Julie Chen Doesn't Deserve a Pass

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Leslie Moonves and Julie Chen attend the 2016 CBS Upfront at The Plaza on May 18, 2016 in New York City. (Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

In her pre-recorded announcement that she would be leaving The Talk, Julie Chen made a reference to sisterhood. "I know this show—and the sisterhood it stands for—will live on for many, many, many more years to come," she said. Her tearful exit came after weeks of Chen defending her husband, CBS Chairman Les Moonves, amidst multiple, horrific stories of sexual assault.

When she ended an episode of Big Brother earlier this month by referring to herself as "Julie Chen Moonves" (for the first time ever), there was no doubt about where Chen stood—and it wasn't on the side of sisterhood.

Though careful to keep Chen's name out of it, the ladies of The Talk initially made their feelings about her husband pretty clear.  Sharon Osbourne admitted she felt nervous and said: “He’s not been convicted of any crime, but obviously the man has a problem.” Sara Gilbert agreed: “Just because this hits close to home, it doesn’t change this story. All women’s stories matter.” Sheryl Underwood announced: “Today, we say enough is enough.”

Yet, after Chen's farewell aired, the camera panned back to her ex-co-hosts, two of whom were crying. “Thank you so much, Julie, for the kind words," Sara Gilbert said. "I know I speak for all the hosts when I say thank you for eight years of dear friendship… We love you, Julie.”

While the mutual respect shared between Chen and her co-hosts felt in keeping with the always-supportive tone of the show, allowing Chen a continued platform to appear sympathetic was an indefensible choice in the face of her outspokenness on behalf of her husband. It sent a message that, while The Talk's hosts believe Les Moonves is guilty, they have no issue with Chen being an apologist for him.


The LA Times took a similar position. “Julie Chen became [a] victim of a society that forces women to be responsible for the men around them,” the piece by Libby Hill started. “We have created a climate that holds women responsible for the sins of men. It’s baked into the power structure of the patriarchy, this idea that women are jail-keepers and if a man in their life acts out, it reflects poorly on her for not sufficiently minding her ward.”

That's a valid stance when applied to say, Georgina Chapman, who faced boycotts despite immediately filing for divorce from Harvey Weinstein, after charges against him became public. It's not an angle that works when applied to Julie Chen though. If she wasn't actively inserting herself into the public eye in order to repeatedly defend Moonves, she wouldn't be under the minimal amount of fire she is now facing.

During a recent episode of The ViewWhoopi Goldberg sympathized with Chen: “Apparently, you are responsible for what your husband does, in the court of public opinion...” Similarly, on The Real, Adrienne Bailon said her heart went out to Chen. Thankfully, that time, Loni Love spoke up. "My heart goes out to the victims," Love interrupted. "There's 12 women who are accusing him... She said she's going to stand by her husband no matter what... Girl, bye."

It's telling that, after Chen's goodbye on The Talk, the only face not granted a close-up in the show's final moments was Sharon Osbourne—presumably because her response didn't fit the sentimental tone the show went out of its way to set. It wouldn't be surprising; back in 2015, while discussing Camille Cosby's ongoing support of her husband, Osbourne said: “She stuck by her man and God bless her for that, but she is delusional and in denial.”

At the time, Julie Chen listened along intently, as Aisha Tyler added: “What I see in addition to delusion is that, a lot of times, when you’ve believed something about somebody for such a long time and you realize it’s not true, it’s not just that you’re disappointed in the other person, you’re disappointed in yourself for believing a lie for so long. It’s easier to deny the truth and protect your own sense of self.”

It's almost eerie to look back on.

Ironically, back in March, during an interview with Gold Derby, Chen said: “I feel like this group of five women that you’re looking at, we bring a balance to a conversation like the MeToo movement, where we don’t see the world in black and white, and we’re not afraid to say there are grey areas to this very controversial, very touchy topic.”

In the end, whether or not we have enjoyed Julie Chen's work over the years is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that Chen is defending someone who is, in all likelihood, a sexual predator who has damaged the lives and careers of multiple women.

Stephen Colbert said it best in a segment about Moonves on The Late Show. "It’s strange to have to say this," he began. "Powerful men taking sexual advantage of relatively powerless employees are wrong. We know it’s wrong now and we knew it was wrong then... I do believe in accountability. Everyone believes in accountability until it’s their guy. And Les Moonves is my guy. He hired me to sit in this chair… But accountability is meaningless unless it’s for everybody."