Connor Friedersdorf on George Will and Sexual Assault on Campus

June 23

Friedersdorf has an excellent overview of and commentary on the controversy. I agree with just about everything he writes, though he should have mentioned that the outrage at the column was not completely spontaneous, but was spurred in good part by a much-shared blog post at Media Matters that distorted Will’s column, which had the following false headline: “Wash. Post’s George Will: Sexual Assault Victim Is Now A ‘Coveted Status’.” Undoubtedly, many people who misread Will’s column did so because Media Matters and others (here’s one that I saw in my Facebook feed several times, from the Huffington Post: “George Will Says Being A Rape Victim Is A ‘Coveted Status’ In College”) had already led them to prejudge the column’s point by misrepresenting what he wrote. Media Matters, it’s worth noting, specializes in this sort of misrepresentation.

Here’s Friedersdorf’s conclusion: “To sum up, the flaws in Will’s column are real enough, or so it seems to me. But they’re well within the normal range of wrongheaded things that newspaper columnists inevitably write if they do the job twice a week for years. What distinguishes Will’s column is the fact that he addresses a sensitive, fraught topic. His critics’ unstated belief is that because he dared to do so with inadequate sensitivity, they’re justified in twisting his words in the most provocative way possible, all the while striking an exaggerated pose of righteous outrage. (Could it be that a curmudgeonly septuagenarian is both offensive to the sensibilities of his ideological opposites and has something valuable to contribute?) The perverse effect will be a broadened subset of cautious pundits who are less likely to write about rape or sexual assault at all (especially at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch!). Totally ignoring rape won’t ever get a person fired. Writing about it might, especially if one’s words aren’t reliably conveyed. Public discourse is undermined by people whose focus is drawing red cards on their opponents.”

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.
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