The #MeToo movement exposed long-hidden abuses by powerful individuals in Hollywood and beyond, and it brought sexual violence to the forefront of national discussion.
But there was also another side of #MeToo, a movement that, at its height, encouraged people to “believe all women”—regardless of the merits of their accusations.
Among the accused in the #MeToo movement is Alec Klein, a former Washington Post reporter and professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He was accused of sexual misconduct by several students and staffers.
Klein would become one among the many who were found guilty not by a court of law—but in the dubious court of cancel culture. He is the author of “Aftermath: When It Felt Like Life Was Over.”
Jan Jekielek: Alec Klein, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Alec Klein: Happy to be here.
Mr. Jekielek: Alec, I’ve just been reading your book. Why don’t you tell me a bit about your story?
Mr. Klein: Frankly, I wasn’t even planning to write a book. I was having trouble staying asleep, and so one morning I was up at about 4 o’clock in the morning. I sat at my desk and I started to write. I thought I was actually writing a journal to myself to try to piece together what had happened.
The short version of what had happened is that I was a professor who ran a center that investigated wrongful convictions and false accusations. We had set some people free who had been falsely or wrongfully convicted. But then I found myself on the other side; I found myself suddenly being accused of mistreating some of my students and staffers.
The attack was led by a former employee whom I had let go, and what was put out there on the internet was wildly false. So if you looked at what was on the internet, you would think that this had something to do with some sort of sexual misconduct. But the actual complaints that were filed with the university, none of it had to do with any kind of sexual interaction. They were a hodge-podge of complaints.
Just to give you a few examples, there were several students who complained about their grades. One student wanted an A-minus instead of a B-plus seven years earlier. And, by the way, I gave that student the A-minus seven years ago, but she was still angry about it.
There were several students who complained about the chair that they sat in in my office. This was a futon chair that my small children would sit in when they came to visit my office, and they have color. Well, several students complained that this futon chair was slightly lower to the ground than my chair, and they called it a power differential.
They actually used the same language, this power differential, that their chair was slightly lower to the ground than my chair. By the way, you can’t make any college student sit in any particular chair. They’re going to sit where they want to sit in your office, and I had a lot of other chairs in my office. I threw that futon chair in the dumpster after this.
Then, just to give you one more example, a student said that I had mocked her foreign accent while on a reporting trip to Florida. First of all, my mother speaks with a foreign accent. But beyond that, I checked my records, and I wasn’t in the state of Florida when the student said that I mocked her accent. But none of this mattered.
By the way, I fought this for several months, but in the end I was never sanctioned. I was never fired. I voluntarily resigned because it was such an ordeal and trauma for my family. My father tried to commit suicide in the midst of this. There was a time during this period when I wanted to end my life. It was a terrible trauma for my children and for my family, and I just wanted it to end. I walked away from it all.
But I can tell you that what we’re talking about, really, is cancel culture. This was an earlier form of it back in 2018. But as it was then, right now it doesn’t matter [the truth]. What it takes is an accusation or accusations, and once they’re put out there, your life is utterly destroyed. That’s what happened to me.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s an incredible story. In fact you open your book with you learning that your father has taken an attempted overdose of sleeping pills. Thankfully it didn’t work out that way, and he made it through. But it’s quite an incredible story to see it evolve from that point.
Mr. Klein: I have to tell you, living it was surreal because when you feel your whole life is collapsing on itself, and then you get a phone call that your father has tried to commit suicide—I got on an airplane right away and went to New York to see my father. Actually, I went to pick up some of his things at his apartment. It was like visiting a crime scene, a bloody crime scene.
Then I went to see him at the hospital, and it wasn’t quite clear whether he was going to make it. He didn’t recognize me when he came to, but I stayed up all night by his bed to make sure that he got through the night. And he did; he survived it, and thankfully he’s better today. But it was a terrible time for the whole family.
And that’s one of the things that people don’t understand about cancel culture. It’s often said by those who are doing the attacking: what’s the big deal, you’re just getting this person’s job removed. But it’s much worse than that. It’s a calamity for not just the individual who’s being canceled, but also for their children, their family, and I would say to some degree, the community in which they live.
For me, as I said, I had been actually running a center investigating wrongful convictions and false accusations, which is somewhat ironic. To some degree, the fact that I was canceled hurt the very people that I was trying to help because that center collapsed and went away.
I continued to help inmates who were falsely accused or wrongfully convicted, though I do that on my own time. But I feel bad that there’s no longer that center there to help people who need help. This was another sort of collateral damage from all of these attacks.
Mr. Jekielek: And … it becomes pretty apparent that your father did what he did because to some extent, maybe, he believed the accusations. And I think he wrote that he actually made a point of leaving you out of his will, so these accusations had really gotten to him. Then you also talk about all sorts of other people that you had known for, perhaps, 20 years who basically disappeared from your life in an instant.
Mr. Klein: Just to correct the record about my father, we’d actually been somewhat estranged before all of this happened. And one of the silver linings of my own destruction was that my father and I actually became much closer after my destruction and after his attempted suicide. We’ve become very close, and I talk to him all the time. That wasn’t the case beforehand.
I think it’s hard to say exactly, and I don’t want to speak for him as far as why he did what he did. And I have to say, I often wonder: why does anyone attempt to take their own life? I think it’s always a complicated mixture of things that may be hard to understand.
But you’re absolutely right that, when this happened, I found myself a pariah wherever I went, in virtually every walk of my life. I don’t even know where to start. My therapist abandoned me, my literary agent abandoned me, my publisher abandoned me, and colleagues and friends disappeared. Even in the neighborhood where I lived, I felt a little bit like Quasimodo, which is that there was a lot of public disdain directed at me.
It’s a strange thing when you’re canceled. I would describe it as a 360 suffocation, actually. So you’re destroyed professionally, which is a good part of your life, but you’re also destroyed socially. So you’re supposed to be cast out completely and not allowed to come back into society, and that’s sort of how it felt.
I kind of jokingly call it the gift that keeps giving, because I’ve actually talked to many people who have been canceled throughout the United States, and in other countries even, in different walks of life: scientists, business people, and others. And one of the common denominators is that they say they have really struggled to find their way back.
In other words, how are they going to pay for their children’s health insurance? How are they going to make a living? How are they going to move forward with their life when their career is destroyed and they have no way to make any money? Emotionally it’s actually devastating for those who go through this.
It’s much worse than it’s portrayed to a large degree in the media, and I think that’s important for people to know, because it’s something that’s happening all over the country.
Mr. Jekielek: It made me think, as I was reading and as we were talking earlier offline, that it’s kind of like in situ exile. You read that a terrible, terrible punishment in ancient times was exile, and I kind of wondered to myself, is that really that terrible? I was someone who enjoyed spending time alone. But I kind of understood exile by reading your book and speaking with you, because essentially you’re basically exiled, but you’re still around.
Mr. Klein: I can tell you that it is an absolutely terrible thing to go through when you can go nowhere without feeling this sense of utter destruction in your life, whether it’s socially or otherwise. I often joke that the only solution is to move to like a small island where they have no internet and don’t speak any languages. That’s about your only recourse to avoid this.
But for me it’s been well over three years since this all happened, and yet it visits me every day in one form or fashion. That is part of the burden that comes with being canceled, and it’s quite serious.
Mr. Jekielek: And there’s this other kind of irony in this. Again as I was reading, I noticed that this cancellation was seemingly part of the #MeToo movement of trying to hold Hollywood accountable for, frankly, some really terrible behavior that has been documented. And you, throughout your life and with what you were teaching your daughter as you document, imagine yourself a feminist. And those are the values that you were teaching your daughters. That’s fascinating. How do you think about that?
Mr. Klein: First of all I want to point out that I support the idea of the #MeToo movement, which is this understanding that women have been mistreated over the centuries. Nobody could, I don’t think, dispute that.
And my mother, for what it’s worth, was on welfare for a time in her life, and my older sister had to fight her way through in her career to excel, and my daughter, I think to this very day, has on her wall Rosy The Riveter. My daughter is a fierce feminist. She was the only girl on her basketball team at one time; she was the only girl on her baseball team at another time.
Much of my work, actually, investigating wrongful convictions and false accusations and excessive sentencing, has been focused on helping women regain their freedom.
In fact, in the midst of the attacks on me during this terrible period, I was invited by some friends to help them create a nonprofit in Oklahoma to help those who had been excessively sentenced or wrongfully convicted. During those months that I went out to Oklahoma, I was able to help dozens of women regain their freedom, through parole primarily, but also through commutation.
So there’s a lot of irony here, because I’ve made much of my career trying to help women and people of color deal with the injustices of the criminal justice system, but that’s what happened.
Mr. Jekielek: What about the kids? We were just talking about your daughter, you also have a son who’s a few years younger than her. How did that play out?
Mr. Klein: Badly, is the short version. When all of this happened, my response to the destruction of my life was that I had my face down right in the fibers of the dining room rug, and I sort of just was checked out to a large degree.
My daughter, who is the child of an investigative journalist, went to her school library to find out what was going on, and she read some of the stories that had been written about me in the media, and she came home terribly devastated.
It was actually one of the hardest conversations I’d ever had with my children. And I talked to her about it face-to-face. I tried to explain to her what had happened. We’ve actually talked about it multiple times. And of course she knew that this wasn’t true, because of the way that I raised her, but also the way that I am, and she knew that these were false accusations. But I told her this is what had happened, and it was terrible for her.
For my son, there was a lot of fear. He was younger and didn’t quite understand what was going on. One of the questions he had was: would he keep his stuff, would he still have a room to live in? I was looking around his room, he had a lot of stuff—stuffed animals and Lego toys and all these other things. I said of course he’ll be able to have all those things, but I think there was a lot of fear and sorrow for them.
I have to tell you, I discovered, if I didn’t know it already, that worse than our own suffering is when it’s the suffering of those you love. It was very painful to see how this affected my children and my family at large. It was terrible.
I have to say, my sisters are a lot tougher than I am, and they were angry about this, both of them, and same for my mother. They wanted me to keep fighting it. But at some point, after fighting it for many months, I realized that the best thing to do was just to let it go, and I voluntarily resigned, just to move on with my life, which I’ve tried to do since.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s talk a little bit about the university, because you just mentioned deciding to resign. I think on the day that you learned about your father, there was a plan for you to have some kind of a hearing with your university. So part of your story is just how the university dealt with this. I think this is also a window into the broader cancel culture. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Mr. Klein: Absolutely. The process is under Title IX, and it happens at universities all over the country. In fact Betsy DeVos, who was the education secretary for the United States, was trying to fix it. Because the way that it has been working in many cases over the past several years is such that the accused have virtually no rights, and the accusers have all the rights, and so it’s this uneven playing field.
Let me be more specific. In my case, I was not allowed to have a lawyer present while I was being grilled and interrogated by a lawyer. I was not allowed to record the proceedings, so it was essentially a black box.
Which by the way is especially troubling, that you can’t record a proceeding. Because even in the criminal justice system, they’ve tried to make fixes. When police interrogate somebody, they have to actually record it at this point to avoid abuses in the system. But I wasn’t allowed to record it.
Furthermore, I had hundreds of people who could’ve spoken to my character and my conduct, but I was not allowed to produce any of them because I was told that they were character witnesses. But how do you prove a negative if you can’t even produce the people who could speak to your conduct?
What’s more, the people who were accusing me, I was not allowed to face any of my accusers, and to even try to understand what they were saying. And furthermore, I wasn’t allowed to receive any of the documentation. I mean they gave it to me for a second to look at; they let me glance at it, but I wasn’t allowed to have copies of it. They would just sort of grab it out of my hand, and that was the end of it.
Now this was not specific to the university where I am. This is the way it works at multiple universities. We know for a fact that this has been problematic for not just professors, but for students who have been accused, and whose lives have been destroyed over false accusations. It’s really a silent epidemic in many ways because, as you may recall, at the height of the #MeToo movement the notion was all women are to be believed.
I have to tell you, I don’t care what the demographic is, I don’t think any particular demographic, all of them should be believed. Not all men should be believed; not all women should be believed. There should be due process so that it has to do with the evidence, so that there is some sort of actual vetting of the process to make sure that there’s some justice here.
I actually had fewer rights than if I had been accused of murder. But that’s the situation I was in, and it was, in my opinion, utterly unfair and without any real justice in the process. But that is the process that a lot of people go through right now.
Mr. Jekielek: Was there ever a verdict in your case? I don’t know if it’s even called a verdict.
Mr. Klein: The short version is that the university essentially compelled me to go through this process. They said because I was an employee I had to go through this process. They were feeling pressure, the university was, from the attack group, which was publicly saying that the university wasn’t doing enough about #MeToo and those related issues. So they felt that they had to do something.
In the end this came down to the one investigator. In other words, this one investigator was the one who was the judge, the jury, and the executioner in this case. At first, this same investigator came to me when she had been approached by this attack group, and she said that none of the allegations, even if true, rose to the level of a policy violation. She said, “Literally, putting it at a draw, you’ll never hear from me again.”
The next day, when the attack group went to the media and put it out on the media, suddenly I was under investigation by that very same investigator who said that none of this rose to the level of a policy violation.
At the end of this process, which went on for months, this investigator—in her opinion; she pointed to no evidence—said that I had violated some policies involving a small handful of individuals out of a larger group. So in most cases, there was no policy violation that she could determine, but she did in some cases.
She said that I had the right to appeal that decision, and it was at that point that I’d spent months on this, and I had many lawyers involved, that I decided that there was no point, so I voluntarily withdrew from the process. I also voluntarily resigned from the university, which turned out to be the right decision.
Narration: These were, of course, highly consequential things to say about Northwestern University and its internal processes, so we reached out to see what they had to say in response. We heard from Northwestern’s assistant VP of Communications, who wrote to us saying that Northwestern University, “Takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention. Northwestern conducted a thorough and impartial investigation following established university procedures. The university concluded the investigation in June, 2018. Klein no longer works for Northwestern.”
Mr. Jekielek: A big theme, it seems to me in the book, is basically how this information that was put out [morphed]. It was actually 10 individuals accusing you of these different things ultimately. How that actually played out in the media coverage, it became almost a completely different creature, from what I understand.
Mr. Klein: It’s one of those things where it’s hard to fathom that these things happened. One of the most outrageous elements about the misinformation that was put out there is [this story]. There had been essentially a secretary, years ago in 2015, who had filed a claim of harassment against me when she was in jeopardy of losing her job.
The university had investigated that claim and found that she actually had lied. They ruled against her and told her in no uncertain terms that she could never even apply for a university again. They reached some sort of agreement with her whereby she acknowledged that I had done nothing wrong, and she signed this thing saying that she would never talk about it again.
Well, she was one of the main attackers years later when it went out in the media, and the university did nothing, they didn’t lift a finger, to correct the record. Here she was violating the terms of her agreement with the university. They’d already found her to be lying about all this, but the university did nothing to stop her from putting out these false statements that were utterly destructive to my career and life.
But that’s the way these things happen, and there’s not much you can do about it. When you’re in that hailstorm, when you’re getting attacked on social media, it’s kind of like a digital stoning, if you will, and the more you try to resist it, the harder it gets to even survive it. But that’s the way that unfolded.
As people are attacking others on social media, they’re finding that it’s effective whether the accusations are true or not. And they’re also noticing that corporate interests and other interests are caving quickly, because they don’t want the trouble. That’s the dynamic we have today, which is why in many ways cancel culture has gotten much worse over the past few years.
Mr. Jekielek: As we were talking earlier, I think you found in the media coverage that there were a lot of mistruths that were amplified as if they were somehow factual. This is something that we see as kind of rampant in at least the legacy media and frankly everywhere. What do you make of this, and how did this actually impact you in particular?
Mr. Klein: One of the accusers went on television about this and said that I had told a story of a sexual nature. I’ll tell you the story right now, because I don’t think it’s a story of a sexual nature. It was that when I was in college many moons ago, there was a girl that I liked, and I had a Hershey’s kiss in my pocket. This girl didn’t know that I had the Hershey’s kiss. I asked her, “Would you like to kiss?” She turned to me and thought about it, and she said, “Yes.” I was too afraid to do anything about it, so I threw her the Hershey’s kiss, and that was the end of the story.
I’ve told that story as sort of a cautionary tale, which is, when you’re young, sometimes you may be afraid to pursue what you really want. But anyway, this one accuser told that story. I don’t know how she described the story, but she apparently described it as some sort of story of a sexual nature. I actually talked to one of my lawyers about it, I said, “Is that a story of a sexual nature?”
These things, they have a momentum of their own, so when the attacks start, there’s almost this pile-on effect. That happened in my case. There were students whom I had never taught and I didn’t know, who put a template on Facebook, I think it was Facebook, in which they said, “Here’s how you can complain about this guy. Just fill in the blanks.” So that encouraged people to put out those complaints.
There were other students, again who I didn’t know and had never taught, who put out a petition, an online petition, to have me ousted. It was actually my then wife who was sort of flabbergasted by this.
She said, “Who in their right mind would survive a proverbial billboard on the highway saying here’s how you can attack and take this person down, go at it?” But that’s exactly what happened, and it had a life of its own. I remember being utterly shocked that this was happening.
I can tell you, by the way, Jan, as a professor at this university for about a decade—you probably know this, and many of your viewers and listeners will know this—students do anonymous evaluations. They say whatever they want about the professors, and so it’s kind of a free-for-all. They’ll talk about, “He’s a bad dresser; he’s obnoxious,” or whatever.
I had 10 years of anonymous evaluations. Never, not once, was I ever accused of any kind of mistreatment of my students. And trust me, if you did something to mistreat them, it would be known, it would’ve been said.
That’s leaving aside the fact that they could walk into any office and complain about you as well. But none of that had ever happened. That is impossible if you have some sort of track record of mistreating students. It just isn’t possible.
It didn’t matter. This is the world we live in today, where cancel culture is based on the accusation itself. It’s guilt by accusation, which is a term others have used. It’s kind of like the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism, in my opinion, maybe worse.
The idea is that during McCarthyism, it was, “You’re a communist; we have no proof of it,” and that was the end of it, and your life was destroyed, and people would just walk out of their lives, and that was the end of it.
We’re sort of going through that all over again, because it’s about the accusation. The more they can get others to pile on and add to those accusations, the more effective it is.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s been described as “trial by Twitter.” Well of course that’s not the entire story, but something like that.
Mr. Klein: Very much so. Throw in the other forms of social media, but Twitter, I think in particular, has been especially vitriolic and venomous. For a lot of people, it’s incredibly negative. In many cases, people are sort of hiding behind their smartphones and their laptops, and they’re pelting others with these digital stones, because it’s easy to do and it doesn’t require any accountability.
It’s dangerous if you think about it, even for children. I don’t know about you, but my kids have smartphones, and there have been many examples where they’re punching on the buttons and they’re attacking each other. And there have been some children who’ve actually killed themselves over things that have been said about them online. It’s utterly tragic.
Not just children of course, many adults have also killed themselves over accusations involving #MeToo and cancel culture, but I think it’s worse when it involves our children. And it goes on all the time.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things we also talked about a little bit when we were speaking offline is redemption, silver linings in incredibly difficult situations like this one. One of the things that came out, I think you mentioned, is that you were able to rediscover your relationship with your father. Who knows what would’ve happened otherwise?
The other part that’s really interesting is that you mentioned also that your wife was supporting you. But she was supporting you in the context of really not liking you actually, which was absolutely fascinating to me.
Mr. Klein: Frankly, I couldn’t have gotten through it without her. Her support was indispensable. In fact at one point, one of my lawyers asked to speak, not with me, but with my then wife. He took her aside and said basically that I was in no condition to even fight for myself, and she basically fought for me when I was not even fighting for myself.
Even now, I’m overcome with gratitude for the support from, she’s now my ex-wife and my in-laws and others, who stood by my side during this period. I couldn’t have gotten through it without them.
I should add one other story about this. At the height of this entire calamity is when I was asked to go out to Oklahoma to help create this nonprofit to help inmates who were wrongfully convicted and excessively sentenced. My lawyer said, “Don’t go.” They actually were in vehement terms saying, “Do not go, because you need to deal with your own problems.”
But I went. I went anyway, because it’s what I do. Frankly, it turned out to be the best decision, because it wasn’t about me any more, it was about helping other people, and it was actually very restorative for me. I think it helped me regain my stability and sense of self by helping other people who were in much greater straits than I ever was.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve been talking about this personal cost that you experienced. You describe yourself as face down on the carpet. It’s frankly hard to imagine what a person goes through in this type of a context, where almost everybody in your life has turned against you, actively.
Mr. Klein: Yeah, it’s a terrible thing.
Mr. Jekielek: How did you find your way back?
Mr. Klein: At the worst moments, when I was struggling to get through the day, I was hearing from people, friends from different parts of the country. It had never dawned on me that virtually all of them happened to be followers of Jesus. It wasn’t a point of conversation, I guess. But I suddenly realized that many of them were, in fact, people of faith.
And for some reason, which I can’t fully explain, that got me focused on [faith]. In other words, I couldn’t really focus on much of anything. I couldn’t watch television;
I couldn’t follow the storyline in books, but the one thing that I was able to do was, I started to order books on Amazon about Jesus, and I would read one book after another. Consume them quickly too. In a day or two I’d read one book, and then read another one and another one and another one.
I don’t mean to proselytize, but for me, the messages in the gospel were vital to me, about forgiveness and about compassion, and it saved my life. I’ll never forget it, and it’s still a big part of my life to this day.
For me, faith helped in getting through the worst of it. I have to say, we’re all going to go through suffering. I think it’s inevitable in life for all of us in one form or fashion. To me, it’s never been about anger or revenge or hatred. I don’t want to live my life like that. But for me, faith has helped to kind of sustain me, and it continues to this day.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you do these days, now that you’ve come out the other end of this? Where has life taken you now?
Mr. Klein: To some degree, I continue to talk about these issues, about cancel culture in particular, because I think it’s important. I used to be an investigative reporter at The Washington Post before I ran the center helping those who were wrongly convicted and falsely accused. I think it’s the right thing to talk about it and to explain how this is damaging and destructive and dangerous.
A lot of people are afraid to talk about it because they don’t want to get sucked into the vortex. They don’t want to be attacked themselves. There’s almost this silence that’s going on all over the place, even though I think many people are disturbed and concerned about what’s happening with cancel culture. So one of the things I’m doing is I’m out there talking about it, because I think it’s the right thing to do.
Meanwhile, I have a couple of my own businesses, where I help people either with media projects or with investigative projects, primarily those, again, who are either wrongfully convicted or excessively sentenced. I also help a lot of inmates on a pro bono basis when they just have nowhere else to go, and I try to help them through the terrible ordeals that they’re going through.
By the way, that doesn’t mean that I condone illegal behavior, but where I can help inmates who deserve mercy—and I’m not the one to decide that, but where perhaps—I mean, I know people who’ve been sentenced to life without parole, where they don’t even have the possibility of seeing the outside world ever again and have been in prison for 30-plus years.
And I guess I always question, at what point do people deserve a second chance or some sort of redemption? That goes back to my faith, because I think everybody deserves a second chance at redemption. But that’s how I spend my days.
Mr. Jekielek: One of the things that’s coming out to me here is a theme that you’ve become a kind of champion of due process.
Mr. Klein: Very much so. Due process is a complicated term, but what it really comes down to is, are we trying to achieve justice and truth about what’s going on? And can we give people an opportunity to really get a hearing, if you will, so that they could present their case?
Because I have to say, most things are pretty nuanced. I think it’s very difficult to have your case, your situation, litigated on social media, through Twitter or even through the traditional media outlets, which I think in many cases have done a lousy job of even articulating what’s really going on.
