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The Nature of the Beast

"It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character."
-- Joseph Heller, Catch-22

BY ERIC F. COPPOLINO | Read part one, Wicked Game
Posted on June 13, 2018

THE NIGHT OF THURSDAY, MAY 10, I was heading to a men's council at the home of Rob Norris, to be set around a fire in his backyard.

A week earlier, I had called Rob -- an old friend through astrology, healing and music -- and filled him in on what was going on. He said he would do what he could, and that involved contacting some members of a men's group he was involved with and getting together a fire circle where we could talk about developing events: in particular, a hoax "Me Too" campaign that seemed to be running out of control.

This was the first offer of direct support outside my immediate circle of colleagues and close friends. I knew some of the men; many said they had followed my column for years or decades. They ranged in age from about 60 to about 80. I told my story. They listened. They assured me that I was no longer alone. They also explained that, while I was a kind of flashpoint, what was going on had very little to do with me -- save for the fact that I had been the only person writing about sexuality in our community for all the years I had been in Chronogram.

In the parking lot on the way out of town to the men's fire circle, I ran into Jason Stern and Amara Projansky, people I had considered friends since 1989. They are the founders and the owners of Chronogram, the regional magazine I had written for every month since 1996, and which was presently deciding whether to fire me based on false "Me Too" rumors being spread on Facebook. Two other organizations had already done so without any investigation: Radio Kingston, and the Omega Institute.

As Jason stepped up to his car, I said, "This will all be clear once the facts come out."

Jason replied, "Eric, you know this isn't about the facts."

He got into his car and closed the door.

I stood there with my jaw slack.

We were involved in publishing together. Along with my horoscope each month ran a 2,000-word article, which often entered the territory of investigative reporting, my writing career prior to astrology. My specialty is documenting fraud, including the cover-up of a mass poisoning incident on a local university campus, the global cover-up of dioxins and PCBs by General Electric and Monsanto, and real estate fraud perpetrated by a local land conservancy, to name a few of my long-term projects.

The facts don't matter? They do in my line of work. Yet, for anyone to whom the facts don't matter, anything can be true, or not true, or true enough; same difference, as kids say. Opinions are the new documentation.

*          *          *

Long ago, my SUNY Buffalo American Studies professor, Michael Frisch, offered me his theory of what a protest really is. "The point is to bring out the nature of the beast," he said during one of our independent study conferences, as he unpacked a box of artifacts from the Sixties.

"If you have a peaceful demonstration on a campus, and the administration responds by sending in 300 riot police officers with shotguns and clubs, you have brought out the nature of the beast." He was explaining what happened on our campus following the Kent State massacre in 1970.

My February Chronogram article -- Take a Step Back, the one that raised the fuss -- presented a critique of the tactics of the Me Too movement. It was not intended as a protest, but rather as part analysis, part endorsement, and part objection, in the form of an essay. Apparently it was protest enough.

For example, I said that men and boys need to be included in any movement supposedly designed to prevent sexual abuse in any form. We must protect all the children, and all the people, and stop the cycle of abuse. If feminism is real, it's good for everyone.

Between the Catholic Church history of settlements in abuse cases (currently valued at $1.269 billion, if that is an indicator of anything), and Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, and countless other cases including a notorious local one, we all know that boys are systematically sexually abused. Part of why these cases are more difficult to reveal is that a survivor must cross over the double taboo of inappropriate touching and also homosexuality.

Then I raised the issue of guilt by accusation, which is another way of saying the presumption of guilt -- especially when the trial is conducted on Facebook, where everyone serves in the combined role of prosecutor, witness, judge and jury.

Depending on a respected and reliable source, I quoted The Handmaid's Tale author Margaret Atwood, from a recent article on the Me Too movement. "Understandable and temporary vigilante justice can morph into a culturally solidified lynch-mob habit, in which the available mode of justice is thrown out the window, and extralegal power structures are put into place and maintained."

Elaborating on that idea was a quotation from one of my readers, speaking on behalf of a group of her friends in the UK: "We're also worried about the complete lack of any process to determine whether a claimed incident happened or not."

She concluded, "We've all seen others or actually been accused ourselves of being 'rape apologists' when we've tried to help abusive men stop abusing before this, and now are worried that if we try to have a more nuanced discussion in public about #MeToo, then we'll be accused of 'rape apology' all over again."

