National Review personalities exploited questions surrounding Rolling Stone's high-profile account of a rape at the University of Virginia (UVA) in order to deny the prevalence of sexual assault on college campuses and suggested that women should do more to protect themselves, a response in keeping with the outlet's history of denialist, victim-blaming sexual assault coverage.
From the December 7 edition of ABC's This Week:
From the December 5 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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Media outlets have been hosting former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to discuss race as it relates to crime and policing. But Giuliani, who stoked "racial divisions" during his time in office, has used these outlets to push "false" and "misleading" crime statistics.
Conservative media parroted Sen. Rand Paul's (R-KY) claim that cigarette taxes were partly to blame in the choking death of Eric Garner by a New York City police officer following a grand jury decision not to indict the officer accused in the incident. Mainstream media outlets criticized the "fanciful" assertion, explaining Garner died due to excessive police force.
From the December 4 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor:
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From the December 4 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
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A Rolling Stone article about campus rape and how universities respond to sexual assault has raised an important debate about what the proper standards for reporting on sexual assault should be -- but it's crucial that whatever standards are ultimately chosen, they don't make it impossible to tell these stories.
A University of Virginia student named Jackie told Rolling Stone that she was gang raped in 2012 by members of a campus fraternity, and that campus administrators failed to investigate her story when she reported it. Jackie was one of several students in the piece who criticized UVA's response to sexual assaults, and the school is currently under federal investigation for its handling of such cases.
The Rolling Stone article initially received widespread acclaim and triggered swift action from UVA. But it has since come under fire from critics who say that the magazine violated journalism best practices, particularly with regard to its handling of the alleged assailants. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, and Rolling Stone, have since explained that they corroborated Jackie's story by talking to dozens of her friends, in part to ensure that she had consistently told the same story for years, but were unable to reach the accused rapists (one of whom is identified with the pseudonym "Drew" and others who are not identified at all) for comment -- a fact which was omitted in the article. (UPDATE: After the publication of this post NPR's David Folkenflik brought to our attention that in an interview with him, Erdely said she had not contacted the alleged assailant at the request of Jackie. Her editor Sean Woods made similar statements to The New Republic. These comments appear to contradict other statements Erdely gave to Slate and Woods gave to The Washington Post, on which the criticisms referenced in this post were based.)
A number of journalists have criticized Erdely for this omission. Slate's Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt wrote that the "basic rules of reporting a story like this" include doing everything possible to reach the alleged assailant, and, if one is unable to do so, including a sentence "explaining that you tried -- and explaining how you tried." They criticize Rolling Stone for failing to include such a sentence, writing that this is "absolutely necessary, because it tells readers you tried your best to get the other side of the story."
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple took this critique a step further, saying that Rolling Stone had "whiff[ed]" with the article and suggesting they should have held the piece until they were able to name the accused in print (Erdely says she had agreed to Jackie's request "not to name the individuals because she's so fearful of them"), or find some other "solid" evidence:
The publication says it didn't name the perpetrators because Jackie is "so fearful of them. That was something we agreed on," Erdely commented. That's a compelling reason -- to hold the story until Jackie felt comfortable naming them; or until she filed a complaint; or until something more solid on the case emerged.
In voicing these concerns about Erdely's journalistic practices, these reporters are proposing that there is a standard these types of stories should meet -- perhaps before they can even be published -- which includes a high bar for finding of proof, including doing everything in the reporter's power to identify and contact the accused, informing the reader of those attempts, and possibly going as far as to include their name and perspective in the piece.
Reporters may find such standards appropriate. Sexual assault, and particularly gang rape, is a terrible crime, and it is logical that journalists would want to tread carefully when assessing the validity of accusations. Rosin's and Benedikt's argument that it would at the very least have been simple for Erdely to include a sentence noting she had attempted to reach out seems reasonable.
However, previous reports on sexual assaults -- including from the Post and Slate -- have not met these standards, and have not come under similar scrutiny or criticism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson, who has said he was not involved in the editing of this particular piece, tweeted several examples of reporting on sexual assault in which publications did not include any mention of ever attempting to contact the accused for comment and did not name the alleged perpetrator.
Fox News aired less than 30 seconds of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's press conference following a grand jury decision not to indict a police officer for the choking death of Eric Garner. The speech ran nearly 17 minutes and was aired in full by CNN and MSNBC.
On December 3, a New York City grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against a police officer accused in the choking death of Garner who died after being arrested for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. An earlier autopsy by New York City's medical examiner ruled that Garner's death "was a homicide resulting from the chokehold and the compression of his chest by police officers."
Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the decision during a press conference in Staten Island on December 3. The Mayor's speech, which lasted nearly 17 minutes, attempted to calm racial tensions in the city.
