In January, the Obama administration created a task force to address what it called the “epidemic” of sexual assaults on college campuses.
Its controversial plan has alarmed civil rights activists because one of its components included lowering the standard of proof for a rape conviction in an on-campus adjudication from proof beyond a reasonable doubt to a simple preponderance of the evidence.
The results have been stunning, including a lawsuit by a man expelled for sexual assault at Occidental College even though the women sent text messages indicated she wanted to have sex and arranged to meet.
Prosecutors wouldn’t touch the case, but the college charged ahead with its public condemnation of the man and his expulsion.
Into a charged atmosphere the federal move created, longtime syndicated columnist George Will weighed in with a controversial piece titled “Colleges become the victims of progressivism” that has many progressives calling for his head.
In his column, Will said he didn’t trust the government’s statistics that “1 in 5” college women get raped, nor did he trust that all of the reported assaults were in fact rapes because of the heavy drinking and the “ambiguities of the hookup culture” on display nightly at many campuses.
Will said universities, under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education, often deny young men accused of rape the basic due process found in the regular court system. He also implied that being a college rape victim was becoming a “coveted status that confers privileges.”
One major newspaper, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, reacted by pulling Will’s column from its editorial page and replacing it with that of former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson, who is from St. Louis and more in line with the newspaper’s ideas of what a conservative should be.
“We believe that Mr. Gerson’s commitment to ‘compassionate conservatism’ and his roots in St. Louis will better connect with our readers, regardless of their political bent,” said the paper’s editorial page editor, Tony Messenger, in an editor’s note published June 5.
Messenger called Will’s column “offensive and inaccurate” and apologized for running it.
Will responded to WND’s request for an interview via email saying he did not wish to “feed the fire.”
“I have had my say, I think my critics have had theirs sufficiently to make them seem silly, and I have many more fish to fry.”
Messenger told WND he did not wish to comment further on the decision and that his editor’s note spoke for itself, along with one interview he gave to Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple.
Messenger told Wemple that he made the decision to cancel Will’s column “after seeing the reaction and intensity of the hurt” of readers and people on social media.
Progressive news sites on the Internet wasted no time lining up to attack Will. The Daily Kos, Media Matters, ThinkProgress.org, the Daily Beast and Salon, along with multiple feminist organizations, all posted articles or statements against Will that ranged from light mocking to blistering in tone.
Sally Kohn, in a June 10 column for the Daily Beast, called Will a “worthy heir to Todd Akin” and dished out the well-worn “war on women” narrative as the reason why Republicans haven’t been able to win the White House the last two elections.
Akin, a former six-term congressman from Missouri, recently authored a book, “Firing Back,” which is to be released by WND Books next month.
In it, he describes what it was like to be an unapologetic conservative in a town dominated by media bullies, backroom bosses and liberals of either party.
Kohn said Will was in the same camp with Akin and James Taranto, editorial board member of the Wall Street Journal, as male “rape apologists on the right,” accusing them of “perpetuating that culture by casting suspicion and blame on women and their actions while making excuses for men and putting aggressive male sexuality on a pedestal.”
Then there was this vitriolic bombshell from Heidi Stevens, a blogger and columnist for the Chicago Tribune: “Will is helping spread misinformation. He’s no better than Holocaust deniers, Sept. 11 conspiracy theorists and the monsters who tell parents of school shooting victims that the massacres that robbed them of their children were a hoax.”
Stevens concluded that Will’s editorial opinion was so offensive that it warrants stripping him of his job as a syndicated columnist.
“I don’t see how George Will can keep his job,” Stevens wrote in the June 10 piece.
Some conservatives have jumped to Will’s defense.
“One of the lessons of the Todd Akin disaster is that Democrats will not hesitate to tie the statements, behavior, and controversies of one Republican candidate to all Republican candidates,” a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee told the Washington Post recently.
Perhaps more importantly for Will, his boss is also defending him.
Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt released a statement to Media Matters saying Will’s comments were “well within the bounds of legitimate debate” and had been mischaracterized by many of his detractors.
“I welcomed his contribution, as I welcome the discussion it sparked and the responses, some of which we will be publishing on our pages and website. This is what a good opinion site should do. Rather than urge me to silence a viewpoint they disagree with, I would urge others also to join the debate, and to do so without mischaracterizing the original column,” Hiatt wrote.