George Will's planned appearance at Miami University this week is sparking fierce opposition and planned protests on campus, with both students and faculty speaking out against the event as "highly inappropriate" due to Will's repeated comments that trivialize campus rape.
Will, who is distributed by the The Washington Post News Service and Syndicate, has been under fire from U.S. senators, media, and women's equality groups since the publication of his June 6 column, which argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will has been making similar comments for more than two decades, and has refused to apologize for his most recent remarks.
Critics at the Oxford, Ohio campus warn that rewarding Will with a paid platform "sends a negative message" to sexual assault survivors. Miami University's troubled recent history regarding campus rape prompted President David Hodge to state last year that the school had an "obligation to foster and maintain an environment that is free of harassment, discrimination and sexual violence."
An open letter to the university's administration is currently circulating, with more than 200 students and faculty members signing on to the statement opposing Will's appearance.
The letter reads, in part: "the hosting of George F. 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." It adds that his column "belittled the 'progressivism' of new measures to help prevent sexual assault on campus. Sexual assault is not a political issue."
"Furthermore, Will states baldly that colleges 'make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges,' a message that is contrary to the experience of many assault survivors who find the process of reporting assault shaming and silencing," the letter adds. "We as a campus should be working to make that process less stigmatizing, not more."
Protests are currently planned for the night of the speech, as well as a sexual assault "teach-in" by at least one women's, gender and sexual studies instructor to be held right outside of the event, according to the Miami University Women's Center, an on-campus student resource center.
In early October, Scripps College of Claremont, CA, canceled a planned appearance by Will in light of the column, with the school's president stating, "Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy."
The columnist will receive $48,000 for his scheduled speech at Miami University's Farmer School of Business for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. Last week, a school spokesperson told Media Matters that the administration is aware of the controversy surrounding Will and that "Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions."
Reaction has been swift, with multiple statements condemning the decision coming from student and faculty groups.
"Paying George Will to speak at Miami after the column he wrote sends a negative message to survivors of rape and sexual assault on campus," the Miami University Women's Center declared in an email to the campus community that also urged attendance at the protests. "He doubts the legitimate struggle of rape and sexual assault -- this is extremely harmful to survivors. Although he's not talking about this issue, his presence here sends the message that rape and sexual assault is not a big enough issue to turn him away from campus like other colleges have done."
Miami University plans to go forward with a scheduled speech by George Will after another college canceled his planned appearance at their school in light of his offensive column on campus rape.
In a June 6 column, Will disputed evidence that 1 in 5 women on U.S college campuses experience sexual assault and argued that efforts to fight sexual assault have made "victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."
Will's column sparked widespread criticism. Four senators publicly condemned his comments in an open letter, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch dropped his syndicated column and apologized for publishing his "offensive and inaccurate" arguments, and women's rights groups called for the Washington Post to fire him.
Last week, Scripps College of Claremont, Ca. canceled an upcoming appearance by Will. College president Lori Bettison-Varga explained in a statement that the school had decided not to finalize the speaking agreement after Will had questioned "the validity of a specific sexual assault case that reflects similar experiences reported by Scripps students." According to Bettison-Varga, "Sexual assault is not a conservative or liberal issue. And it is too important to be trivialized in a political debate or wrapped into a celebrity controversy."
But Will is set to appear at Miami University's Farmer School of Business in Oxford, Ohio, for its annual Anderson Lecture Series on October 22. He will be paid $48,000, according to the university.
Media Matters reached out to Miami University to ask if the Will event would proceed given the backlash at Scripps and other criticism.
In an email, Kirk Bogard, the Farmer School assistant dean for external relations, stated:
We are aware of the controversy surrounding Mr. Will's column on sexual assault on college and university campuses. As an institution of higher education, we pride ourselves on engaging in open, respectful, intellectual dialogue about the challenges facing our campuses and our country. Members of our campus community may rightfully have questions about Mr. Will's writings on a number of issues and we support their right to pose those questions.
He added that Will's lecture will focus on "The Political Argument Today," and "offers our community the opportunity to hear from a nationally prominent political commentator about the issues that impact the strength and direction of our national economy."
George Will has been dropped by a major newspaper and had a planned speech at a California college canceled for his recent comments dismissing the epidemic of sexual assault. The comments are nothing new for Will, who belittled victims, mocked efforts to codify consent, and attacked what he calls "rape crisis feminists" over two decades ago.
Washington Post columnist George Will ignored Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner's controversial policy positions on women's rights to smear Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) as a one issue candidate. But Gardner has supported measures that would severely limit women's reproductive choice.
On October 10, the Denver Post editorial board endorsed Republican Cory Gardner citing Udall's prioritization of what the Post called "his obnoxious one-issue campaign" on women's issues like abortion.
George Will parroted the Post's criticism of Udall on the October 14 edition Special Report with Bret Baier. Will claimed that "the whole war on women thing has been really worn out by this point," adding that the issue has been settled because contraception and abortion rights have been firmly ingrained in America for more than 40 years:
From the October 6 edition of MSNBC's The Ed Show:
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Weeks after appearing at a VIP dinner for the Koch brothers-backed political group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), George Will devoted his Washington Post column to promoting one of the Kochs' favored political candidates without disclosing the conflict of interest.
Last month, Politico reported on Will's attendance at a private dinner featuring an "exclusive group of major donors and VIPs" as part of AFP's Defending the American Dream summit. Despite repeated attempts by Media Matters, neither Will nor AFP would answer whether he had been paid for the appearance or compensated for his travel expenses. Will has repeatedly devoted column space in the past to promoting Koch-backed candidates and policy issues.
When the journalism group Society of Professional Journalists released its new Code of Ethics in September, the group's ethics chair cited Will's relationship with AFP -- and his refusal to disclose whether he had been paid by the group -- as the type of conflict journalists should try to avoid.
Apparently undeterred, in his September 26 column, Will sang the praises of Republican Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst -- a candidate who has received massive financial support from the Kochs and their political groups -- without disclosing his conflict of interest.
In his column, Will lamented that the contest between Ernst and Democratic challenger Bruce Braley "should not be this close." He dismissed Democrats' "War on Women" narrative and asserted that Braley "is as awkward as Ernst is ebullient when campaigning."
Pointing to spending by outside groups on Braley's behalf, Will classified the Iowa Democrat's "fretting about money in politics" as being "notably selective," and wrote that although "politics is an inherently transactional business," Braley is "operatically indignant about the Koch brothers."
Though Will runs cover for the Koch brothers' Iowa spending, their influence in the race is not so easily shrugged off.
This year, Americans for Prosperity has launched several ad campaigns targeting Braley in Iowa. The Des Moines Register reported earlier this month that another Koch-supported political group, Freedom Partners Action Fund, had also launched a "million-dollar TV ad campaign" targeting Braley.
According to Huffington Post reporter Sam Stein, in June, Ernst appeared at a "secretive conference" held by the Koch brothers, where she heaped praise on the assembled deep-pocketed attendees and credited "the exposure to this group and to this network" for having "really started my trajectory." Citing "figures provided by a Democratic tracker," Stein wrote that four different Koch-funded political groups had "blanketed the airwaves" in Iowa, to the tune of "roughly $3.4 million."
Stein added, "A few days after Ernst's appearance, Charles Koch, his wife, his son and his daughter-in-law each gave the Iowa candidate the legal maximum contribution of $2,600."
Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett wrote a column accurately depicting the college sexual assault epidemic and the fears victims face in reporting these crimes, a stark contrast to his colleagues and fellow conservative media figures who have dismissed, mocked, and stigmatized victims.
In a September 25 column for Fox News' website, Jarrett highlighted the high rate of assault on college campuses, and praised student activists for raising awareness of the often insufficient resources and efforts by colleges to address the problem (emphasis added):
Nearly 20 % of female college students have been sexually assaulted, according to a White House task force.
I suspect the true number is significantly higher. Many young women are reluctant to report it. They keep it secret for fear of embarrassment, shame, retribution, and the trauma of reliving the nightmare during legal or disciplinary proceedings. I get it. There are repercussions. Victims are especially afraid of being stigmatized or ostracized within the tight, insular social circles on campus.
Awareness is on the rise driven, in part, by student activism. Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz, angry over how the school adjudicated her claim of rape, has taken to carrying a mattress around campus. Dubbed "Mattress girl" by fellow students and the media, her visually indelible protest has galvanized a growing demand for honesty and transparency. And why not? Schools should be required to publish accurate information about the frequency of assaults. It can be done without breaching individual students' privacy.
Jarrett's column unfortunately stands out among recent commentary about sexual assault in conservative media, where the fact that one in five women are assaulted at college is regularly dismissed. The Daily Caller has called the statistic "bizarre and wholly false," while the Washington Examiner called it "ridiculous."
Moreover, the trust and respect Jarrett treats the victims of these assaults with is unusual. Instead, their stories are often questioned or critiqued, with media figures suggesting that a large number of victims are lying about their assault, or are partly culpable.
The same day that Jarrett's column was published, some of his Fox News colleagues suggested that intoxicated women who are assaulted at college fraternity parties are responsible for their own assaults. Several co-hosts of Fox's Outnumbered defended a Forbes contributor who was fired after claiming that drunk women were "the gravest threat to fraternities" because the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
This past summer, Washington Post columnist George Will came under fire for claiming that college efforts to curb sexual assaults were making "victimhood a coveted status that confers privilege." In his column, Will disputed the story of a college rape on Swarthmore's campus, implying he didn't believe the survivor's story qualified as an actual incident of assault. The survivor, Lisa Sendrow, told Media Matters about the violence she had experienced, how Will's dismissal of her story was triggering and damaging to her, and that she was diagnosed with PTSD and received violent threats after her story was first reported.
Earlier this year, a Weekly Standard contributor blamed feminism for sexual assault, because victims abandoned "feminine modesty" which had provided women "protection" from rape. National Review Online writers claimed rape was "instinctive" among some young men, that assaults involve "a large degree of voluntary behavior" from women, and that women are "being taught to believe they were raped." A New York Post columnist dismissed rape as "regrettable sex."
And Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto went so far as to claim intoxicated sexual assault victims are just as guilty as their attackers.
While Jarrett's column is sadly something of an outlier among conservative commentary on the issue, survivors now have one more voice in the media supporting their efforts to combat this epidemic.
Right-wing media scandalized President Obama's assertion that the Islamic State does not represent Islam during a primetime address to the country on his plan to combat the threat of the Islamic State -- a common differentiation that former President George W. Bush made in reference to Al Qaeda.
George Will promoted a "key issue" of a lobbying group in his Washington Post column just two weeks after giving the keynote address at its conference.
Journalism ethicists have recently raised concerns about Will's ethical practices, and have urged greater transparency and disclosure in his Post columns. Will has been criticized for failing to reveal his connections to Wisconsin's conservative Bradley Foundation, and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), a massive political group backed by the industrialist Koch brothers.
Will wrote an August 15 Washington Post column criticizing the "distracting crusade against the minor and sensible business practice called 'inversion,'" in which corporations leave the United States for a country with a lower corporate tax rate. He added that a "sensible corporate tax rate would be zero. This is so because corporations do not pay taxes, they collect them, necessarily passing on the burden as a cost of doing business. And studies suggest that corporations' workers bear a significant portion of the burden."
Will gave the keynote address to the National Retail Federation's (NRF) Retail Advocates Summit on July 30 in Washington, D.C. NRF is a trade and lobbying organization that represents "the interests of the retail industry through advocacy, communications and education." The group's annual DC summit brings "retailers who are passionate about policies they believe in can come to Washington to be advocates for change."
The summit listed as one of its "key issues" "Lower business tax rates," writing that "Corporate tax reform would benefit retailers in a number of ways, like allowing companies to make decisions based on business strategies rather than tax implications and increasing investment and job creation by passing along tax reduction to their customers."
NRF states on its website that it "has led the retail industry's push for tax reform and is an original steering committee member of the RATE Coalition, which represents a broad range of industries dedicated to the issue. In the course of dozens of meetings with lawmakers, policy experts and opinion leaders, and through reports and testimony, NRF has emphasized that reform of the existing tax system--not bumper-sticker proposals to abolish the IRS or scrap the tax code--is the proper path to economic prosperity."
The lobbying group posted a July 22 public policy article arguing that inversions are "evidence of the need for the United States to reform its federal tax system" in the form of lower corporate taxes.
Will, who is also a Fox News contributor, is represented by Washington Speakers Bureau, which lists his fee as "$40,001 & up." NRF did not respond to a request for comment.
The Society of Professional Journalists recently updated its Code of Ethics to include new provisions regarding transparency. The group's ethics chair cited Will's AFP disclosure failure as an example of a conflict journalists should attempt to avoid.
George Will has found himself in financial disclosure trouble several times in the past -- from failing to reveal his money connections to Wisconsin's conservative Bradley Foundation when citing their data to writing columns critical of former Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry's opponents without mentioning his wife worked for Perry's campaign.
So when he appeared at a VIP dinner to kick off last weekend's Americans for Prosperity (AFP) Defending the American Dream summit, Media Matters was interested in whether he was paid for the appearance by the influential conservative political group backed by the powerful Koch brothers, as well as who paid for his travel and expenses.
But despite repeated attempts by Media Matters to get answers from Will, AFP, his syndicator, and others, nobody is talking.
Because Will routinely promotes Koch-supported candidates and policies in his syndicated column, several journalism ethicists raised concerns about his connection to the right-wing political group and urged that questions about payments for his appearance be answered given Will's prominence in the conservative movement and his past failure to disclose.
"If Will does intend to write about Americans for Prosperity's agenda," and wants to behave ethically "he should have purchased a ticket to the dinner equal to the value of the meal (thus leaving nothing extra for the AFP's later lobbying use)," said Tom Fiedler, Dean of the College of Communication at Boston University and a former Miami Herald editor and political editor. "Of course, accepting an honorarium -- a payoff -- to attend the dinner would elevate the need for him to fully disclose all this if/when he would address AFP interests in a column."
But finding out if Will was paid, how much and by whom, is not that easy.
AFP Public Affairs Director Levi Russell said only: "He appeared and spoke with some of our supporters on Thursday night at a dinner, any of the speakers who come to our events, we don't discuss if they are paid or not."
He later said, "You are free to ask him." But calls and emails to Will were not returned.
Fred Hiatt, the Post's editorial page editor, said he did not know of Will's appearance fees, if any, and said he is not under the supervision of the editorial page since he is syndicated through the Washington Post Writers Group.
"With regard to George Will: he is not a 'staffer,' as you describe, and Washington Post staff rules do not apply to him," Hiatt wrote in an email. "He is an independent columnist and we subscribe to his column through the Washington Post Writers Group. Questions about his dining or travel should be addressed to him. I have confidence that he will tell readers, as he does from time to time, when he has a conflict that is relevant to a column he is writing."
The Washington Post Writers Group did not respond to an inquiry and no such information was provided by the Washington Speakers Bureau, with whom Will is contracted for outside appearances.
The New York town of Greece, whose policy of allowing sectarian Christian prayers to be delivered before town meetings was the subject of a recent First Amendment challenge before the Supreme Court, has now adopted a new set of rules that appear to exclude non-believers from this practice -- discrimination that the town's defenders in right-wing media pretended didn't exist.
In May, the conservative justices of the Supreme Court ruled in Town of Greece v. Galloway that the prayer offered before this town's meetings was permissible under the First Amendment -- despite the fact that "the invocations given ... were predominantly sectarian in content," which "repeatedly invoked a single religion's beliefs," as Justice Elena Kagan explained in her dissent. Yet the majority found this apparent preference for Christian prayers constitutionally acceptable because the town assured the Court "that a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation." It was this claim that the prayer policy was non-discriminatory and would allow non-Christians to participate that the Court, as well as right-wing media outlets, relied upon.
After the decision, Washington Post columnist George Will attacked the Jewish and atheist plaintiffs who challenged the town's prayer policy, calling them "prickly plaintiffs" and "flimsy people" who were "theatrically offended" over nothing more than "brief and mild occasional expressions of religiosity." The Wall Street Journal also celebrated the conservative decision in Town of Greece, and specifically hailed the inclusivity the town of Greece had told the Court it practiced:
The town of Greece used mostly Christian prayers because its citizens are predominantly Christian. Yet when rabbis and clerics of other faiths asked to give the prayer, they were welcome. Even a Wiccan priestess was allowed to issue what we suppose was an anti-prayer. Council members and visitors were under no obligation to pray along and there was no evidence of punishment or even disapproval for anyone who didn't.
Both Will and the Journal ignored the fact that town officials extended those invitations to non-Christians only after the lawsuit was filed.
Now it appears the town of Greece has backed away from the inclusivity that right-wing media touted. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported, last week the town adopted a new policy for its legislative prayer that is being condemned as "an enormous bait and switch" because it seems to bar the non-believers the Supreme Court claimed were allowed to participate. Designed by the religious right's Alliance Defending Freedom -- the legal organization who led the Court to believe that "a minister or layperson of any persuasion, including an atheist, could give the invocation" -- the new guidelines require that speakers represent a local, established religious organization that "regularly meet[s] for the primary purpose of sharing a religious perspective."
The Washington Post is publishing a week of climate change editorials aimed at sparking action on what editorial page editor Fred Hiatt calls "an existential threat to the planet."
