Last night, John Oliver used his podium during a 20th anniversary event for the political satire classic Wag the Dog to steer the conversation towards the sexual assault allegations that have been made against Dustin Hoffman. Without any notice, Oliver reportedly took half of his allotted hour to question Hoffman about the recent account of Hoffman’s sexual misconduct by actress Anna Graham Hunter.
Recall at the beginning of last month, Hunter penned a letter for The Hollywood Reporter detailing how, as a 17-year-old intern on the set of Hoffman’s 1985 TV film Death of a Salesman, the actor reportedly groped her backside, asked her for a foot massage, and made inappropriate comments of a sexual nature to her. “One morning I went to his dressing room to take his breakfast order; he looked at me and grinned, taking his time. Then he said, ‘I’ll have a hard-boiled egg … and a soft-boiled clitoris,’” Hunter recalled. “His entourage burst out laughing. I left, speechless. Then I went to the bathroom and cried.” Hoffman later issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “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.”
“This is something we’re going to have to talk about because… it’s hanging in the air,” Oliver told Hoffman during the panel, as The Washington Post reported.
“It’s hanging in the air?,” Hoffman replied, before adding it’s “not reflective of who I am.” “From a few things you’ve read you’ve made an incredible assumption about me… You’ve made the case better than anyone else can. I’m guilty.”
“It’s that kind of response to this stuff that pisses me off,” Oliver said. “It is reflective of who you were. If it happened and you’ve given no evidence to show it didn’t happen. Then there was a period of time for a while when you were creeping around women. It feels like a cop-out to say, ‘well, this isn’t me.’ Do you understand how that feels like a dismissal?”
“It’s difficult to answer that question. You weren’t there,” Hoffman said. “I’m glad,” Oliver said.
The back-and-forth continued with Oliver saying, “You’ve made one statement in print. Does that feel like enough to you?,” to which Hoffman went from saying “it didn’t happen, the way she reported” to “I still don’t know who this woman is, I never met her. If I met her it was in concert with other people.”
The actor then offered another defense: that times were different back then. “We were doing this [acting on a set]. And to break it up — actors, people on crews know these things — you do these things,” he said. “You say things. So suddenly, one of the things was, you come to work on Monday, ‘Did you have sex Friday?’ You break it up. Everyone was saying it to each other. It’s a family. It becomes a family in which I said a stupid thing but I said it in the midst of the crew and they said their stupid things. But they were sexual in terms of the humor of it. That’s 40 years ago.”
Hoffman also discredited Hunter’s account, questioning why she’s waited this long to bring it up. “Do you believe this stuff that you’re reading?” he asked Oliver. “I believe what she wrote, yes,” Oliver replied “Because there’s no point in her lying.”“Well, there is a point in her not bringing this up for 40 years,” Hoffman responded.
“This isn’t fun for me,” Oliver noted. “[But] there’s an elephant in the room because, this particular incident, a conversation has not been had… I can’t leave certain things unaddressed. The easy way is not to bring anything up. Unfortunately, that leaves me at home later at night hating myself. ‘Why the f— didn’t I say something? No one stands up to powerful men.’”
Over the past year, though, people have been increasingly standing up to powerful men — and, finally, there have been real consequences. Following Gretchen Carlson’s lawsuit against Fox head Roger Ailes, which led to his dismissal, Hollywood has been backlisting other leading male figures in the wake of mounting sexual assault allegations against them. Whether or not there will be real consequences for Hoffman, however, remains to be seen.