Is Alabama Republican senatorial candidate Roy Moore as guilty as the Duke University lacrosse team members, as guilty as former President Bill Clinton or as guilty as Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and his ilk?
Or is he guilty at all?
None of these men has ever been brought to trial on the allegations made against them of rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment. Does that make them all innocent, all nevertheless guilty because they've been accused, or in some nebulous state in between innocence and guilt?
It's that nebulous state in between that worries us most. Why? Because that's where the offenders whose actions are never exposed continue to live and where innocents whose unproven accusations are politically-or revenge-motivated also are forced to make their home.
The 2006 Duke incident saw three sports team members arrested on rape charges, a coach be forced to resign and a portion of the team's season canceled. "Innocent until proven guilty" was just a slogan in this incident. The public was confident a group of "boys-will-be-boys" jocks finally was going to get its comeuppance. Since the alleged victim was black and the alleged perpetrators were white, race also became part of the cause celebre.
Just over a year later, the charges were dropped because the accusations were found to be false. In time, the initial prosecutor was disbarred and served one day in jail.
Clinton has been the subject of rape and sexual harassment charges before, during and since his 1993-2001 presidency. Although he was impeached by the U.S House of Representatives — and acquitted — on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from a sexual harassment suit, he never has been criminally charged over any of the sexual allegations.
His supporters, then and now, had a litany of excuses for him, from his private life being private to his accusers being untrustworthy to his own wife's responses of "a vast right-wing conspiracy" and, more recently, that "that has all been litigated."
Weinstein, a prominent film producer, has been accused by more than 80 women in the film industry over the last month of sexual harassment, sexual assault or rape. And his accusations have unleashed a torrent of claims from women and men of similar unwanted treatment by many others in the pervasive milieu that is Hollywood.
Some of the accused have not responded, some have vehemently denied the charges, some have made halfhearted defenses, and some have fully and humbly apologized for their behavior.
The two-word hashtag MeToo was created to give voice across social media to all those who either have experienced unwanted sexual treatment or to those who support a campaign against such treatment.
Then we have Moore, the twice-removed state supreme court chief justice who Cotton State voters elected to be their GOP standard-bearer in a special election to replace now-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions in the Senate. In recent days, he has been accused of unwanted sexual contact with teenagers decades ago, charges that apparently were never made in his previous four statewide races.
To be sure, we would have preferred if Alabama voters had selected a pragmatic, solutions-oriented conservative like Tennessee's Lamar Alexander or Bob Corker as their nominee. But, perhaps equating the no-holds-barred, plain-talking Moore with President Donald Trump, they went with a man who has spent the last decade fighting the establishment.
And maybe, as with Trump, they're willing to overlook late-in-the-game charges because they're tired of politicians who won't speak out against evil, who won't stand up for traditional values and who won't vote — in the words of the president — to drain the swamp.
We have no idea whether Moore is guilty or innocent of the charges leveled against him from actions 30 or 40 years ago. If he's guilty, he has no business being a Senate nominee and ought to be forthright in saying so. But right now, due to political calculations or recently mined recollections, he stands accused (despite his denials).
He is in the nebulous state we mentioned earlier, somewhere between guilt and innocence. The problem is, minus a confession, we may never know. Keeping his guilt a secret, he may be duly elected in a deep red state, an end he was heading toward until the women surfaced. Or he may be defeated, an innocent man damaged by made-up charges that, in essence, thwart the will of the people. Neither ending is palatable.
We are certain there are men (and women, too) in Hollywood, politics and in the office next door who have for too long perpetrated boorish sexual behavior on those who didn't want it. But we worry how easy it is to make such charges because most of them are never provable. And it's only someone's career we are tinkering with.