Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The people complaining about the coverage of the Greg Kelly case are just fine when presumptively innocent men are skewered by the news media in the typical rape case

"We have concluded that the established facts do not constitute a crime under New York criminal law." So said Joan Vollero, spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., in announcing that no rape charges would be brought against Greg Kelly, television personality and the son of New York's Police Commissioner. The accusation didn't cut it primarily because the accuser had sent Kelly flirtatious friendly messages both before and after the encounter.
The usual suspects will insist, of course, that merely because charges weren't brought, that doesn't mean that no rape occurred--ignoring the carefully chosen words of the district attorney's office: the established facts show that no crime, no crime whatsoever, occurred. In short, Kelly is as innocent of rape as anyone reading this post.
Nevertheless, Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon claimed the news coverage of the case devolved into "victim blaming," a phrase that has become almost as hackneyed, and misused, as "misogyny."
And a CBS news story questioned the fairness of all the leaks to the press because they cast doubt on the accuser's veracity. "The coverage, driven by leak after leak from law enforcement, is questioning the credibility of Greg Kelly’s accuser. Some readers are saying, enough. 'It is kind of stacking the deck against people, for sure it’s definitely a lot of propaganda,' Kelsey Novick of Greenpoint told CBS 2’s Tony Aiello. 'I think stories like this are dangerous. They perpetuate the victim, blaming culture of violence against women,' added Craig Held of Midtown."

I agree that the news coverage in the Kelly case didn't epitomize the way rape claims ought to be covered. But, all due respect, the news coverage of rape cases is typically far less fair to the presumptively innocent who are accused of such crimes than to accusers, and the folks complaining about the coverage in the Kelly case don't give a damn about that.

To start with, in virtually every rape case, accusers' good names are hermetically sealed in anonymity, while the good names of even innocent men and, yes, boys, are splashed all over the news in the same sentence as "rape" for all the world to titillate to their humiliation.  The news media doesn't wait for a conviction, or even a charge, to destroy.  All it takes is a far-fetched, completely false, claim. And trying to undo a rape claim is akin to putting the toothpaste back in the tube.

It gets worse. Where, for example, were Mary Elizabeth Williams, CBS, and the others who were so offended by the Kelly coverage to complain about the news coverage when four innocent minority young men were being skewered in the news media in the Hofstra false rape case? The Hofstra case is one of many, many examples I could use, but it is a good case to talk about here because it was so widely covered. 

Remember this news report  in the Hofstra case? At the time that report was made, the police were already suspecting that the accuser's claim was problematic. Wouldn't it have been fair to the young men if the police had told the reporter what they actually knew, or -- heaven forbid -- if the reporter had refused to serve as nothing more than the police department's parrot? 

You want to talk about "victim blaming"? No one complained when sensationalist reporters painted the innocent young men in the Hofstra case as the worst kinds of sexual predators. No one complained when the police went on the record describing the boys in the most monstrous of terms, even though they should have known better.

No one complained because that was business as usual. Police typically don't reveal the weaknesses in the rape accuser's case until it falls apart, and reporters both love a scary rape story and are too lazy to be anything more than stenographers for the police in their coverage of them. It's acceptable to publicly shame innocent men and boys based on nothing more than an accusation, and also to turn them into pariahs with official police misinformation.

Usually, men and boys accused of rape are treated more like the men in the Hofstra case than Greg Kelly.

Moreover, usually women who cry rape are not "victim blamed" either by the media or the persons who dominate the public discourse on rape -- even when it turns out they lied. Example: do you remember how Danmell Ndonye, the false accuser in the Hofstra case, was treated? Among other things, her rape lie was blamed on -- get ready for it -- misogyny. Yep. No kidding. Amanda Marcotte, for one, said that "hatred aimed [at] women who engage in sexual adventures is exactly why there are these kinds of incidents." Ms. Ndonye, according to Marcotte, "probably got drunk, made the choice to have sex with multiple men, and then—because of misogynist attitudes towards sexual women perpetuated by the very people who claim to be so worried about false accusations—decided to call it a rape to clear her name."

Marcotte's characterization of the Hofstra case is akin to holding the facts up to a fun-house mirror: the grotesque image it creates bears no relation to what actually occurred. The fact is, Ndonye's boyfriend was trying to call her at the very moment Ndonye was urging four young strangers to insert their penises into her. By any measure, Ndonye was cheating on her boyfriend in a very nasty way -- there is no legitimate way to spin it -- and because she was ashamed for doing that (as almost anyone would be), she lied to cover it up. Suggesting that Ndonye cried rape because society hates women who engage in "sexual adventures" is such a distortion it borders on pathology.

Incredibly, NY Daily News writer Michael Daly managed to top even Marcotte's lunacy: "The [accused young men] were freed after getting the good scare that they well deserved," he said. "They should stop their whimpering and apologize for acting like mutts."

So, yes, I agree that the leaks in the Kelly case were not proper. I agree that it's inappropriate to blacken the reputation of a rape accuser in the news media.

But the news coverage in the Kelly case was far less unjust than the news coverage in most high profile rape cases (we won't even talk about DSK, Jamie Leigh Jones, or a host of others), even the ones constructed on lies.  Almost always, the injustice works the other way. Don't believe me? Spend a few weeks paging through this blog.