Following the rape and sexual assault allegations against Russell Brand, social media is full of conspiracy theories as to why they have been published now.
In a joint investigation by The Times, The Sunday Times and Channel 4’s Dispatches, the 48-year-old comedian and TV presenter was accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse by four women, including a 16-year-old girl, during the height of his fame.
The alleged assaults occurred between 2006 and 2013, while Brand was presenting shows for the BBC and Channel 4. Brand has vehemently denied all allegations, saying all of his relationships have been consensual.
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As the allegations spark inquiries by the BBC and Channel 4, questions from MPs and a widespread debate about the UK’s comedy scene, many on social media have been asking why it took so long for the allegations against Brand to be made public.
Many of Brand’s supporters have echoed his claim, made in a YouTube video that pre-empted the allegations, in which he suggested that mainstream media outlets were making a “coordinated attack” against him.
“Now, I don’t wanna get into this any further because of the serious nature of the allegations, but I feel like I’m being attacked and plainly they’re working very closely together,” he said. “We are obviously going to look into this matter ’cause it’s very, very serious. In the meantime, I want you to stay close, stay awake, but more important than any of that, if you can, please stay free.”
Several controversial figures, including X/Twitter owner Elon Musk and former kickboxer-turned-misogynist-influencer Andrew Tate, were quick to support Brand by backing his suggestion of a “coordinated attack”.
“Of course,” Musk wrote, replying to Brand’s tweet sharing his YouTube video. “They don’t like competition.”
“Welcome to the club,” Tate tweeted, tagging Brand’s X/Twitter account and sharing an image of a cartoon knight with the caption: “On my way to fight the crazy b**** allegations.”
Tate, who was charged with rape and human trafficking in Romania earlier this year, has previously claimed that any criticism or allegations against him are due to jealousy over his wealth and success. He denies any wrongdoing.
After The Times/Sunday Times investigation was published and the Dispatches programme aired, British business magnate and The Apprentice host Alan Sugar tweeted: “It seems strange that a few people have come forward at the same time. This leads me to think this is media-driven and induced. It started with one person and then they went on to find others and talked them into complaining. I guess at the end of the day the department of public procession will make the final call if the matter is presented by the police.”
Toby Young, a former editor at The Spectator and writer for publications including The Telegraph and the Daily Mail, asked: “Have the journalists responsible for the Russell Brand investigation or their employers explained why they’ve waited this long to produce their findings, given that they’ve been investigating him for years and the most recent allegation is 10 years old? I know the conspiracists’ explanation. Is there a more innocent one? Super-injunction lifted? Most credible accuser finally willing to go on record?”
Replying to Young’s tweet, media expert Dan Baker then shared a timeline published by The Sunday Times that explained the process that led up to its investigation into Brand.
The article explained that its staff were made aware of allegations against Brand relating to his treatment of women in early 2019, prompting reporter Rosamund Urwin to begin reaching out to sources in the entertainment industry.
Rumours surrounding Brand’s alleged behaviour had been circulating for “a number of years”, with sources describing Brand as an intimidating figure. The Sunday Times said many were concerned about speaking up due to fear of repercussions, and would only speak to reporters on condition of anonymity.
At the same time that Urwin was speaking to sources, the ST’s sister publication The Times had also been investigating Brand. His alleged victims eventually agreed to have their stories told by both publications.
The timeline states that “hundreds” of people were contacted over the course of the four-year investigation, including the friends and family of the alleged victims, other comedians, TV executives and those who had worked for, or with, Brand.
“None of the women whose stories we are telling know each other,” the Sunday Times timeline said. “No one involved was paid to contribute to our reporting. They have also provided substantial information to corroborate their allegations.”
The joint investigation between The Times and Dispatches would also have been the subject of extensive and lengthy checks by their respective legal teams, as well as multiple requests put to Brand for a response to the various allegations being made to him.
Writing for The Spectator, literature editor Sam Leith called out the “naive cynicism” over the Brand allegations by those attempting to pick holes in The Times investigation.
If your first reaction is to tap your nose and raise an eyebrow and, before you’ve even considered the report itself, to speculate about the motivations of the reporting, you’re a damn fool
“There are many ways to take an oppositional view of this sort of thing,” he wrote. “But if your first reaction is to tap your nose and raise an eyebrow and, before you’ve even considered the report itself, to speculate about the motivations of the reporting, you’re a damn fool.”
He added: “I haven’t seen a single piece in one of those boring and fastidious mainstream media outlets challenging The Sunday Times’s reporting, still less one making callow assumptions about its shadowy hidden agenda. But social media is crawling with the stuff. That’s a grave bifurcation.”
Leith said conspiracy theorists might well conclude that the mainstream media was “working to suppress the truth-telling enemies of the establishment” or, as he did, believe that there are “a scarily large mass of ordinary people who’ll believe any daft thing if they’re told ‘the establishment’ is trying to suppress it; and that there are a number of social-media celebrities, from around the world and across the political spectrum, who should know better but are making a good living out of encouraging them”.
Investigations into figures such as Tate, and disgraced producer and convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, have been met with similar reactions. While rumours surrounding Weinstein’s rape, sexual abuse and assaults of women over a period of 30 years abounded in the film industry, it was not until the 2017 investigations by the New York Times and the New Yorker, which interviewed dozens of women accusing Weinstein of assaulting them, that he was held to account.
Many of his accusers cited fear of repercussions as a reason for not speaking out, or said they had been pressured into signing non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) by Weinstein’s associates, lawyers and publicists, or that they had been bullied into silence by payments and threats.
Before he was exposed, Weinstein was indisputably one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, with a culture of fear, silence and complicity enabling him to continue his attacks of women without repercussions. He is currently serving a 23-year prison sentence after being convicted of multiple charges of rape and sexual assault.
Following the Brand investigation, the Metropolitan Police urged any alleged victims of sexual assault to contact the police, “no matter how long ago it happened”.
“We spoke with The Sunday Times on Saturday 16 September. We will be making further approaches to The Sunday Times and Channel 4 to ensure that any victims of crime who they have spoken with are aware of how they may report any criminal allegations to police,” a spokesperson said.
Brand is facing a new allegation of sexual assault, police said on Monday (18 September). The alleged assault, in London’s Soho in 2003, was reported to the Metropolitan Police on Sunday.
Rape Crisis offers support for those affected by rape and sexual abuse. You can call them on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, and 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland, or visit their website at www.rapecrisis.org.uk.If you are in the US, you can call Rainn on 800-656-HOPE (4673)