Right-Wing Media's Worst Attempts to Downplay Sexual Assault and Diminish Survivors

For Sexual Assault Awareness month, Media Matters looks back at right-wing media's history of downplaying, and questioning the legitimacy of, sexual assault. Right-wing media figures have called reporting statutory rape “whiny,” claimed sexual assault victims have a “coveted status,” said the sexual assault epidemic is “not happening,” blamed feminism for encouraging sexual assault, and said attempts to curb sexual assault constitute “a war happening on boys.”

Right-Wing Media Make Light Of Sexual Assault And Question Its Legitimacy

Right-Wing Media Blame Victims Of Sexual Assault

Right-Wing Media Dismiss Statistics And Deny Sexual Assault Occurs

Right-Wing Media Blame Feminism For Sexual Assaults

Right-Wing Media Claim Focus on Sexual Assaults Harms Men

Right-Wing Media Make Light Of Sexual Assault And Question Its Legitimacy

Fox’s Martha MacCallum: Sexual Assault Accuser Became "A Celebrity," While Accused Man “Received Death Threats.” During the December 11 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Fox’s Martha MacCallum described Columbia University senior Emma Sulkowicz's public accusation of classmate Paul Nungesser as an ongoing attempt to “call attention to her claim that she was raped, even though the investigation that the college ran said” that Nungesser “was not responsible for any such thing.” MacCallum argued that in spite of this finding, Sulkowicz “ended up becoming a celebrity,” while Nungesser “received death threats.” [Fox News, America's Newsroom, 12/11/15]

Fox’s Martha MacCallum: Some Women Have “Legitimate Grievances,” But Some “Wish They Could Change The Choices They Made.” In a December 2 op-ed on FoxNews.com, MacCallum claimed that sexual assault investigations put colleges “in an ugly political and economic bind.” MacCallum added that while some victims have “legitimate grievances,” some “wish they could change the choices they made”:

The government has put colleges in an ugly political and economic bind, one that schools are ill equipped to manage. And the victims are many: Some are young women with legitimate grievances; some are young women who wish they could change the choices they made; some are young men who did nothing wrong. Many are two young people who were so drunk they don't know what happened. [FoxNews.com, 12/2/15]

Fox’s Steve Doocy On Ad Suggesting Date Rape: “Remember Back In The Old Days When People Used To Make Jokes?” During the November 13 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy discussed a Bloomingdale's ad accused of suggesting date rape, saying, “Remember back in the old days when people used to make jokes?” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 11/13/15]

Fox Guest Suggests “Many Women” Falsify Rape Accusations Because They “Have What's Known As Regret Sex.” On the August 19 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, guest Keith Sullivan argued that a New Hampshire student accused of sexual assault didn't “look like a rapist.” He continued that “many women” falsify accusations because they “have what's known as regret sex.” [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 8/19/15]

Fox’s Brit Hume: Blame “The Deregulation Of Sex” For Campus Sexual Assaults. During the July 7 edition of Fox News’ The Kelly File, analyst Brit Hume blamed “the deregulation of sex” for causing sexual assaults, saying that “boys will be boys,” but the “sexual revolution in the ‘60s did away with” the strict rules governing male-female interactions that used to protect women from “lusty” “guys.” He also criticized plans by lawmakers to curb assault, saying of new plans calling for verbal consent at various stages of a sexual encounter: “It suggests that the people who are drawing up these new plans for how consent is to be given have never had any sex.” [Fox News, The Kelly File, 7/7/15]

Fox's Jesse Watters: Statutory Rape Of 16-Year-Old Boy Isn't As Bad If Female Perpetrator Is Attractive. During the June 11, 2014, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox News producer Jesse Watters mocked the statutory rape of a 16-year-old boy by a Florida woman, saying, “If you're a 16-year-old kid and you have sex with your best friend's mom, you usually get high fives.” Watters also said that the Florida woman is “not that attractive” and implied that statutory rape isn't as bad if the female perpetrator is attractive. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/11/14]

Fox's Tucker Carlson: Reporting Statutory Rape Is “Whiny.” On the June 5, 2014, edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, co-host Tucker Carlson criticized a student for reporting a statutory rape , saying, “What a whiny country," and saying the victim “tattled to the police.” He also said the seriousness of statutory rape “depends completely on the sex of the child. And if it’s a girl it’s different from if it’s a boy.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 6/5/14]

Glenn Beck's The Blaze Mocked Prevalence Of Sexual Assault With Skit Performances Labeled “Rape.” A segment during the May 27, 2014, edition of The Blaze's The Glenn Beck Program featured skit performers acting out sexual propositions and labeling each skit “RAPE!” The show’s host also said the number of sexual assault victims is “massively” inflated. [The Blaze, The Glenn Beck Program, 5/27/14]

