In another installment in the series of attempted Me Too career comebacks, former White House aide Rob Porter, who resigned last February after allegations of domestic abuse from his two ex-wives, Jennie Willoughby and Colbie Holderness, quietly re-emerged last week when he wrote a Wall Street Journal op-ed praising his former boss, President Donald Trump, on trade policy.
Willoughby responded Thursday in a Washington Post op-ed, writing that even “seemingly benign and inconspicuous” career comebacks for accused abusers and sexual predators are unacceptable until they “publicly show regret or contrition” for their behavior.
Other than a brief mention in journalist Bob Woodward’s book about the Trump administration, Fear, which notes that he resigned in order “to focus on repairing relationships and healing,” Porter has yet to publicly address his alleged abuse.
Willoughby argued Thursday that comebacks need to be “earned,” not “given.”
“I don’t believe Rob should be forever barred from using his considerable professional skills and knowledge to make a contribution to our society. But Rob’s sudden return to the public eye is deeply troubling to me, because he has yet to candidly address the thing that should — that must — come first: his personal conduct during his two marriages,” she wrote. “Rob has yet to publicly show regret or contrition for his actions. Giving him a voice before he has done that critical work elevates his opinions above my and Colbie’s dignity.”
As Willoughby notes, if and when bad men should re-emerge and allowed second chances are complicated questions. But like Porter, many of the accused men who have reportedly considered or publicly attempted career comebacks — from Matt Lauer to Charlie Rose to Louis C.K. — haven’t even done the bare minimum of publicly addressing and grappling with their behavior.
Louis C.K. has performed multiple sold-out comedy shows in recent months. Despite admitting to his sexual harassment in 2017 and pledging that he would “step back and take a long time to listen,” he has done little to address his behavior, and demonstrate that he has actually taken “a long time to listen.” Instead, he has doubled down on offensive jokes — including about his sexual harassment.
Some accused abusers and predators have issued half-hearted apologies amounting to “I’m sorry if you were offended,” rather than demonstrating genuine remorse or understanding.
Many have faced few, if any, consequences at all — and some have even advanced in their careers in spite of the allegations against them, like getting a Supreme Court seat, or becoming president of the United States.
The reckoning catalyzed by the Me Too movement has forced both individuals and institutions to examine how they address unacceptable behavior, and this work clearly has a long way to go. As Willoughby pointed out Thursday, the process of accused men publicly grappling with their behavior can also become an instructive moment and a way to continue the work of the Me Too movement.
“Seeing someone walk a path of growth and recovery could open a national narrative on what healing looks like — on both sides of an abusive relationship,” she wrote. “After that, there will be time for op-eds on trade policy.”
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) for the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.