A seemingly innocuous anniversary film screening turned decidedly fraught at New York’s 92nd Street Y last night, as John Oliver used part of a Wag the Dog panel to press Dustin Hoffman on recent accusations of sexual misconduct – and Hoffman angrily pushed back.
Oliver was moderating the hour-long discussion for the 1997 film, with director Barry Levinson, producer Jane Rosenthal, and co-star Robert De Niro also present. According to the Washington Post, about midway through the conversation about the film – which, point of fact, begins with a powerful man accused of groping an underage woman – to broach Anna Graham Hunter’s accusation that Hoffman harassed her on a film set when she was 17, as well as Hoffman’s own recollection of groping Katharine Ross on the set of The Graduate. “This is something we’re going to have to talk about because … it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver said, and proceeded to interrogate Hoffman about the actor’s kinda-sorta apology for the former (“I have the utmost respect for women and feel terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation. I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”)
“It’s ‘not reflective of who I am’ — it’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver told the actor. “It is reflective of who you were. If you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t [happen] then there was a period of time for a while when you were a creeper around women. It feels like a cop-out to say ‘it wasn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
In response, Hoffman basically admitted that his statement wasn’t genuine (“If you get into a dispute, it lengthens the argument”), accused Hunter of lying (“First of all, it didn’t happen the way she reported”), told Oliver that “You weren’t there” (“I’m glad,” Oliver replied), and accused the moderator of “putting me on display.” “You have indicted me,” Hoffman told the host. “That’s not innocent until proven guilty.”
As Oliver read further from Hunter’s statement, Hoffman asked, “Do you believe this stuff you read?”
“Yes,” Oliver replied. “Because there’s no point in [an accuser] lying.”
“Well, there’s a point in her not bringing it up for 40 years,” Hoffman said.
“Oh Dustin,” Oliver sighed.
An audience member captured some of the tense conversation, which the Post has published:
It’s uncomfortable to read, and even more uncomfortable to watch. But if this culture is ever going to change, more people have to be willing to raise these subjects, whatever the consequence. For his part, Oliver repeatedly apologized to the audience for “ruining” their evening, but explained, “I can’t leave certain things unaddressed. That leads to me at home later tonight hating myself, asking, ‘Why the fuck didn’t I say something?’ No one stands up to powerful men.”