Fox's Tucker Carlson: "Every Man Understands" That Getting Sexually Harassed By A Female Teacher Is "Like The Greatest Thing That Ever Happened." On the May 5, 2014, edition of Fox News' Outnumbered, Carlson mocked a student who was sexually harassed by his female teacher, saying, “Every man understands this -- a 15 year-old boy looks at this as like the greatest thing that ever happened.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/5/14]

Right-Wing Media Blame Victims Of Sexual Assault

Washington Post's George Will: Being A Sexual Assault Victim Is A “Coveted Status.” In a June 7, 2014, syndicated column, The Washington Post's George Will dismissed the epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses, implying that individuals were pretending to be victims because colleges have made victimhood a “coveted status.” [Washington Post, 6/7/14, via Media Matters]

Fox's Stacey Dash: Some Campus Sexual Assault Victims Are “Bad Girls ... Who Like To Be Naughty.” During the January 30, 2015, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, Fox contributor Stacey Dash said some women who are “bad girls … who like to be naughty, might go out and play and get hurt” at frat parties. Dash added that “alcohol doesn’t get you drunk, you get yourself drunk.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 1/30/15]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: Women Concerned By Sexual Assault Can Be Either “Strong” Or “Victims.” During the October 1, 2014, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, co-host Andrea Tantaros suggested that sex education week at a college campus should include “how not to … black out at a fraternity house,” and that women who face sexual assault “need to decide” between being “strong” and “capable of taking care of ourselves” or being “victims who need a special set of rules and regulations and protections." [Fox News, Outnumbered, 10/1/14]

National Review: Sexual Assaults Usually Involve “A Large Degree Of Voluntary Behavior” From Women. In a May 8, 2014, article, National Review's Heather Mac Donald claimed that sexual assault often involves “mixed signals, ambiguity, and a large degree of voluntary behavior” from victims:

But the main reason “survivors” don't demand to bring their cases to criminal court is that they know that what they have experienced is something far more complex and compromised than criminal sexual assault, almost invariably involving mixed signals, ambiguity, and a large degree of voluntary behavior on their part.

Girls often drink themselves blotto both before and during parties precisely to lower their sexual inhibitions.


The alleged campus-rape epidemic could be stopped overnight if women's advocates sent a simple message to girls: Don't get drunk and get into bed with a guy whom you barely know. Keep your clothes on and go home to your own bed at night. And most controversially: Demand that any boy court you long enough to reveal his character and his respect for yours before you even think about having sex with him. [National Review, 5/8/14]

WSJ Editor: Intoxicated Sexual Assault Victims Are Just As Guilty As Their Attackers. In a February 10, 2014, column, Wall Street Journal editor James Taranto wrote, “What is called the problem of ‘sexual assault’ on campus is in large part a problem of reckless alcohol consumption, by men and women alike.” Taranto also claimed that if women and men are both intoxicated while having sex, “women, but not men, are absolved of responsibility by virtue of having consumed alcohol” when in fact both parties are equally guilty. [Wall Street Journal, 2/10/14]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: “At What Point Do Women Need To Take Some Responsibility?” In a November 10, 2011, New York Daily News column, Fox News host Andrea Tantaros wrote about the sexual harassment accusations against then-GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who is married: “This scandal should have every woman asking: At what point do women need to take some responsibility?" Added Tantaros, “Why have dinner and drinks with a married man in the first place? Why not meet him in his office if your purpose is strictly professional?” [New York Daily News, 11/10/11]

Right-Wing Media Dismiss Statistics And Deny That Sexual Assault Occurs

Fox's Martha MacCallum: “Studies Contradict” Finding That One In Five Women Are Assaulted, And “No One Really Knows For Sure.” In a December 2 op-ed promoting a Fox special about sexual assault on college campuses, Martha MacCallum argued that although “we've heard that one in five young women are assaulted during their college years ... other studies contradict this finding and claim the real number is far lower.” She concluded that “no one knows” the real number “for sure”:

We've all heard about the “rape crisis” on our college campuses. We've heard that one in five young women are assaulted during their college years. It's a staggering number, one that hits home for parents of college-age kids. I was about to send a daughter off to school when I heard that statistic. I was horrified.

