The Washington Post

George Will defends criticized column on campus sexual assaults in C-SPAN interview

George Will, under fire for a nationally syndicated column about campus sexual assaults, isn’t backing down. He’s doubling down.

Faced with a backlash over a June 6 column in which he wrote of the “supposed campus epidemic of rape” and the way in which “victimhood” serves as a “coveted status that confers privileges,” Will said in a TV interview recorded Thursday that he wasn’t withdrawing his words.

“Today, for some reason, indignation is the default position for certain people in civic discourse,” Will told interviewer Brian Lamb on C-SPAN, in an interview that will air sometime in July. “They go from a standing start to fury in about 30 seconds.”

The Internet has erased the barriers to public discourse, he said, and “among the barriers to entry that have been reduced [are that] you don’t need to read, write or think. You can just come in and call names and carry on. And we have all kinds of interest groups that think they will get attention . . . if they’re at maximum decibel levels.”

In the six-minute portion of the hour-long interview posted on YouTube by C-SPAN, Will did not address perhaps the most controversial element in his column, which was published and syndicated by The Washington Post: that sexual assault victims seek “status” by making their allegations.

But as he did in his column, Will again challenged the Obama administration’s assertion that one in five women will be the victims of sexual assault during their college years, a statistic he said “fall[s] apart” given that it is extrapolated from the reported number of assaults.

“This is my job,” Will said. “When dubious statistics become the basis of dubious and dangerous abandonment of due process, it’s my job to step in and say, ‘Everyone take a deep breath.’ ”

He challenged the notion that colleges could adjudicate allegations of assault based on a “preponderance of evidence,” not the tougher legal standard of “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.” By lowering the bar on such a serious crime, he said, many young men could be “permanently and seriously blighted” by legally unsubstantiated charges. He suggested they could be denied acceptance to medical or law school and that such allegations would invite “litigation of tremendous expense.”

In response to a letter critical of his column from a group of U.S. senators who said Will’s column “legitimizes the myths” that rape-victim advocates have labored for years to eliminate, Will said, “I take sexual assault more seriously than they do” because he favored prosecution in the criminal justice system, not through “jerry-built campus processes.”

He added that advocates want to define sexual assault so broadly — including things such as unwanted touching or crude remarks — that it “trivializes” a crime that is second only to murder in the criminal justice system.

As for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s decision to drop Will’s column this week as a result of the controversy, Will shrugged. “They know how to propitiate the rabble,” he said of the newspaper’s decision.

Will suggested the criticism of him will pass. “These are like summer storms,” he said. “They dissipate fast.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.



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