Sometimes I wish I couldn’t read, because it would allow me to spend what little time I have not perusing news of recently disgraced men. But, you know what they say about wishes: they’re like pennies. And I have far fewer pennies than former Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who used space in his boutique newsletter Air Mail to commission a breathless feature about accused sexual harasser Leon Wieseltier. The former New Republic literary editor, whose startup publication was abruptly shut down in 2017 after numerous women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, is back.
In what has become a stunning display of wealthy people’s continued willingness to platform alleged sexual predators, Leon Wieseltier has been given money by his friend and donor Albert Moses to start a new publication, Liberties. A glowing, reverent Air Mail profile of him reveals the 420-page tome will be housed by all the worst people you wish you didn’t know about, including the editor of the infamous Harper’s Letter, Thomas Chatterton Williams, and five others who signed their names to it. Wieseltier says the magazine will contain zero images or ads and will be stuffed exclusively with essays aimed at accomplishing his singular mission: “the rehabilitation of liberalism.”
“The errors and the failures of the liberal order … need to be acknowledged, but they do not need to be exaggerated,” Wieseltier told Airmail, subtly skirting the allegations that cost him the critical acclaim of his decades-long career. In a 2017 essay for Vox, Sarah Wildman documented her experience working at the New Republic, detailing how Wieseltier, then literary editor, once “cornered” her in the bathroom and kissed her against her will. Her account came at the heels of a flurry of allegations against the figurehead. According to the New York Times, multiple former staffers said they’d been kissed by Wieseltier without their consent. One former colleague recalled him writing a note thanking a staffer for wearing a miniskirt to the office.
At the time, Wieseltier had been in the midst of getting his new publication Ideas off the ground with Emerson Collective founder Laurene Powell Jobs. She withdrew her funding for the project almost immediately, writing in a statement: “Upon receiving information related to past inappropriate workplace conduct, Emerson Collective ended its business relationship with Leon Wieseltier, including a journal planned for publication under his editorial direction.”
That might have been the end of it. After all, how many blank checks can one person feel entitled to over the course of a career? Plenty, apparently. Because despite the allegations, Wieseltier has been given yet another opportunity to spend a lot of someone else’s money spreading his own ideas. In the Air Mail profile, Wieseltier plays the time-honored tradition of the powerful, victimized man. “I don’t believe I was a threat to anybody, I really don’t,” he said when asked about the allegations three years on. Instead, he fears “the Robespierrian haste with which people’s heads were chopped off before they could say a word,” or that “an allegation was tantamount to a conviction. The fact that all infractions were treated equally—there was no sense of proportion or sense of measure.” Around these quotes, of course, are a variety of sweaty, raving defenses from the friends and associates who will gain from Wieseltier’s endeavor. Like Celeste Marcus, Liberties’ 24-year-old managing editor, who claims the allegations were just women “trying to figure out whether they could have complicated feelings about these things and still be loyal feminists.”
Now, three years after the bulk of MeToo’s initial wave, the once-lauded men of media’s inner sanctums are tired of playing the farce. As Wieseltier and others like him supposedly see it, they did their penance, and they want what is now owed to them: power, a platform, prestige, the ability to shape and control intellectual debates. It’s almost too predictable that Williams, the supposed editor of the Harper’s Letter decrying “cancel culture” and the takeover of the media sphere by rabble-rousing, identity-obsessed leftists, is a headlining act in Liberties’ first issue. In all this, Williams and Wieseltier exploit the ugly truth: There are infinite chances for powerful men.