Lisa Wilkinson: An Open Letter To Richard Dreyfuss

Dear Mr Dreyfuss,

To begin with, thank you for appearing on our show, The Sunday Project this week, and thank you for your fine body of work over the years.

We were all genuinely looking forward to having an actor of your talent, achievement and stature on the program.

Personally, I loved you in American Graffiti, Close Encounters, and of course in the iconic Jaws. My favourite, though, was your 1978 Oscar-winning performance in The Goodbye Girl, with its messages of female empowerment directed at young impressionable girls at the time, like me, still trying to work out our place in the world, and what it is to become a strong woman and not be pushed around.

Which brings me to your curious performance on Thursday on the Nine Network, accusing me of “mugging” you with my question which gently, respectfully and tangentially referred to the #metoo allegations made about you last November by one of your former female colleagues, Jessica Teich.

Richard Dreyfuss Says He Was 'Mugged' By Lisa Wilkinson

I did not include her actual allegations in our Sunday Project interview, but for those just catching up, and to give context, let’s remind ourselves of some of them now, and that is, that as her boss back in the mid 1980s you had “harassed” Ms Teich, including regularly whispering lewd and crude comments to her, all of which culminated in you exposing yourself to her in a trailer -- a moment she says she will never forget, but which you deny. She said that in working for you she regularly felt “sexualised, objectified and unsafe”.  You may remember this interview she gave to Vulture November last year.

Now, I will never know if those accusations are true. But in the wake of the rising #metoo movement, you clearly felt mortified enough by your past behaviour to release a statement of revealing candour, in which you said in part, “I became an asshole. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did.  I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers.  I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me.”

I repeat: during our interview on the Sunday Project, I raised none of the specifics of the unproven allegations made by Jessica Teich, but simply enquired about exactly when that enlightenment regarding your self-confessed revolting behaviour came? Was it at the time it was happening, or only when it made headlines around the world last year?

You said in response to my question, “I sinned. Between the years of ‘79 and ‘82 or ‘83 I was a lowdown dirty dog. And I did lots of things that I’m ashamed of now. But they were all culturally supported as all men know . . . and as all women know. They just don’t want to remember it that way.”

Ummmm, sorry? “Culturally supported”? What does that even mean? That everyone -- very conveniently for the powerful perpetrators -- stayed silent?

Mr Dreyfuss, did it ever occur to you that all those women just went along with your "lowdown dirty dog" behaviour because to do anything else when you were without question one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, may have resulted in serious repercussions for them? And that it was just easier to acquiesce because that was what survival for women in a deeply entrenched boys' club looks like?

Did it ever occur to you, Mr Dreyfuss, that the so-called “cultural support” you say these women displayed was just fear that if they spoke up, not only would they not be believed but that they would never work in Hollywood again?

Do you get that this abuse of the power imbalance, and the harassment of women -- and men for that matter, as your very own son showed in his allegations against Kevin Spacey -- is actually what the whole #metoo movement seeks to address? And now you want to play the victim?

But I digress.

Mr Dreyfuss, you were not ambushed on our show. You were not mugged. And we were not unethical. For starters, we had no obligation to forewarn you of any questions we were going to ask.

Now, as it happens, on this particular issue, because it was sensitive, we actually did specifically write to your publicist three days prior to the interview, noting that we would be raising it.  We have the email chain to prove it.  And we gave you the opportunity not to appear. The answer came back: he will be there.

Mr Dreyfuss, as a journalist I make no apology for courteously asking an entirely legitimate question about a subject you had spoken of before and which has generated more headlines than anything you’ve done in the last 20 years.

Your answer on Sunday night was informative and enlightening. And we thanked you for it.  But I fear that your dummy spit, and ramblings on the Nine Network on Thursday undermines your initial open and enlightened stance.

So be it. That was your call, not ours.

Yours sincerely,

Lisa Wilkinson

Catch The Project from Sunday to Friday at 6.30pm on Ten and on Tenplay.