Finally, I quoted author and New York Times Magazine writer and op-ed columnist Daphne Mirkin: "What exactly are men being accused of? What is the difference between harassment and assault and 'inappropriate conduct'? There is a disturbing lack of clarity about the terms being thrown around and a lack of distinction regarding what the spectrum of objectionable behavior really is."

That was all it took to draw out the nature of the beast. Apparently, if you have these thoughts, you're The Man himself.

*          *          *

The frenzy was started by someone named Julie Novak, a former production designer for Chronogram, which is an editor-level position, and co-founder of the TMI Project, which claims to be devoted to telling the truth, "Changing the world, one story at a time." This venerated local institution had in recent years established itself as the Ministry of Candor and Virtue.

TMI is a reference not to the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania that melted down in 1979, but rather to the phrase "too much information." The concept of a TMI Project video is you offer all of the embarrassing details that someone would not ordinarily share. It's allegedly about hanging loose with the truth and the whole truth.

On April 4, Novak posted to Facebook, under her name and with the authority of being a founder of TMI, a letter from someone she said was an old friend, Dana Barnett of Seattle. I had never heard of this person. When I searched for a Dana Barnett in Facebook, I came to a page where the person was photographed from behind, so that her face was not visible. 

The letter, titled "Turn Off the Gaslight," began with a critique of "Take a Step Back." Her title suggested that my article was a form of torture designed to intentionally inflict self-doubt and convince someone that they're crazy (the definition of gaslighting).

Then, after describing her various experiences with older men, and how she felt about them, and how she thought they felt about her, Barnett claimed to have gone hiking with me one afternoon 22 years ago (as a college freshman, age 18). A tarot card reading was involved, she said. Incense was burned.

She claimed that on the hike, we had some form of a sexual experience that she said she consented to, but would not elaborate on what it was: only that, in hindsight, she didn't feel good about it. Then, she connected that to "Take a Step Back," saying that the article was probably written as a cover-up for its author's presumed life as a serial offender. She asked people to share their stories, signing off with #MeToo to make it seem official.

Novak had posted the letter under her own name, on her account, and tagged my page, which leads to my entire community of 5,000 Facebook friends; my privacy settings are all off, because I use Facebook as the primary means of advertising my business, so anything my readers can see is visible to the entire internet.

Julie Novak is married to Eva Tenuto. She is also a co-founder of the TMI Project, and currently its executive director. I met Tenuto once for 30 seconds about six years ago. Immediately, Tenuto chimed in, posting a rewritten quote from my article. Notice the ellipsis:

“My concern began the moment Harvey Weinstein was taken down. That was quite a scandal…Scandal is never life affirming.”

She had removed the most important part of the paragraph, which I will replace in bold. What I actually wrote was, "My concern began the moment Harvey Weinstein was taken down. That was quite a scandal. We don't know most of it, either. While it was satisfying to see such a monster tumble, scandal is never life-affirming."

With the magic of three little dots, she was presenting me as someone who was a Harvey Weinstein supporter -- an apologist, one might surmise. Or perhaps worse.

Then Tenuto "analyzed" my freshly-reversed-by-her point of view: "Come again?" she wrote. "The day Weinstein was taken down was the day healthy erotic desire was compromised? Really? The day women came forward in droves, to confess the trauma they endured at the hands of a power-hungry monster, was the day YOU started to worry about a free society."

Great writers steal.

She stole "monster" from the part of my phrasing that she had deleted -- from an article she characterized as "so troublesome, so filled with faulty logic and wrapped in deflective new-age packaging, it was hard to get through."

But calling Harvey Weinstein a monster? That was a keeper. I could say that because 92 women have taken an actual risk and put their names and faces to toxic experiences they claim to have had with him, and I have heard direct evidence -- evidence we must demand and evaluate carefully whenever someone is accused. And to any person who respects our Constitution and even those who don’t, Harvey Weinstein (who has now been charged criminally) is innocent until proven guilty. That rule is in place to protect you.

*          *          *

Tenuto's rewrite set the tone and the method of the discussion that followed -- including a series of simultaneous critiques of my writing and my alleged behavior. Then Tenuto's wife, Julie Novak, stepped back into the conversation.

"I think that this community has given a pass to Eric all of these years because we didn't want to stop being entertained," Novak wrote.

