I want to praise Jeremy Piven. That’s a risky thing to do, I know. Piven is one of Those Men. One of those big entertainment figures who has fingers pointed at him. He has joined Harvey Weinstein, James Toback and many others in facing accusations that he abused his power to sexually abuse women.

Yet Piven has also issued a principled statement that should give pause to those taking pleasure in the #MeToo movement’s instant destruction of men’s careers.

After describing the accusations against him as “absolutely false,” Piven laments the fact that “allegations are being printed as facts” and “lives are being put in jeopardy without a hearing, due process or evidence.” He wonders what happened to “the benefit of the doubt.” To “tear each other down and destroy careers based on mere allegations is not productive at all,” he says.

He’s right. In defending himself, Piven is also defending one of the core principles of an advanced society: the presumption of innocence.

The great liberal English barrister John Mortimer called this presumption the “golden thread” running through any progressive idea of justice. And it’s a thread that is being weakened in the feverish post-Weinstein climate.

It is now astonishingly easy to ruin a celebrity or near-celebrity. You can do it with a social media post. Spend five minutes writing a Facebook entry about how so-and-so in Hollywood once did something bad to you and — boom — that person is done for. You can dispatch him from polite society with a press of a button on your cellphone.

Some big hitters, including Weinsten, Toback and Kevin Spacey, have been brought low by numerous similar accusations. Few would doubt that these men deserve the “predator” brand, or lament the fact that they likely won’t find work in Hollywood ever again. Spacey is being erased from Ridley Scott’s “All The Money In The World,” replaced with Christopher Plummer like an out-of-favor commissar airbrushed from a group photo with Stalin. But not all accusations are equally well-substantiated.

In a few hours, George Takei went from a hero of the liberal Twittersphere to a “pervert,” from cultural icon to the object of chortling and finger-pointing. His downfall was authored by a single accuser regarding a single incident in 1981. That someone can be so tarnished on the basis of an allegation older than half of the people on Earth is astounding.

Although people refer to #MeToo as a progressive movement, it is starting to look like an exercise in public shaming, a rash extrajudicial application of stigma to supposedly wicked individuals.

Some have argued that the presumption of innocence is a legal standard that does not apply in everyday life. The law must not prejudge someone, but we can.

But legal standards aren’t cold, abstract ideas. They embody what communities over time have agreed is a more civilized way of doing things.

Of course we all have our private thoughts on the guilt or otherwise of the accused. But when tens of thousands of these thoughts come together in a mass public verdict, we behave like a mob. And we have a direct effect on the exercise of the presumption of innocence in a legal setting. How is it possible to guarantee a fair trial for any of the accused now that Twitter-echoed whisper campaigns have pronounced their guilt? Good luck finding a cool-headed jury for this stuff.

Maybe every man accused of sexual misconduct is, in fact, guilty. But what if a few did nothing wrong? What if just one man is innocent? If one day you’re accused, my guess is you’d rather like it if I gave you the benefit of the doubt.

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of Spiked Online and a columnist for Reason and the Spectator.

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