CNN aired only a third as much coverage as MSNBC on the United Nations' Climate Summit and related events including the historic People's Climate March. Even Fox News aired over twice as much on the subject compared to CNN -- though much of its coverage mocked or dismissed the events.
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.
Fox News hosts offered a spirited defense of a recently fired Forbes contributor who wrote that "irresponsible" intoxicated women "are the gravest threat to fraternities" in part because of the possibility that the fraternity would be liable if a woman was sexually assaulted at a party.
On September 23, Forbes published and quickly retracted a column in which contributor Bill Frezza identified "drunk female guests" as "the gravest threat to fraternities." The since-deleted column warned fraternity members that:
[W]e have very little control over women who walk in the door carrying enough pre-gaming booze in their bellies to render them unconscious before the night is through ...
In our age of sexual equality, why drunk female students are almost never characterized as irresponsible jerks is a question I leave to the feminists. But it is precisely those irresponsible women that the brothers must be trained to identify and protect against, because all it takes is one to bring an entire fraternity system down.
Frezza was subsequently fired for his controversial column.
Some of the co-hosts of Fox News' Outnumbered came to Frezza's defense on the September 25 edition of the show. Co-host Andrea Tantaros agreed that Frezza expressed a "legitimate fear" and said, "I don't know why this writer is taking so much heat because this is actually a problem that goes on." Tantaros asked, "the guys, what are they supposed to do, lock them out?" Co-host Kirsten Powers complained of a "culture now where we literally cannot tolerate differing ideas," and guest host Jesse Watters suggested that intoxicated women were responsible for their own assaults:
WATTERS: Let's just try to identify this guy's fear here, Andrea. What he's afraid of is he hosts a party at the house and these girls pregame too hard and they come over sloppy drunk. They take too many shots and they go up to your room and the next thing happens in the morning, I don't know what happens, I can barely remember what happens, she gets hurt, she gets assaulted, anything could happen and then they're liable.
Not every Outnumbered host defended the inflammatory article. Co-host Kennedy pointed out that fraternities are responsible for the safety of their guests, and her colleague Sandra Smith added, "I feel like it's the fault of the fraternity that has ...no policies to handle this."
The Outnumbered hosts previously suggested a link between drinking and sexual assault when they agreed it was wise that college women avoid consumption of alcohol in order to avoid the risk of sexual assault. As an expert explained to USA Today, "People don't get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there -- someone who wants to take advantage of them."
From the September 25 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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In coverage of President Obama's address to the United Nations General Assembly, Fox New figures complained that it took "18 minutes" for Obama to mention the Islamic State terrorist group, despite the fact that Obama referenced "terrorists in Syria and Iraq" in the opening minutes of his remarks, which centered around the threat of terrorism.
From the September 22 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Right-wing outlets are claiming that the Obama administration is using the standard form for federal gun background checks to engage in "racial profiling" and to find out "who has guns" because the form asks about race and ethnicity. But the form has asked for this information since at least 2001, and identifying information is destroyed within hours of a background check being processed.
People who buy firearms from licensed dealers are required to fill out the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives' Form 4473, which is processed by the FBI-administered National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The form asks buyers for information such as name, height, weight, date of birth, and race and ethnicity.
In a September 16 article, Washington Times reporter Kelly Riddell wrote that a 2012 revision of Form 4473 meant that "[t]he Obama administration quietly has been forcing new gun buyers to declare their race and ethnicity, a policy change that critics say provides little law enforcement value while creating the risk of privacy intrusions and racial profiling." According to Riddell, the change was made by the ATF "[w]ith little fanfare."
The change in the 2012 revision is that race and ethnicity were separated into questions 10.a. and 10.b.:
Right-wing media accused President Obama of "advising" and "strategizing" for the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in reaction to reports that Obama said the group had made a strategic error in provoking support for U.S. military action against them.
Fox News host Eric Bolling speculated that House Democrats' letter to the NFL commissioner demanding transparency on the League's knowledge of Ray Rice's domestic assault was simply part of a political effort to prop up a "war on women" narrative.
Following NFL running back Ray Rice's suspension and subsequent dismissal from the Baltimore Ravens for a domestic assault incident that was caught on camera, questions are now swirling as to whether the NFL had seen the full, graphic tape of the assault when it initially decided to suspend Rice only for two games. While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell claimed the league had not seen the full footage prior to the suspension, the Associated Press reported on September 10th that law enforcement may have given the Rice tape to the NFL several months earlier, in April.
In response, twelve Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Goodell demanding "greater transparency" on what access the NFL had to the tape and urging the commissioner to address the epidemic of domestic violence among professional athletes.
