Taylor Woolrich, who made national headlines in 2014 over her efforts to carry a gun on her college campus after being stalked, revealed that John Lott, a discredited gun researcher, was the actual author of an op-ed published at FoxNews.com under her name that portrayed her as an unconditional supporter of campus carry laws and was picked up by dozens of media outlets.
Woolich was interviewed for an August 13 Buzzfeed article that recounted how she was stalked for years by an older man - beginning when she was a teenager and continuing after she went to college 3,000 miles away - and how her story went viral after it became enmeshed with the gun lobby's efforts to allow students to carry firearms on college campuses.
In her interview with Buzzfeed, Woolich criticized Lott, alleging that he pressured her into allowing him to submit an op-ed he wrote -- “Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself” -- to FoxNews.com under her name.
Lott, a columnist for FoxNews.com, is one of the country's best-known pro-gun advocates and a frequent source of conservative misinformation about gun violence; his research linking permissive laws regarding the carrying of guns in public to lower crime rates has been debunked. He has also faced accusations of data manipulation and fabrication in order to advance a pro-gun agenda.
Woolrich told Buzzfeed that her primary objective in telling her story publicly last year was to raise awareness about stalking, but that Lott's “first priority was his cause” of pro-gun advocacy, explaining, “He saw me as a really great asset” in that endeavor. She added that in the brief time she spent with Lott, “I was trying to be brave and just speak up. I didn't realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet.”
Woolrich met Lott after agreeing to speak on a panel at an August 2014 conference held by Students for Concealed Carry, a group that advocates for colleges and universities to allow students to carry guns on campus, a practice that has been traditionally prohibited. According to Buzzfeed, Lott, who runs pro-gun group Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), helped fund the conference.
After learning Woolrich's story, Lott convinced her to co-author an op-ed with him for FoxNews.com about her experience, and Woolrich says she sent him details of what she had been through. Lott submitted a double-bylined piece to Fox News that included Woolrich's story, as well as his own well-worn talking points in favor of allowing concealed carry on campus. The network rejected it.
Woolrich told Buzzfeed that the same day she spoke at the conference, she gave an interview to a reporter from the BBC, and when Lott learned about it, he became “extremely, inappropriately pushy” and “controlling.”
By then, the media had caught wind of Woolrich's compelling story, and Fox News had changed its mind about running a piece. But it didn't want the original, co-authored op-ed -- only one written by Woolrich, with her thoughts, not Lott's. Woolrich told Buzzfeed that when Lott told her this, she responded that she didn't have time to write a new piece and he pressed her to let him write it for her. She said struggled with the decision before agreeing, thinking, “I don't know if I should just say yes and not piss him off.” In return, she says, he used her as “an asset” for his agenda:
The piece incorporated elements of her talk at the conference, but otherwise it was the essentially the same article written by Lott, which is still online at the Daily Caller. “It's his op-ed,” she says. “Word for word, except the chunks that match what's said in my speech.” The references to Lott's disputed research? Not hers. The link to the Amazon sales page for his book? Not hers. The headline? “Dear Dartmouth, I am one of your students, I am being stalked, please let me carry a gun to protect myself.”
“I think his first priority was his cause,” she says. “He saw me as a really great asset.”
It is unclear to what extent Fox News knew that the op-ed, which concludes with the line, “If schools and society can't guarantee my safety and the safety of victims like me, it's time we have the chance to defend ourselves so we can stop living in fear,” was written by a male pro-gun advocate.
Although the piece carries an editor's note saying only that Lott “contributed to this article,” according to emails viewed by Buzzfeed, Lott admitted to a Fox News editor, “It was actually easier for me to write this in the first person for her than the way I had originally written it.” In a statement to Buzzfeed, Fox News Executive Vice President and Executive Editor John Moody said FoxNews.com “published what was characterized to us as a first person account of Ms. Woolrich's experiences.”
Lott promoted the op-ed in a post on the website of his Crime Prevention Research Center under the headline, “Taylor Woolrich's op-ed at Fox News describes what it is like to be stalked, lots of other media coverage.”
Accompanying the post, Lott wrote, “Taylor Woolrich has a very powerful op-ed at Fox News that starts this way,” before offering an excerpt. The post noted that Woolrich's story was gaining national media coverage, listing dozens of outlets that had covered the story including Fox News, NBC, MSNBC, and BBC.
Woolrich told Buzzfeed that she “wanted to talk to the media, if it could mean something positive. But I wanted to talk to the media about stalking.” Her interaction with Lott, she said, left her feeling like “an NRA puppet”:
“It's not like John Lott held a gun to my head and told me to talk to the media,” Woolrich says. “I wanted to talk to the media, if it could mean something positive. But I wanted to talk to the media about stalking.” In response to the flurry of interview requests, she changed her number and did not return Lott's or Riley's messages.
“I thought I was doing something good, and I thought it would be good for other girls,” Woolrich says. “I was trying to be brave and just speak up. I didn't realize I was being turned into an NRA puppet.”
Fox News' response to Buzzfeed on the op-ed controversy marks the second time in recent months that the conservative network has been forced to respond to something Lott has said or done. In June, Lott claimed in a CPRC fundraising letter that Fox News had “agreed to start systematically publishing news stories about mass public shootings that have been stopped by concealed handgun permit holders.” (According to a survey of mass public shootings over a 30-year period by Mother Jones, this is not a phenomena that actually happens.) Fox News denied Lott's claim in a statement to The Washington Post's Erik Wemple.
This is also not the first time Lott has written from the perspective of a woman. In 2003, Lott was caught defending and promoting his own work online while writing under the name “Mary Rosh,” who described herself as a former student of Lott's -- “the best professor I ever had” -- and wrote about how she needed a gun in case she had to defend herself from a larger male attacker.
According a 2003 Post exposé on Lott's use of the “Rosh” pseudonym, “In postings on Web sites in this country and abroad, Rosh has tirelessly defended Lott against his harshest critics. He is a meticulous researcher, she's repeatedly told those who say otherwise. He's not driven by the ideology of the left or the right. Rosh has even summoned memories of the classes she took from Lott a decade ago to illustrate Lott's probity and academic gifts.”
After Lott was revealed to be “Rosh” by a blogger at the libertarian CATO Institute, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin wrote that the episode showed Lott's “extensive willingness to deceive to protect and promote his work.”
CPRC published a post on its website, disputing Woolrich's characterization of her experience working with Lott and calling the BuzzFeed article a “hit piece.”