Russell Brand & How Tribalism Broke Your Brain
Something quite extraordinary and largely unnoticed happened over the weekend. It represents a fundamental shift in how our societies have come to view allegations against public figures, justice and the concept of truth itself.
As you will undoubtedly know, comedian and presenter Russell Brand was accused of rape, sexual assault and various other offences in a Times article and Channel 4 Dispatches programme. Brand is, of course, innocent until proven guilty. And, while rumours about his alleged behaviour have been circulating in the British comedy industry for over a decade and more women are coming forward, I have no evidence that he committed any of the acts of which he is being accused. Neither do you.
What we do know is that it is wrong to ruin people’s lives on the basis of allegations. Time and again, we have seen persuasive stories crumble and supposedly robust court cases go nowhere. It is also, I think, fair to say that these allegations are unlikely to have been pursued with the same vigour and fanfare had it not been for Brand’s prominence and his vehement, powerfully-delivered anti-mainstream views. Given the historic nature of the allegations against him, had Brand retired into obscurity to raise a family on his farm, it is likely there would have been neither the demand from journalists for the story, nor the willing supply of accusations from his alleged victims.
These are things on which I would hope reasonable people can agree. But to leave this story here would be to fundamentally misunderstand the significance of what has occurred.
First of all, it appears that a growing number of people no longer understand what the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” actually means. When Brand published a video denying the allegations against him, they had not yet been printed. Despite this, Elon Musk, who owns X – effectively the public square in which much political, cultural and journalistic discussion happens – replied “Of course. They don’t like competition”. Without seeing the allegations or the evidence.
There is no doubt that the mainstream media don’t like new media competition and, as I said above, there is little doubt, in my mind at least, that these allegations would be less likely to be brought forward if it weren’t for Brand’s profile. But that isn’t the same as dismissing the accusations without seeing them!
Just months ago, BBC presenter Huw Edwards was suspended from his job after The Sun newspaper published allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Phillip Schofield was forced to resign from his ITV presenting job after admitting an affair with a 20-year-old production assistant who was just 15 when they met, eventually helping the boy secure a job on the channel.
It is simply not true that allegations of sexual misconduct are always and entirely motivated by politics, and to dismiss them out of hand without seeing them is the height of irresponsibility.
Tucker Carlson also weighed in prior to seeing the allegations, stating “Criticize the drug companies, question the war in Ukraine, and you can be pretty sure this is going to happen”.
This isn’t innocent until proven guilty. This is innocent because you’ve proven fealty. And it’s just not true:
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