In an interview with Media Matters about the ongoing series, Hiatt said that the Post views this as a moment "when the debate could begin to get unstuck." He believes that increasingly dire warnings from scientists about the threat of climate change and new regulations aimed at reducing carbon pollution could lead to new legislation on this issue. "So we wanted to encourage that process and also put forward as you'll see later in the week, a couple of approaches that we think would make a lot of sense and might at some point even be politically feasible."
The series marks a major effort from an editorial page that has in the past been criticized by progressives for publishing misleading columns about global warming.
"Over the long run it is an existential threat to the planet, I believe that, so you don't get much bigger than that," Hiatt said about the decision to run the week of editorials. "That doesn't mean that you can set aside other really big problems that are facing us today, but over time ... the longer we wait to do something about it, the greater the damage is likely to be and the more disruptive the response will be."
Among the potential solutions the paper is considering -- in an editorial slated for Wednesday -- is an effort to create some kind of carbon cap or permit fee, perhaps based on a proposal from Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), that would require utilities and others to pay a fee for levels of greenhouse gas emissions beyond a certain point.
"We have consistently said that the best way to do this is to put in some way to put a price on carbon, you can do that with carbon tax, you can do that with a cap and dividend system and we'll talk a little bit about the relative merits," Hiatt said. "Somehow you need to put a price on the greenhouse gases that we emit into the atmosphere so that people have to pay for the damage they are doing and they have an incentive to invest in new approaches."
Hiatt cited editorial writer Stephen Stromberg as the "driving force" behind the series, which will run through Friday.
"We've been talking about it for quite a while," he explained. "But whether to do it as an occasional series or all at once or call it a series or not call it a series we sort of probably decided on that a week or so ago."
Hiatt agreed it is unusual for a newspaper to devote an entire week of editorials to one issue, but said climate change warrants the attention.
"I've done this before, we did a big series on inequality maybe 10 years ago," he said. "I don't do it too often because I think it's asking a lot of readers who expect, they don't come to editorials for a long read. Every once in a while I think it makes sense and including as a way for us to say this is really an important issue, and one of the luxuries of an editorial page is we can write about stuff even if we don't have an immediate news peg."
From the July 27 edition of Fox News' Fox News Sunday:
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Ads urging five major newspapers to drop George Will following his offensive column demeaning campus sexual assault victims are being sponsored by the women's rights group UltraViolet and highlight a survivor who first told her story to Media Matters.
The ads seek the removal of Will's syndicated column from the Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Orlando Sentinel, The Detroit News, and Richmond Times-Dispatch. The group has been running an online petition urging The Washington Post, Will's flagship paper, to drop him as well.
"Rape is a crime that keeps women from having equal access to essential services, like education, and addressing that is essential to equality," Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, said in a release.
At issue is Will's June 6 column that sparked outrage from women's organizations, U.S. senators, and college rape survivors for suggesting that sexual assault victims -- or people who Will decided were only claiming to be sexual assault victims -- enjoyed "a coveted status that confers privileges." To make his point, Will relied on an anecdote from a Philadelphia magazine article about a young woman from Swarthmore College, implying that he didn't believe her story qualified as an actual incident of assault.
That woman, Lisa Sendrow, spoke with Media Matters in an interview published earlier this week, stating: "I absolutely have not received any privileges from sexual assault. [Will] has clearly never experienced the fear of sexual assault ... He clearly has no idea how hard it is to sleep, to walk around, thinking at any moment this person that you live down the hall from could come out."
Since the column was published, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced it would stop running Will's column, while the Tribune Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold declined to run the particular campus rape column, telling Media Matters it was "misguided and insensitive."
A statement from Sendrow is included in UltraViolet's press release about the ad campaign, in which she notes that survivors are "further victimized by people like George Will" when their stories are "dismissed, diminished, and brushed aside."
The ads are running online through banner advertisements and Facebook in the cities where the newspapers are located.
UltraViolet also offered the testimony of "Elizabeth B," another survivor of campus sexual assault, who said: "In my junior year of college I was assaulted by a serial rapist while walking from campus to my apartment. People from the police to other students questioned my story or made comments that suggested I was responsible. George Will's destructive column brought the pain of that trauma right back for me, and makes it even harder for survivors to come forward. He has a right to free speech but no god-given right to write a biweekly column in the Washington Post or anywhere else."
From the July 2 edition of CNN's New Day:
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