"We all loved his horoscopes. They took us out of our daily drivel and made life exciting, very much the same way that Harvey Weinstein's movie studio produced films that we loved -- that we could escape into. But #timesup for our local Weinstein. There are other movie producers out there and plenty of other qualified astrologists who are not predators. Chronogram: it's time to hire a new interpreter of our star signs. It's long overdue."

This all unfolded within the space of about two hours. I had gone from being a writer whose column someone had objected to, to going hiking with a faceless young woman 22 years earlier, to being the "local Weinstein" -- just like that. Participants in the discussion had researched the places I work, and vowed to get me fired from all of them.

I still find it difficult to describe how I felt reading these descriptions of some constructed version of who I am. I am a sensitive person, and a natural-born sub. Surreal does not even begin to describe the feeling, unless we're talking David Lynch or Alejandro Jodorowsky, with parallel dimensions and all. Agony and anguish come closer to accurate language.

On the other hand, some of the ideas were just laughable.  

Were my monthly horoscopes really so entertaining that they could lift the whole community out of its "daily drivel" -- and be worth everyone enduring my allegedly heinous conduct all these years? In a town where the population feels like that of a small rural high school, where most activity takes place on two city blocks? Where my office has been 100 paces from the Chronogram office for the past 10 years?

Where we all eat in the same café, in the Chronogram building?

And: daily drivel?

Is that how she viewed her life as a truth-telling activist and would-be comedian?

Yet, with these and a few other posts in hand, it took Tenuto and Novak just a week to get me fired from a weekly program on the community's newly revamped commercial-free station, Radio Kingston, and to be dismissed as a longtime faculty member of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, where I wrote a monthly horoscope, and also taught occasionally. Tenuto and Novak, through TMI, collaborate with Omega Institute. Novak has a program on Radio Kingston. Both have close ties to Chronogram. And Omega, Radio Kingston and TMI have one significant person in common: a philanthropist named Peter Buffett.

As for that newly revamped, allegedly progressive, activist and courageous radio station -- there was no serious discussion, no verification of anyone's claims, no references checked: despite having had no prior hint of issues, I was dissed and dismissed at the first hint of controversy. Impressive way to get started as the “voice of the community.”

*          *          *

During that first week, a local minister and Ph.D. student in Trans Studies, the Rev. Rebecca Brown, posted publicly to Dana Barnett and asked for proof of her claim that anything at all had happened during the hike she said we took.

"I don't know what kind of 'evidence' other people would have, and this argument in itself is very problematic," Barnett responded.

Asking for proof is an argument? For her, it was.

"But in my case already at least 10 people have come forward to say that I told them the same story when it happened," she continued. "I could share more graphic details or the erotic poem that he sent me afterward (which I have) when I didn't return his phone calls, but I haven't wanted to share details that feel gratuitous or embarrassing. This isn't about embarrassing him, it is about holding him accountable and making space for others to share there [sic] stories."

Ten people "came forward"? What people? Forward in what direction? Where were they? She was certainly not facing forward. All we had from Facebook was a view of the back of her head.

She said I gave her a poem, that she kept safe for 22 years. Where was it? What did it say? When I requested to see it, I was accused by Facebook onlookers of "re-traumatizing" her. She never produced the poem. Either it never existed, she didn't have it, or it was another "argument."

And then the Gold Medal winning quote of the entire Wicked Game: "I haven't wanted to share details that feel gratuitous or embarrassing. This isn't about embarrassing him, it is about holding him accountable."

Wait, accountable for what? How does one hold someone accountable for something without saying what it is? This was straight out of Kafka's The Trial.

Then someone named Lorna Tychostup entered the discussion with a bang -- someone I knew briefly in the early 1990s and had encountered in passing perhaps three times in this century. She claimed to have known me continually for more than 30 years, since long before I had even moved to the Hudson Valley from New Jersey, and miraculously during a decade when I lived abroad.

"As onetime Senior Editor of Chronogram (2001-2012), I suggested to 'management' on several occasions that Eric be removed from the pages due to his sexually abusive and damaging behaviors, not just perpetrated on women, but young men as well."

Where were all these people? Who were they? And if she said something to my friends Amara and Jason, the founders of Chronogram, how is it that nobody mentioned it to me?

She continued, "I was told at the time that his horoscopes got as many hits as my News and Politics section...the two top Chrono sections. I am sure at some point his hits grew beyond the News section's. As some have said here on this thread, he has definitely gotten a pass, despite incredibly disturbing and predatory behavior that has definitely harmed people's lives, because the community can't seem to live without his horoscopes."

Which happened to get more traffic than the sections she wrote and edited.

Tychostup then added something designed to demonstrate that my issues extended into my journalism. "I have longterm knowledge of Eric's predatory and perverse behaviors over the 30-plus years of knowing him, dating back to his SUNY 'journalism' days when I edited his articles as the AIDs epidemic was becoming a news item (he advocated that people could keep having sex regardless)."

I was indeed writing about HIV and AIDS in 1992. She was not my editor. And it was 10 years after it had become a "news item," if that is how you describe a plague that was wiping out thousands of people a year. Of course people kept having sex; her use of the word "regardless" seemed to imply that I encouraged them do so "without regard for their safety." I dug out my AIDS coverage from that era, most of which was drawn from epidemiological studies in The American Journal of Public Health and other peer-reviewed journals. Here is a sample.

Planet Waves
There is little if any question what a jury would do with a post like this. One thing is certain: the writer did not run it past her attorney before she published it.

Meanwhile, Tychostup's ideas were getting traction. Someone named Erica Taylor, of whom I had never even heard until this episode, posted her own interpretation of them. She said it is her "understanding that it is known by staff at Chronogram that he has been a perpetrator of harassment and abusive treatment of both men and women for years. What will it take to sever this relationship? Advertisers pulling out? It's becoming more and more known to the public, and I don't know why you're risking your reputation for this guy."

Just to make sure she sounded like she was a good member of the party, she added, "Get on the right side of history and show the Hudson Valley you don't tolerate abuse and harassment."

*          *          *

On the evening of May 3, I was in an email correspondence with Jason Stern, the co-founder of Chronogram. He was trying to discuss with me what he thought were my personal issues. He seemed convinced that despite every claim being a lie, somehow I must still be the cause of the situation.

"I don't know anyone you have harmed but I know people who have been offended by you…No one has claimed anything harmful or criminal." Yet he wanted me to apologize to people because they didn't like me -- despite what his own editors were saying about me publicly and apparently had been for years.

All of the claims about my purported nature were coming in through Lorna Tychostup or Hillary Harvey, Chronogram's then editor-at-large, who in an April 7 Facebook post had joined the chorus, declaring me the "Hudson Valley's [Harvey] Weinstein." Harvey introduced herself as a reporter for Radio Kingston and Chronogram, and requested that people write to her with their stories, so she could try to prove her theory.

I asked Jason why three different people spreading these rumors -- Julie Novak, Lorna Tychostup and Hillary Harvey -- were all current or past editors of Chronogram. He had no answer, but interestingly, Harvey was forced to resign her position on Friday, May 18.

Harvey, whom I met once for 30 seconds in the Radio Kingston newsroom, was a special kind of reporter, one more properly known as a fiction writer. She was not a witness to any event she describes; she does not know anyone who was. But she sure writes with confidence.

In one Facebook post, commenting on events she was not present for and that took place in a different century, she said: "If I, as a 30yo, had lured a college student to a secluded place, read her tarot and then used her vulnerability on being both interpreted/worked on by me and reliant on me for a way home, I would feel deep shame. I would not have needed it to be nonconsensual nor would I have needed any deep introspection … to tell me that it was wrong."

By saying "I would not have needed it to be nonconsensual," she is blurring the line between consent and lack thereof. She is doing something specific and intentional with her statement: trying to compensate for the fact that Barnett said she gave consent for whatever it is she claims happened. She knows that ruins the whole presentation, and she is trying to prop that part up with a stick.

Then Harvey added, in her supplementary role as fantasy forensic psychologist: "If I had thought that Eric Francis's introspection was legit, I might have responded differently to his sexual predatory nature."

Speaking of therapists, you would think these people need one. I learned recently that they have one. Her name is Monique Alice Dauphin. She is moderator of the Hudson Valley Feminists group on Facebook where most of this discussion is taking place.

Dauphin is a state licensed mental health counselor (LMHC). In a recent administrative message to her group of 1,300, she described the characteristics of sexual predators, and added, "As I do not personally know Eric Francis Coppolino, I cannot say that the above is relevant to him. What I can say is that multiple HVFs have disclosed that he has often violated women’s boundaries for his own gratification."

She has no facts or personal knowledge to back up her statement. She has never met me, spoken with me on the phone, interviewed me or taken my history, and making such statements is against the ethical rules of her profession. When I called the New York State Office of the Professions and told them what she said, they replied: "That is harassment. Report her to the police."

