While Hollywood reckons with its #MeToo moment since the revelation of its biggest “open secret,” alleged predator Harvey Weinstein, the music industry has been slow to acknowledge its own powerful-but-shitty men and reconcile with its own long-standing history of sexual harassment against women. But that could change with Charlie Walk.
Walk, the president of Universal Music Group’s Republic Records and up until last week, a judge on singing competition The Four, has made headlines recently for accusations of sexual misconduct and harassment by multiple women. On January 30, Tristan Coopersmith—who Walk hired when he was at Sony Music in the early 2000s—wrote an open letter on her website explaining how Walk postured himself as a mentor but repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances towards her. The following day, two more women, both choosing to remain anonymous, shared similar stories in a daily music industry email newsletter run by critic and lawyer Bob Lefsetz.
Walk is now threatening to sue Lefsetz for publishing the allegations, according to The Hollywood Reporter. His lawyer argues it’s bad journalism to publicize “false and damaging allegations.” In this move, Walk—who resigned as judge from The Four and is currently suspended from Republic pending an investigation into these allegations—is literally shooting the messenger. Should this fight with Lefsetz become the center of the media’s coverage of Walk, he will have successfully distracted our attention from the actual accusations brought against him. He will have shifted focus to his own inconvenience, how he has been adversely affected by this publicity, rather than asking what happened to the women whose careers he helped launch and then, irreparably, made change course.
And it shouldn’t. The reason why is simple, really. Bob Lefsetz isn’t a bad journalist for publishing anonymous allegations in his self-run newsletter. Bob Lefsetz isn’t a journalist. He’s a music industry veteran and critic, and he writes about just about everything in his newsletter—from the Justin Timberlake’s performance at the Super Bowl (which Lefsetz did not enjoy) to the Grammy Awards (which he thinks are broken, unless all the old white men are kicked out of the Recording Academy). He can publish whatever he wants, including readers’ comments and yes, messages he receives from women saying that they were harassed or assaulted, even if those women want their names to be withheld.
Lefsetz’s newsletter holds more weight to his readers than say, a website that bills itself as a rumor mill, because he has been writing for many years, and they know and trust him. But he is not under any journalistic obligation to investigate these women’s claims. That is what reporters do when they receive tips (or read about something in Lefsetz’s newsletter) and try to corroborate them, and that is what the companies that employ these men do when they suspend them and look into said allegations—or at least, that’s what they say they are doing.
It is not Bob Lefsetz’s job to reach out to Charlie Walk when publishing accusations made against him. I am sure, had Walk written to Lefsetz with a response to the allegations against him, that Lefsetz would have published it in another edition of his newsletter.
Walk is angry, perhaps, that he lost two jobs because of these women’s stories—including Coopersmith’s, which was not in the newsletter, and was also not corroborated by reporters before she published it on her website. If he is, then he is at war with the very nature of allegations—that they are just that, alleged, not yet proven or unproven—and that in today’s world, they have real consequences. That is not Bob Lefsetz’s fault. That cannot be neatly pinned on anyone. It is something that has been building up for a long time now, and it seems, shows little sign of stopping now.