News of the letter from House Democrats didn't sit well with Outnumbered co-host Eric Bolling, who called the letter "convenient," adding, "They love to perpetrate this war on women so the Democrats feel like they're taking the side of women when they do this":
Bolling didn't mention another congressional letter to Goodell, one signed by both Democratic and Republican female senators and calling for a "zero-tolerance" policy on domestic violence in the NFL. The senators wrote that they were "shocked and disgusted" at reports that the NFL may have had the tape for months prior to Rice's two-game suspension.
From the September 10 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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From the September 9 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered:
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Right-wing media furthered Fox News host Bill O'Reilly's ad hominem attacks against State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki while claiming that the Obama administration is unwilling to act against the Islamic State.
On the September 3 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, O'Reilly criticized Psaki's response in a press briefing to a question posed by Fox reporter James Rosen, belittling Psaki's ability to successfully do her job based on her appearance. O'Reilly said: "With all due respect, and you don't have to comment on this, that woman looks way out of her depth over there. Just the way she delivers -- it just doesn't look like she has the gravitas for that job."
Psaki's colleague Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, spoke out against O'Reilly's criticism and right-wing media rushed to his defense and seized on Harf's response to attack the Obama administration for supposedly being hesitant to act against the Islamic State.
Radio host and ABC and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham insisted "O'Reilly is saying what all the rest of us are thinking about this Jen Psaki woman." Ingraham echoed O'Reilly's attacks, saying "she doesn't exactly carry herself with the, you know, the type of gravitas, well-spoken presentation that one would expect," but took them further. Ingraham called into question Psaki's qualifications for her State Department career based on her appearance, saying "she looks like she should be on MTV or something." Ingraham also argued that the State Department views O'Reilly as its new enemy rather than the Islamic State:
Fox News host Harris Faulkner accused President Obama of "tipping his hat" to the terrorist group known as the Islamic State by referring to it as "ISIL" rather than the group's earlier recognized name of "ISIS" (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria). But ISIL, short for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, is the name preferred by the international community and the Associated Press, as it more specifically describes the terrorist group's regional ambitions.
On the September 4 edition of Outnumbered, Faulkner discussed the differences between the terms ISIS and ISIL as acronyms for the Islamic State, highlighting the fact that Obama consistently uses ISIL. After wondering if the terrorist group prefers to be called ISIL, Faulkner claimed, "our president is tipping his hat to them."
But ISIL is the term used by the United Nations, the international community, and the Associated Press. As AP explained in June, the English translation is taken from the broad territory the group occupies called "the Levant":
When it comes to sexual assault on college campuses, Fox News host Lou Dobbs doesn't see "anything controversial" about telling women not to drink in order to avoid sexual assault.
In August, former George Washington University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg came under fire for comments he made on NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, where Trachtenberg argued that women should be "trained not to drink in excess" so that they can fend off potential rapists.
During the September 3 edition of Outnumbered, Dobbs vocalized his support for Trachtenberg's comments, wondering "why there should be anything controversial" about advising college students to avoid alcohol to protect themselves from sexual assault. He went on to explain that the "vulnerability" of drinking is a "disastrous choice" to make, while co-host Harris Faulkner agreed, that "personal responsibility... is very important in all of this":
But the implication that preventing sexual assault is as simple as telling women not to drink is faulty. Although excessive alcohol consumption may play a role in encouraging damaging behavior, "[t]he fact that alcohol consumption and sexual assault frequently co-occur does not demonstrate that alcohol causes sexual assault," according to a literature review from the National Institutes of Health:
[M]en are legally and morally responsible for acts of sexual assault they commit, regardless of whether or not they were intoxicated or felt that the woman had led them on previously. The fact that a woman's alcohol consumption may increase their likelihood of experiencing sexual assault does not make them responsible for the man's behavior, although such information may empower women when used in prevention programs.
And as an expert explained to USA Today, "People don't get raped because they have been drinking, because they are passed out or because they are drunk. People get raped because there is a perpetrator there -- someone who wants to take advantage of them."
Dobb's dismissal of sexual assault as a problem that can be mitigated by educating women not to drink places blame squarely on victims' shoulders instead of pointing the finger at perpetrators of sexual assault. Such willingness to shift responsibility away from perpetrators to the victims contributes to the dangerous culture of stigmatization that keeps many survivors from reporting the crimes in the first place.
Fox News hosts defended the practice of catcalling, insisting women should "let men be men" and downplaying the harmful impact widespread street harassment has on women.
On the August 28 edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, hosts highlighted a New York Post opinion article that suggested women "deal with" "flattering" catcalls. Co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle defended street harassment saying, "let men be men," and, "look, men are going to be that way. What can you do?" Guest host and Fox contributor Arthur Aidala reenacted his personal signature "move" -- aiming a slow round of applause at women on the street, which one host said she'd find flattering: