In the latest example of a #MeToo accusation gone wrong, the Federal Court of Australia awarded Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush $850,000 in damages after the Daily Telegraph tabloid published articles accusing him of sexual misconduct. Rush is also expected to receive millions of dollars in lost earnings due to the allegation.
Rush had been accused of “inappropriate behaviour” toward a female co-star, who was unnamed in the Telegraph articles but was later revealed to be actress Eryn Jean Norvill. Rushed played King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company in its 2015-2016 season, while Norvill played the king’s daughter Cordelia. Judge Michael Wigney wrote in his judgment that the Telegraph published “extravagant, excessive, and sensationalist” articles and couldn’t defend its reasoning.
“This was, in all the circumstances, a recklessly irresponsible piece of sensationalist journalism of the worst kind. The very worst kind,” Wigney wrote, adding that the articles were “in all the circumstances both improper and unjustifiable.”
Wigney further wrote that while he found Norvill was “generally presented as an intelligent, articulate and confident witness who was endeavouring to give an honest recollection of the events in question” but was also “prone to exaggeration and embellishment.”
Wigney faulted her for making allegations against Rush that were “generally inconsistent with the contemporaneous statements that Ms Norvill made to journalists about what it was like to work alongside Mr. Rush in King Lear.”
Also, other members of the cast and crew said they witnessed no harassment on the part of Rush toward Norvill, and Wigney dismissed Norvill’s claim that others in the rehearsal room who witnessed the harassment were “complicit,” because she and her lawyers provided no evidence to support the claim.
The first article was published in the Telegraph on November 30, 2017 with the headline “King Leer.” The next was published on December 1. Rush denied the allegations and sued Nationwide News, which publishes the Telegraph, for defamation.
Wigney made a reference to the #MeToo movement as part of the reason the claims against Rush were revealed and spread, as the claims were published around the same time the “Harvey Weinstein scandal” was in the news.
Indeed, the movement that came from the Weinstein scandal has empowered women to speak up about the abuses they have suffered — but also gave room to fabulists looking for attention. No matter the accusation, it was supposed to be believed. No matter the accusation, the accused was considered a sexual abuser. Louis C.K., who masturbated in front of women he worked with, gets compared to Aziz Ansari, who was accused of missed signals and an awkward post-date. Pulitzer-prize winning author Junot Diaz was accused of forcibly kissing a woman, yelling at another woman, and launching “a blast of misogynist rage and public humiliation” against a third who criticized a character in his book. The woman who claimed he kissed her sent him a friendly email after the event was alleged to have occurred and didn’t mention it. Someone who saw her at the event said she showed no signs of stress.
Rather than yelling at a woman during a dinner party, Diaz reportedly offered a snarky comment, not an enraged outburst. And as for the woman who claimed he launched a “misogynist rage” against her? Audio of the exchange exists and shows Diaz was polite in response to her criticism.
#MeToo quickly devolved into exaggerated and embellished accounts of normal interactions. Rush’s win against the Telegraph is only the latest evidence that “Believe All Women” is a dangerous phrase.