It’s like the film “Rashomon.” There could be 17 different perspectives of an individual event or person, especially if the person is in the public eye or in some sort of leadership position. There are going to be some people who don’t like them or don’t appreciate that they’ve lost their job or whatever the case may be.
We see this happening all over. Ellen DeGeneres went through it recently again. I don’t know her, but I know that she was accused of having a toxic workplace. It spread much further, so now it’s Miss Piggy of the Muppets who’s being canceled, or it’s Dr. Seuss, or it’s Thomas Jefferson, or Abraham Lincoln.
There’s actually no end to this. If you don’t conform to extreme political correctness, in my opinion, you are subject to being canceled. I think that is a dangerous thing because the founding of our country is this idea of freedom of speech, and it’s the competition of ideas in the marketplace, where people should be allowed to disagree, and express their points of view. But that’s, I think, been largely lost in what’s happening across the country right now as we speak.
Mr. Jekielek: Given your experience with being canceled—in your case, you came through it—what do you see as a positive road forward, as we finish up?
Mr. Klein: It’s a great question, and I think it’s a complicated question, because we can’t legislate kindness. We can’t force people to do the right thing and to be tolerant and compassionate and forgiving. We’ve gotten so far away from that as a society I think in large part because of social media, which allows for all this vitriol to be thrown out there, people throwing the digital stones.
I don’t think the answer comes from Washington, for instance. I don’t think it can be fixed by government or the politicians. I think it has to come from our own communities, where people are finally fed up with it. They can push forward a different narrative, which is about forgiveness and compassion and doing the right thing.
It comes from the family; it comes from the community; it comes from faith, in our churches and elsewhere, where we have to push that forward so that becomes the predominant narrative going forward.
Right now, there’s too much reward for those who want to attack and destroy, because they see that it works. And it allows them to do more of it. They’re encouraged by the corporate interests that cave and have no backbone. So some of the corporate interests have to show some more backbone, in my opinion, not to cave when something like this happens.
And if we can start to shift the paradigm a little bit, I think we could start seeing some progress. But I’m not sure how long it’s going to take, and I have a feeling other countries are chortling over this, and happy that we’re so preoccupied with destroying each other. Because it makes us weak when we should be building each other up to do something about it.
We’re still in the weeds of this issue, but I think there’s a growing recognition that what is going on. Cancel culture is dangerous and bad, and people are increasingly acknowledging it and talking about it and doing something about it. It’s step by step, and it’s incremental, but hopefully over a short period of time we’ll begin to see some real progress.
Mr. Jekielek: Presumably when you’re talking about these other countries, you’re talking about adversary countries, or enemy countries that view the U.S. as an enemy. In this situation, let’s say you know somebody who is being canceled, and you don’t know what to think.
I think there’s probably a lot of people that might even be watching this who might be in that situation, people who are watching this process happen. What should someone do when they’re seeing that someone is being accused of something terrible?
Mr. Klein: The first thing that comes to mind is when people say nothing when they see people being attacked, it’s a sin of omission in my opinion. When we say nothing, we are contributing to the problem because we’re allowing it to move forward.
There are times, of course, we don’t know the facts, and probably in most of the cases we may not know the facts that are involving other people, but I think if we could be less willing to just jump on the bandwagon and attack others—It’s become so easy. All you have to do is push a button on your phone, and it’s out there. And people can hide behind their anonymity as well.
If people would say, “Wait a minute, let’s take a breather here.Let’s let due process take its course. Let’s actually try to find out what happened,” then that might help. The problem is, to be honest, that people are afraid to do that, because they get attacked for saying that. But we have to start somewhere, and some people have to show some backbone to do that, so that we can actually make some progress.
If we continue to be silent about it, it’s only going to make the problem worse. So my recommendation is that we do support people—not necessarily show unilateral support for somebody if they don’t know the facts, but just to say, “let’s let due process show itself and see what happens.” I think that that’s a better way.
Otherwise we find people that are wrongfully convicted or falsely accused all the time. And I have to tell you, it’s a terrible thing when you’re in that situation and there’s very little you can do about it. So I think that’s where it starts.
Mr. Jekielek: Alec Klein, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Mr. Klein: Thank you Jan, I appreciate it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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