Last night on Beat the Press, the weekly media-review program on Boston’s PBS affiliate, WGBH, host Emily Rooney discussed George Will’s recent deranged suggestion that being a rape victim accords one a privileged status in American colleges and universities. The conversation about the piece was better than anything Will has written in the past two decades.
Rooney noted that Will’s column was “intentionally provocative,” although I wished she had also noted that “intentional provocation” is all Will has left at this point. In response to Rooney’s observations about Will’s questioning of rape statistics, panelist/journalist/producer Callie Crossley perfectly characterized the perverse content of Will’s pathetic column:
What [Will] was saying, with his ignorant self, was that rape somehow constitutes a privilege. That’s what he was saying. If his column was about numbers, maybe I could hear that. No, he mentioned numbers, and then he went from there to say, ‘These people are crying rape because it gives them a privileged status.’ Are you insane? I mean, really. So, if you want to talk about numbers, all right, have a thoughtful discussion about [your] complaints about the numbers. I might disagree with you, but I might not. I might follow you on that. But to suggest that somehow, now college campuses are hotbeds of progressivism because women want to have a privileged status to claim rape, is so disgusting, I can’t even…We’re not even talking about facts. So I would just say, because [Rooney] said in [her introductory piece] that people expected him to come from that way, actually, I don’t. I expect him to come from a conservative viewpoint that is thoughtfully presented, that I may or may not agree with. I do not expect him to be disgustingly incorrect…I think he’s disgusting and he’s not dealing with a set of facts. I can always argue, we can always have a thoughtful discussion on different sides of the table if you start with some facts, but you can’t put on the table that saying you’ve been raped is crying to be a [member of a] privileged status. That’s unconscionable.
Crossley also observed that Will is “not the intellectual, thoughtfully prepared conservative person that he used to be. He’s like some nutcase now. I don’t know what the deal is.”
Of course the deal is that Will, like all prominent right-wing pundits, is deathly afraid of being viewed as not conservative enough by the Tea Party types, and thus being effectively chased out of the conservative movement the way Michael Smerconish and Bruce Bartlett were. Attacking concerns about rape culture–which, in the wingnut mind, is a progressive concern only–is an easy, if evil, way of demonstrating that you’re still a charter member of the right-wing club.
Panelist and Northeastern University professor Dan Kennedy noted that Will “has lost a few feet off his fastball over the years. There’s no question about it.” Kennedy also recalled his condemnation of Will’s blatant falsehoods about climate science in 2009. Panelist and Boston University Dean Tom Fiedler suggested that Will could have written a thoughtful column about how colleges and universities address the issue of sexual assault. Panelist and author Roy Harris also noted that Will failed to put the issue in any sort of historical context, and failed to address the equally compelling issue of how the military handles sexual violence.
If [Will] wants to have a data argument, fine. But here’s data that’s correct. The numbers have gone up because now, finally, some young women feel there is some space for them to come forward. But there’s many more that haven’t. See, I know this story personally from friends of mine. I’ve watched them fight a university. [It’s] to a point now that police are saying, ‘Don’t go to the university. Come first to us. This is a crime.’ This is how little some of this stuff is being reported. So to Roy’s point, to not acknowledge that as reality, to not understand that, and then to say, ‘And oh, by the way, the numbers are wrong, too,’ well, you’re just…C’mon!
Kennedy concluded: “It was a terrible column.” Rooney concurred: “It wasn’t his best.”
Speaking of terrible columns, the show concluded with a “Rants and Raves of the Week” segment, in which Rooney pointed to another writer who, like Will, is obviously terrified of losing a prominent spot in the conservative movement:
I have a rant [regarding] the columnist Michelle Malkin. It’s one thing to have an opinion about the president’s immigration policy–she doesn’t like it–but she had this column that was based largely on rumor and a tip, saying that illegal aliens, as she referred to them, were being transported through Hanscom Air Force Base [in Massachusetts], which is why I’m dealing with this, because it’s in our own backyard. She had a number of facts wrong. Today, Hanscom Air Force Base put out a press release clarifying and disputing some of the essence of her column. She used it, the statement, to verify or to validate what she had reported about it. Meanwhile, [the original column] got spread all over [the conservative] websites and conspiracy theory websites.
Crossley and Rooney deserve credit for calling out Will and Malkin. I just wish they had made the specific point that Will, Malkin and their colleagues in the world of syndicated conservative punditry are driven not by fear of Obama, “illegal aliens,” political correctness, taxes, gun control, the EPA or any other bogeyman that shows up in their columns–but by fear that the moment they are viewed as not being conservative enough by their audience, their income will decline, their readership will drop, and they will go to their graves being liked by no one.