What do the recent University of Virginia gang-rape charges made in Rolling Stone magazine, rape implications against an Oberlin College “campus conservative” by talented-but-annoying darling-of-the-left Lena Dunham, and the unending “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and “die-in” pantomimes of murder-by-racist-cop regarding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, have in common?
The obvious answer is that all three stories are unsupported by actual evidence. While something tragic certainly happened in Ferguson and something bad may have happened to a young woman in Virginia, the aspects of the stories that made them national sensations were fabrications.
(Given Lena Dunham’s admissions that she was drunk and high on both illegal and prescription drugs, and that she willingly had sex with someone even after he had done something exceptionally inappropriate to her in public, no part of her insinuation of rape seems credible… and further scrutiny demolishes it entirely.)
The more important answer is that in each case liberal activists, whether “feminists” (the true motivation of too many being hatred of men) or race hustlers like Al Sharpton (who needs to raise a few bucks to pay down $4.5 million in tax liens), are telling us that the truth doesn’t matter.
Writing for Politico, a young woman named Julia Horowitz, an assistant managing editor at UVA’s student newspaper, argues that “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake” because “only eight to nine percent of sexual assault reports are later determined false.” (Other studies suggest the rate of false rape claims is much higher, but even at that number, how would you like to be the one out of eleven men falsely accused of a terrible crime? But hey, we’re just men.)
Per Horowitz, not only is checking the veracity of the explosive Rolling Stone article barely useful, but it threatens “progress.” The story, she pleads, “struck a chord with us.” In other words, confirming your worst fears about young men is more important than the truth.
As a student, Horowitz is just another future brick in the wall of institutionalized ignorance that we suffer through daily in MSNBC rants and major newspaper op-eds. More troubling than her young views are those of Zerlina Maxwell, a frequent contributor to various “mainstream media outlets” (as her own website describes them), feted by the New York Times, and a woman who appears to be making a living pontificating about “rape culture” (which gives her ample reason to claim that such a culture actually exists).
In a Robespierre-like screed for the Washington Post, Ms. Maxwell offers the following stunning analysis of the collapsing Rolling Stone story:
Many people (not least U-Va. administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.
In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist…
Maxwell goes on to minimize the harm to a falsely accused man by snarkily saying he “would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook.”
As if losing a connection on social media is somehow commensurate with losing the ability to feed oneself or one’s family. As if any of that is appropriate based on a single uncorroborated accusation, prior to further investigation. As if the damage ends there once such an accusation becomes public. And as if Ms. Maxwell would say the same of the harm to, say, a young black man falsely accused of armed robbery.
On ABC’s This Week, Van Jones decried an attitude of law enforcement toward “young men of color” as “guilty until proven innocent.” Yet Zerlina Maxwell argues — without a hint of irony, much less shame — that all college men (apparently code for spoiled, rich white boys such a fraternity brothers at UVA or lacrosse players at Duke) should be judged by an equally unfair (perhaps, statistically speaking, more unfair) standard.
Maxwell makes the ridiculous assertion that not initially taking an accuser’s claims as gospel is the same as not pursuing an investigation at all, and has the impact of “let[ting] a serial rapist go free.”
A brief perusal of feminist tweets and blog entries shows that Maxwell is far from alone in her fundamentally un-American view, her desire for a campus lynch mob casting a gimlet eye at any heterosexual male and (if I may mix execution metaphors) yelling “Off with their heads!” based upon any statement of sexual aggrievement by any young woman, no matter her credibility or questionable motivation.
Let’s move on to Ms. Dunham whose new book accuses someone named Barry, the “campus’s resident conservative,” of raping her a decade ago. Because Republicans (and especially College Republicans!) have a high propensity to rape, dontcha know?
A friend of mine suggests that everyone knows Dunham is a humorist, that her new book is “supposed to be edgy — I can’t see how anyone can take it as fact.” But plenty of people do take it as fact.
It’s no funnier that a man be accused of rape than it would be to Zerlina Maxwell (or presumably to Dunham herself, though good taste does not seem to be her strong suit) if a man made a joke about raping a woman. Furthermore, Dunham used the actual first name of the man she accused making it possible to find him through a few minutes of online research. If accusing a private citizen of rape counts as humor these days, count me out.
Dunham’s gimmicks such as calling herself an “unreliable narrator” aren’t a get-out-of-libel-free card. Neither is, as Kevin Williamson notes in an excellent article on this case, Dunham’s having “other people describe the event as ‘rape,’ thereby dodging any intellectual or moral responsibility for making the claim herself.”
Breitbart News took the many specific details Dunham offered about Barry, went to Oberlin, and found that other than there having been a well-known college Republican of that name, not a single other detail matched that man. No big mustache. No purple cowboy boots. No job at the school library. Nothing.
As part of their investigation, Breitbart reporters tried to confirm Dunham’s claim that Barry, whom she also accuses of hurting two other women, had hosted a radio talk show. Initially Breitbart found the campus radio station’s manager, Sophie Hess, to be “pleasant and eager to help,” but things changed once Hess learned that the purpose of the inquiry was to seek the truth: “‘Asking whether or not a victim is telling the truth is irrelevant,’ Ms. Hess proclaimed. ‘It’s just not important if they are telling the truth.’” Hess’s point is that as the college was only interested in “helping the victim” rather than reaching “justice,” it did not matter — indeed, it did not even occur to her — that the true victim could be the falsely accused. There is no blind Lady Justice at Oberlin; she’s been expelled.
But the truth certainly matters to Barry as he fears… everything that you can imagine a normal, married working man fearing after being accused of such repugnant acts. Barry and his attorney are preparing to fight back.
Throughout this debate, sadly, there is a more-than-equal and more-than-opposite reaction by the hysterical feminist left. And so it is with reaction to the reaction to Dunham. Katie McDonough, hyperventilating for Salon.com, says that Williamson’s criticism of Dunham’s “weaponized celebrity” represents nothing more than “an intractable kind of misogyny that resists all argument” from a man who “willfully denies a woman’s very humanity.”
McDonough doesn’t notice that she has perfectly described herself. If someone reflexively rejects the disclosure that nothing Dunham said other than the existence of a conservative named Barry stands up to examination, how can she claim to be open to rational discussion? If someone doesn’t admit that women, just as much as men, can have erroneous memories or ulterior motives (even if most rape accusations are true), is that not the true denial of a woman’s humanity?
And like all of these hyperbolic man-haters, McDonough says that we are “pretending that most rape is an accident” — we most certainly are not and the assertion is insulting — and “fretting about the men who could be harmed by women sharing their stories.”
No, Katie, “fretting” does not go nearly far enough to describe the fear many college men now harbor of a woman sharing a “story” since the well-understood definition of a story can include fiction and knowing that colleges are being pressured by the Department of Justice to take a Star Chamber approach with trials held in secret and without defense witnesses in a process intended to serve a political end rather than justice. (The fact that police departments rather than colleges should investigate sexual assault claims is a topic for another day.)
And then there’s the Michael Brown case which has inspired “die-ins” and parades of clueless students, including right here in Denver, marching through the streets (when they should be in school), holding up their hands and chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot!” even though the scene they claim to be sympathizing with never happened.
Unlike the Eric Garner case, which most people (including Mr. Garner’s daughter) frame as about police abuse of power rather than about race — and acknowledging that there are racist police officers just as there are racists in any other large organization — a rallying cry based on something most citizens (including police officers) know is a lie is hardly likely to further a debate. The death of Mr. Garner, the only event with true national significance of all those mentioned in this note, should also raise important questions of out of control taxation, regulation, and enforcement, including using the police as glorified tax collectors — something that shares uncomfortable similarities with a significant trigger of the American Revolution. And none of the discussion needs to be furthered with lies.
But like the UVA and Dunham lies, the Brown-myth apologists deny that the truth matters. A Ferguson-area protestor named Taylor Gruenloh, “a 32-year-old white man” quoted in the Huffington Post, says, “Even if you don’t find that [the story of Brown having his hands raised when he was shot] is true, it’s a valid rallying cry. It’s just a metaphor.”
That reminds me: Taylor Gruenloh killed a homeless person while driving drunk.
I don’t mean he actually killed a homeless person; I don’t even know if he drinks or owns a car. It’s just a metaphor intended to attract attention to the issue of the risks taken by homeless people. And, hey, it’s an important issue so who really cares about a little lie if it makes people think about such a major societal problem?
With UVA and Dunham and Brown, it is depressingly easy to find shrill voices arguing that the truth is secondary to the importance of their cause.
But it’s not.
Lies are not harmless.
These lies are not harmless.
Lives are turned upside down. People stand to lose far more than Facebook “friends”; they stand to lose their futures, their ability to get jobs, their families, their reputations for the rest of their lives.
Institutions from fraternities to universities to police departments are thrown into chaos searching for a solution to a problem that does not exist to the extent the shrill voices claim — and seem to hope for in order to stay relevant. People, including our children, are being taught to mistrust others based on superficial characteristics such as gender or a uniform, a standard that in other situations the same voices would decry with great fanfare and indignation as “profiling.”
A common argument made against fact-finding is that uncovering a lie makes people less interested in the truth.
A repeated refrain regarding the Rolling Stone implosion was that it was a “bad day for rape victims.” Presumably that means that ordinary Americans who don’t frequently think about rape will become increasingly skeptical of rape claims even though most rape claims are true, though just what percentage is untrue remains an open question. (My reaction was the irony of rape-victim advocates being disappointed that perhaps there was one less rape victim in America.)
It is possible that learning about lies will make us (and especially reporters) seek “the other side of the story” in a more consistent way — a positive unintended consequence of journalistic malfeasance and propaganda, and wholly in keeping with the foundational tradition of our justice system. But I can’t believe that recognizing lies makes most of us care less about the difficult truths underlying major societal problems.
And this brings us to the crux of the matter: These causes — sexual assault and the strained (and militarized) relationship between the police and society — are real and important.
The desire of those aiming to improve our nation by tackling these issues is understandable and, in most cases, commendable. Sexual assault does happen even if a brief “unwanted touch” (followed by a rejection that the man honors) shouldn’t be used to goose the statistics. Racist policing does happen even if it was not a factor in the recent sad cases in Ferguson and Staten Island.
The biggest threat to those who mean to address the issues is their own behavior. Not just the abuse of data, such as the implausible claim that 20 percent of college women are victims of sexual assault. Not just saying that the truth doesn’t matter, especially in the most public stories. But also neglecting to publicize when there is actual progress — which means not only punishing the guilty but proudly exonerating the innocent.
There are cases of students being readmitted to colleges after claims of sexual assault were withdrawn, thrown out, or disproven. There are cases of students suing colleges for claimed violation of federal law based on how the schools dealt with unproven sexual assault claims. But have you heard any of them?
How many reports have you read or heard in the mainstream news media of women making false rape claims, much less being punished for them? The answer is probably very close to zero despite statements such as that of Craig Silverman, former Chief Deputy District Attorney in Denver, that “any honest veteran sex assault investigator will tell you that rape is one of the most falsely reported crimes. A command officer in the Denver Police sex assaults unit recently told me he placed the false rape numbers at approximately 45 percent.”
How many of you know that last week a white police officer was indicted (in South Carolina!) for murder in the 2011 shooting of a black man? Some argue that the indictment happened because the national conversation has changed so much in recent weeks. If so, that’s a good thing as long as the indictment is based on the truth and is objectively reasonable.
It is not an honest discussion when any evidence of improvement is intentionally hidden. And it’s hard to want to participate in a dishonest discussion, even if it’s an important one.
Despite the tyrannical approach of the Obama Administration Department of Justice, which assumes that all cops are racist and that all young men are rapists-in-waiting, Americans of good will know that most of us are… Americans of good will.
We know that our country is not perfect, that individuals are not perfect, that much can be done.
For those who care most to spend their energies in catalyzing these changes, it is a major strategic mistake to argue that the truth is less important than the message or the “metaphor.” The risk is not that the truth will make Americans care less about important societal issues but rather that we will refuse to engage in a conversation that we believe to be fundamentally corrupt and dishonest.