In light of the recent unanimous High Court ruling, it seems a good time to post this Insight piece from last year.
The U.S. vice president was ridiculed by the usual clown show of legacy media hacks and late night tv “comedians” for his so-called “Pence Rule”: never dining alone with any woman other than his wife. Supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh would probably concur that it’s not an unwise strategy. Even the most powerful can be quickly brought down by merely alleging sexual misconduct.
Sometimes these allegations are tested in a court of law; more often, they’re prosecuted in the court of public opinion. Only the law supposedly has the power to pronounce innocence or guilt, but public opinion can often be far more brutally punishing.
Public opinion is also a fickle beast, making its judgements less often on the facts than on just who is more congenial to the prejudices of the public – or the media-elite. Worse, the caprices of public opinion can too often influence the supposedly impartial processes of the law.
In Britain, police investigations into sex abuse allegations, like Operation Yewtree, are often notable for whom they avoid investigating rather than whom they do. The washed-up and the uncool, like Gary Glitter, Rolf Harris and Cliff Richard, were put through the wringer. Some were rightfully convicted, others escaped charges – but only after their names were (rightly or wrongly) thoroughly blackened. Meanwhile, giants of cool, like Mick Jagger, David Bowie and Jimmy Page, all of whom have been accused of or admitted to rogering underage girls, never had to worry about the rozzers kicking down their doors.
In Australia, two powerful men accused of raping youngsters have likewise been subject to very different treatment by police and press.
Cardinal George Pell has long been a prominent figure on the right of the culture wars. Naturally, he has also long been a bête noire for the left-media elite. Even after Pell’s eventual conviction there is widespread concern about a miscarriage of justice. Lawyers and commentators, from Greg Craven and Andrew Bolt on the right, to Guy Rundle (who wrote that Pell “been a hate object for secularists for decades and not without reason”) on the left, have expressed doubt over the verdict.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has also been the subject of rumours and accusations for everything from fraud and theft to adultery and rape. Liberal politician Michaelia Cash threatened to name “every young women in Bill Shorten’s office”. In 2014, a former Young Labor member told police that Shorten had raped her in 1986, when she was 16.
In contrast to the rabid pursuit of Pell, the legacy media’s treatment of Shorten has been sickeningly fawning. Media have studiously eschewed their standard yellow journalism, only referring coyly – if at all – to “unsubstantiated rumours”, and running puff-pieces that let Shorten indignantly defend himself (as anyone would, of course) against “baseless allegations”.
Victoria Police set up a “Get Pell” taskforce long before any allegations had even been made against the former Vatican number three. Even when police put together a brief of evidence, it was rejected by the public prosecutor three times for being insufficient to take to court.
On the other hand, Shorten’s accuser says that Victoria Police “fail[ed] to investigate properly because of his position of power”. “Kathy” alleges that police hardly bothered trying to track down her witnesses. “I gave them the phone number of one, her maiden and married names, told them she lived in Melbourne. Police said they couldn’t find her…But they went to all of Bill’s friends.”
The public prosecutor returned the police’s brief of evidence against George Pell three times, but they doggedly pursued it. The DPP rejected the charge against Shorten as having “no reasonable prospect of conviction” just once, and police closed the case. It was, after all, just her word against his.
But that’s exactly what got George Pell convicted: it was just one person’s word against his, with no witnesses. The victim changed his story significantly. The other alleged victim specifically denied, before his death, that anything happened. Numerous witnesses testified that, despite the assault taking place in a room with an open door in full view of a busy corridor, no-one saw anything, and that the events as described were physically implausible.
On the other hand, Kathy has given a consistent and plausible story, and claims to have three witnesses who can corroborate key details.
As journalist Michael Smith writes, “the Pell guilty verdict proves that juries are capable of convicting on the word of one complainant”. Suddenly, the decision that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on the one hand, but a prosecutable offense on the other, seems a lot less easy to sustain.