*          *          *

Late Friday night, May 4, I got an email from Jason. "As you know, as part of our process in addressing the situation we've hired an outside investigator to review the various allegations that have been made against you. He would like to meet with you next week and has made himself available during the following days and times."

Well, well, well. Maybe the facts would matter after all. I chose one of the options and prepared for the meeting like a trial lawyer prepares his closing arguments. I knew my whole life could be hanging on one conversation.

The meeting, with former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan Poscablo, took place Thursday, May 10. In that 90-minute conversation, Poscablo presented me with everything he had -- with every claim that Hillary Harvey had gathered from all of her efforts, despite Chronogram denying she was working for them, and presumably with anything else he was aware of.

Only one of Poscablo's questions involved a claimed consensual sexual experience with an adult from "about 20 years ago." The rest were things like negotiating affirmative consent by text message with an adult, inviting an adult guest to my home and not having sex, and whether I had sniffed someone's hair in a café 25 years earlier.

In the end, his most intense line of questioning involved whether I had made women uncomfortable any time in the past 10 years -- though he would not define the term.

I recorded the entire meeting above Poscablo's objections, and we had a transcript produced three days later. I shared both the recording and the transcript with Chronogram. Meanwhile, I submitted my June copy to Chronogram on schedule for the 265th month running.

*          *          *

ON THE AFTERNOON OF SUNDAY, MAY 20, I got a call from Jason. He sounded stressed. He said he was in an impossible situation.

First, he characterized the results of Ryan Poscablo's investigation: "There is nothing -- there's nothing criminal, there's nothing nonconsensual…Some people have an agenda. But nobody's lying. And -- and, you know, it -- it has to do with -- anyway, the result of a very extensive investigation was nothing -- was that the attorney said, no, there's nothing here -- extensive investigation…that was Ryan's final word" [emphasis added].

Despite this, Chronogram's editor and his company's one and only full-time editorial person had thrown down. That was Brian Mahoney, who told his business partners that 'it's him or me'.

Not only had he threatened to quit; according to Jason, he said he would go to the other side and lead a campaign to destroy the magazine, if I was still in it. Jason understood that this in itself represented a betrayal, and that either way, the relationship was probably over based on that alone. Brian is part owner of the company.

Jason asked, and it seemed sincere, if he could have my help figuring a way to of this impossible situation. I offered him my consulting skills. He asked me to access the dream dimension overnight and get some information from there. We set a time of 2 pm the following Tuesday, when I would meet with him and Amara to plan a strategy.

I told Jason that if he lost his editor, my team would step in and help him get his publications out. My schedule is frenetic, but I offered four hours of my time a day till he got his act back together.

The first thing I did was draft a press release he could use, called, "Proposed Statement from Luminary Publishing." To protect everyone's reputation, the first thing necessary was to say that the investigation had come up clean and green.

The next morning, I woke up from a vivid dream of being in the Chronogram office, wondering how I got a zodiac tattooed on my left upper arm. I have no tattoos and would probably never get one, though suddenly, there one was.

I was sitting with a wise, beautiful, platinum blonde counselor, in a therapy room in the Chronogram office (though there is no such thing, except symbolically, my column), wondering how the heck this tattoo got into my arm -- an intricate, beautiful zodiac with a yin-yang in the center. I looked at her and said, "My life is a detective novel."

The meeting two days later was strange. It mostly consisted of Amara Projansky prying into my personal life -- clearly not acceptable for an H.R. type of situation.

The fact that I had been vindicated by her very expensive investigation seemed irrelevant.

Toward the end of the meeting, she said she believed my tenacity as an investigative reporter lent credibility to the notion that I was disrespectful to women.

"They are different ends of the same stick," she said, gesturing that shape -- the shape of things to come. I walked them both to the door, and we agreed to continue the meeting within 24 hours. That never happened.

On Saturday, May 26, I got an email from Brian Mahoney, the editor I had worked with on the past 264 editions of Chronogram:


Effective immediately, Chronogram and Luminary Publishing will no longer be using you as an independent contractor, which includes seeking or using your written work product, contributions or publications going forward.

Your work will not appear in the June issue. A check in compensation for the full amount will be mailed to you on Tuesday.

On behalf of Chronogram, I thank you for your years of contributions and service.




Link to Official Statement Regarding “Me Too” Trolling

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