion, especially with celebrities who have huge social media followings.”

“If Kim Kardashian were to post a #MeToo [tweet], it would immediately be blasted out to tens of millions of people,” Kaufman said, adding that it’s “a huge powerful tool that we have to take into account.”

[Featured Image by Dimitrios Kambouris and Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images]