But other studies contradict that finding and claim the real number is far lower. No one really knows for sure. Another study claims that young women who do not attend college are more likely to be raped than those who do. [FoxNews.com, 12/2/15]

Fox's Brit Hume on Campus Sexual Assault Statistic: “I, Myself, Totally Dispute” It. On the April 7, 2015, edition of Fox News' The Kelly File, Brit Hume disagreed with a Department of Justice-funded study finding one in five college women are sexually assaulted, saying, “I, myself, totally dispute the notion that you've got a one in five chance of being sexually assaulted if on a campus today. I just don't believe it.” [Fox News, The Kelly File, 4/7/15]

Rush Limbaugh: “So-Called” Epidemic Of Campus Sexual Assault Is "Not Happening." During the January 6, 2015, edition of Premiere Radio Network’s The Rush Limbaugh Show, host Rush Limbaugh claimed the “so-called 'epidemic of college rape'” is “not happening.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 1/6/15]

Rush Limbaugh: Obama's “Totally Made-Up Statistics” On Rape “Further Divide Men From Women. On the February 10, 2015, edition of The Rush Limbaugh Show, Limbaugh criticized President Obama’s message at the 2015 Grammy Awards about stopping violence against women, claiming Obama’s “totally made-up statistics” on rape only “further divide men from women.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 2/10/15]

National Review's Rich Lowry: Statistics On Campus Sexual Assault Are “Bogus” Because They Include “Attempted Forced Kissing.” On the December 7, 2014, edition of ABC's This Week, National Review editor Rich Lowry claimed that statistics showing that one in five women on college campuses are sexually assaulted are “bogus,” arguing, “That statistic is based on a survey that includes attempted forced kissing as sexual assault.” [ABC, This Week, 12/7/14]

National Review: “Is It Not Horrible When We Brainwash Women Into Believing They Were Raped?” In a May 19, 2014, piece, National Review contributor A.J. Delgado ” said that “for every legitimate, actual rape claim there may be another that was not: a girl who cried rape” and asked, “Is it not horrible when we brainwash women into believing they were raped?” [National Review, 5/19/14]

NY Post Column Dismissed Campus Sexual Assault Epidemic As “Regrettable Sex.” In a May 6, 2014, op-ed, New York Post columnist Naomi Schaeffer Riley denied the existence of a sexual assault epidemic, dismissing campus sexual assault as “sexual encounters fueled by bad judgment and free-flowing alcohol.” Schaeffer went on to blame the assault victims for “bad judgment,” describing assaults as “regrettable sex.” [New York Post, 5/6/14]

The Daily Caller: Government Sexual Assault Statistic Is “Bizarre And Wholly False.” In an April 30, 2014, article, The Daily Caller attacked the “bizarre and wholly false claim” from the Center for Disease Control that one in five women are sexually assaulted while in college, arguing that sexual assaults are often falsely reported. [Daily Caller, 4/30/14]

Washington Examiner: One In Five Women Being Sexually Assaulted In College Is A “Ridiculous Statistic.” In an April 29, 2014, opinion piece, the Washington Examiner’s Asche Schow called the CDC's one-in-five statistic “ridiculous” and claimed that it perpetuated “a culture of presuming that a man is guilty.” [The Washington Examiner, 4/29/14]

Right-Wing Media Blame Feminism For Sexual Assaults

Fox Guest Gavin McInnes: Notion Of Gender Equality Makes Women Vulnerable During Spring Break. During the March 24, 2015, edition of Fox News’ Hannity, host Sean Hannity invited guest Gavin McInnes to discuss students traveling during spring break. McInnes claimed that gender “equality is a myth” and said that telling the sexes they’re the same makes “women less safe.” He said that “women are more vulnerable” and that parents should “drill” the idea “into [their] daughter, ‘You’re weak; you’re vulnerable … you’re in danger.” [Fox News, Hannity, 3/24/15]

The Weekly Standard Points To Feminism Ending “Feminine Modesty” As Cause For Sexual Assault. In a June 30, 2014, article in The Weekly Standard, Hoover Institute fellow Harvey Mansfield claimed that feminism is to blame for sexual assault, writing that the movement caused sexual assault victims to abandon “feminine modesty,” which provided women “protection while they considered whether they wanted to consent.” [The Weekly Standard, 6/30/14]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: Feminism Encourages Women To Statutorily Rape Young Boys. On the January 22, 2013, edition of Fox News' The Five, co-host Andrea Tantaros blamed feminism for encouraging the statutory rape of a high school student, claiming, “There's something about feminism that lets them know, 'I can do everything that a man does, I can even go after that young boy.'” [Fox News, The Five, 1/22/13]

Right-Wing Media Claim Focus on Sexual Assaults Harms Men

Fox's Lisa Kennedy Montgomery Blames Fraternity’s Sexually Suggestive Signs On “Backlash” After Being “Told That They Are Predators.” During the August 25 edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, co-host Lisa Kennedy Montegomery said a campus fraternity’s sexually suggestive signs are part of “a backlash” from men after being “told that they are predators.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 8/25/15]

Fox's Andrea Tantaros: Focus On Campus Sexual Assault Amounts To “A War Happening On Boys.” During the March 24, 2015, edition of Fox News’ Outnumbered, co-host Andrea Tantaros claimed that the focus on campus sexual assaults amounts to “a war happening on boys” and that it reflects “a theme in this country to go after boys in this rape culture.” [Fox News, Outnumbered, 3/24/15]