In response to questions from Media Matters about whether the university had considered Will's comments on sexual assault before deciding to honor him, MSU spokesman Jason Cody said in a statement that Will was selected in recognition of his "long and distinguished career as a nationally recognized journalist" rather than "in reference to any individual viewpoint." He added: "In any diverse community there are sure to be differences of opinion and perspective; something we celebrate as a learning community. We appreciate all views, and we hope and expect the MSU community will give the speaker the same respect."
MSU's decision to honor Will is already drawing criticism from a prominent women's rights group. "George Will's continued attacks on campus rape survivors make him an unfit speaker for any University," said Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet. "George Will may have a right to publicly speak out against survivors of sexual violence, but schools like Michigan State University should know better than to honor Will's dangerous views with honorary degrees and a speaking gig at commencement."
Conservative columnist George Will is scheduled to speak at Michigan State University this month during graduation ceremonies, despite ongoing controversy surrounding his past comments on campus sexual assault.
The Detroit News reported that Will is scheduled to be a commencement speaker at the December 13 ceremony, and will receive "an honorary doctorate of humanities."
Will's previous speaking engagements at universities have come under fire after he published a syndicated column in June disputing the evidence that 1 in 5 women on U.S college campuses experience sexual assault, while arguing that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges." His remarks received widespread criticism from U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups.
In October, Scripps College of Claremont, Ca. canceled an appearance by Will, with college president Lori Bettison-Varga explaining in a statement that because Will had questioned "the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students," they would not move forward with the speaking arrangement.
Hundreds protested another Will appearance, at Miami University of Ohio in October. Nearly 1,200 students, faculty, and staff signed a letter stating that hosting Will "sends the wrong message to current students, prospective students, and their families about the tolerance of rape culture and predatory sexual behavior at Miami University," according to the Miami University Women's Center. The speech also drew criticism from professors at the school's Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program and the national women's rights group UltraViolet.
At that speech, a student who identified herself as a sexual assault survivor told journalists that Will claimed treatment for victims was "worth it ... only for real survivors of real rape."
Michigan State University is currently under federal investigation for its handling of sexual assault accusations. On December 1, MSU's president posted a note about the school's efforts to combat sexual assault on campus, including "frank conversations and open dialog" to build a "culture of respect" (emphasis added):
As I said in my September 2 letter to the campus community, sexual assault is a serious problem on American college campuses, and ours is no exception. It will take leadership from all quarters to create the change necessary. I commend our students for the way they have stepped forward. Featured below is a video created by Associated Students of Michigan State University (ASMSU) as part of the national It's On Us campaign. And earlier this year, a group of eight current and recently graduated students released a documentary film, "Every Two Minutes," with a powerful message about the impact of sexual assault. This kind of work encourages frank conversations and open dialog, while at the same time building a culture of respect and concern for one another.
I encourage all members of the Spartan community to watch these videos. But I ask you to do more. Take it upon yourself to address this issue in whatever way you can. Sexual assault is everyone's problem, and it's on all of us to take action, whether that means protecting a fellow Spartan from sexual violence, providing support to a survivor, or raising awareness on campus or in your home. Members of the MSU community must not be passive.
Image via Miami University's Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies program.
Fox News' Greta Van Susteren injected race into the beating death of a Bosnian man, connecting the murder to protests in Ferguson, despite multiple statements from St. Louis police department ruling out race or unrest in Ferguson as a motivating factor for the crime.
On November 30, 32-year old Bosnian Zemir Begic was fatally beaten in St. Louis, Missouri. According to CBS News, three juveniles were later taken into custody in connection with the crime. St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said that there was no indication that Bergic was targeted because of his ethnicity.
During a December 1 discussion of Bergic's death on Fox News' On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren and former homicide detective Ted Williams suggested that the crime may be linked to protests in Ferguson. Van Susteren admitted that police said the attack was not racially motivated, but called it "the big elephant in the room" and suggested that "we have incomplete facts" about the role of race in the attack. Williams added that Bergic's death "may very well be connected" to Ferguson, claiming the situation there is "like the war between the North and the South":
But the attack was not connected to the protests in Missouri. As St. Louis Police spokesperson Schron Jackson told FoxNews.com, the city's investigators "don't believe the incident is in any way related to Ferguson" and that the attack "is not being investigated as a hate crime."
Fox News senior political analyst Brit Hume accused President Obama and civil rights leaders of not speaking out on "black-on-black" violence and crime in Chicago. But Obama has repeatedly spoken out on these issues and acted to address them, as have civil rights groups.
From the November 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
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From the November 20 edition of Fox News' The Five:
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From the November 19 edition of CNN's CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin:
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