Earlier today on Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski brought up her doubts about the current state of the #MeToo movement and how it has affected politics—namely Al Franken, who resigned yesterday ahead of an ethics investigation. He’s one of a handful of men who have resigned their posts due to a range of sexual harassment and assault allegations.
Before Brzezinski made her comments, her co-host, Joe Scarborough, brought up the fact that Brzezinski was one of the few Democrats who was outspoken about Bill Clinton’s misconduct back in the ’90s and even brought up her surprise that if Monica’s stained dress couldn’t bring down a President, it seems strange that a photo brought down Al Franken.
“In this #MeToo environment, you must always just believe the women and I think that there’s a lot of reasons why we need to look at the women seriously and believe them,” said Brzezinski.
“I’m just wondering if all women need to be believed and I’m concerned that we are being the judge, the jury and the cops here and so did Senate Democrats getting ahead of their skis.” (via The Wrap)
Brzezinski also brought up Franken accuser Leeann Tweeden, calling her allegations into question because Tweeden is a “performer, a Playboy model who goes on Hannity, who voted for Trump. I see some politics there.”
When I first watched this I have to admit I was pissed. It has been frustrating to listen to and read so many people who say they are Democrats slowly become encouraged to say these dismissive things about women just because the allegations have hit a Senator they support. However, I think what Brzezinski is talking about and trying to deal with is bigger than the soundbite it has turned into, even if I think she is asking a dangerously loaded question.
For one, it can seem “unfair” to many that Franken has been forced to resign when, in the “scheme of things,” what he stands accused of doing is not as violent or severe as others (as terrible as it is to be in a situation to even have to compare such things). Then, there’s the added sting that the Republican party, as a whole, has decided to invest in the human garbage fire that is Roy Moore despite allegations of child molestation, and numerous allegations against Donald Trump—not to mention bragging about it on tape—did not stop him from becoming president, which is something Franken brought up in his resignation speech.
Franken’s allegations were initially used by those on the Right to effectively say, “Haha look, now one of yours has been accused. Bet you’ll change your mind on what it means now, huh?” as shown in Vivian’s post from when the allegation first broke. However, now that Franken has resigned, the conversation has switched, for some conservatives, to worries about a “lynch mob” or a “witch hunt”—two phrases that have been deeply overused without any understanding of the very different historical context, but whatever.
Right-wing radio host and documentarian John Ziegler confessed that there was a time he “would have rejoiced at the demise of such a far left zealot” but now wrings his hands that Franken’s resignation “will set an incredibly dangerous precedent which will likely cause chaos and injustice in the future.” Wednesday night, Newt Gingrich — Newt Gingrich! Of all people! — said Franken’s critics were motivated by “this weird puritanism which feels a compulsion to go out and lynch people without a trial.” (via The Washington Post).
So what “both sides” want right now, whether they want to admit it or not, is for one of these women to be branded as a liar so that everything can just stop, and neither of them has to lose another important figure. Scarborough even invoked the Duke lacrosse case and the Rolling Stone University of Virgina article, two of the most infamous false-rape cases in our collective memory—despite, as we well know, such cases being extremely rare. So you know what? Let’s take a look at those cases and how they ended up where they did.
Let’s start with Duke.
In 2006, several white lacrosse players were accused of gang-raping a black woman named Crystal Mangum at a party hosted by the Duke lacrosse team at Matt Zash’s house, who was hired to strip for the team along with another black woman, who complained the team made racial comments about her. While Mangum’s statement was proven false, the reason the case went as far as it did was due to the lies of the DA at the time, Mike Nifong.
Nifong would share information with the media that had no physical evidence to back it up. He simply took the story and used it to puff up his chances of being reelected that year.
Marina Zenovich, who directed the amazing film about the case, Fantastic Lies, spoke to multiple people involved about what things Nifong did that amounted to prosecutorial misconduct. “Susannah Meadows, a journalist interviewed in Fantastic Lies, describes in the film how Nifong gave over 50 interviews making false statements because, in effect, he could,” says the Huffington Post. Nifong lied about DNA and other physical evidence, and Mangum’s testimony was inconsistent from the very beginning. Also, the second stripper at the party denied Mangum’s testimony.
Which is why North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper, after a year, declaring the players innocent—”the victims of a ‘tragic rush to accuse’ by a rogue prosecutor who could be disbarred for his actions,” per SFGate—and condemned Nifong for using this case as a way to fuel the fires of race and class privilege against the boys. Nifong was disbarred for what he did.
“I also want to emphasize that this film focuses on a case where men where falsely accused and where a DA engaged in serious professional misconduct. This should not in any way detract from the fact that the vast majority of reports of sexual assault are true. To use this case as representative of a wider issue would be a profound injustice to the real victims who have the courage to come forward.”
Nifong used the fact that it was a black woman accusing a group of white men who went to Duke (a school with a bad reputation when it comes to race and class) as a way to push his own political agenda. If he had looked at the evidence, this would have gone nowhere, especially taking into account the witnesses and Mangum’s personal history. Yes, her lie was wrong, but if Nifong hadn’t taken the story and run with it, her inconsistent statements would have ended things before they started.
Now, Rolling Stone.
In what will go down as one of the biggest reporting blunders ever, in November 2014, a reporter for RS, named Sabrina Rubin Erdely, told the story of a student, identified as “Jackie,” who said she was brutally gang-raped at a fraternity party in 2012. The article led to huge conversations about rape on campus, which was already emerging at the time, and this seemed like an excellent piece to help continue making progress in that field.
Except, soon after it was posted, other news organizations like The Washington Post had already begun to poke holes in the story, catching inconsistencies in “Jackie’s” story. Rolling Stone later did their own investigative reporting on the piece, written by Steve Coll, and found that they had, in my words, fucked up fantastically:
“The thing that most struck us was how avoidable it was and how there were several paths not taken — paths that you would associate with basic tradecraft, and any one of which might have caused Rolling Stone to pause and go the other way.” (Steve Coll to NPR).
Again, the reason that story blew up the way it did was because people with ethical responsibilities did not do their jobs. They did not do the research that should have been done. If they had it would have been a non-issue, just like how The Washington Post elegantly cock-blocked Project Veritas’ attempts to undermine them.
These two cases have been used against women time and time again as a way to cast doubt and to stop people from believing victims when they come forward, as if it’s a burden. However, the reason they are worth discussing is because these examples are brought up so quickly, but we don’t as readily hear about cases of men who were, you know, killed for false rape allegations or for even looking at a white woman. This is why calling it a “lynch mob” leaves such a sour taste in my mouth. The men experiencing their reckoning right now are losing their jobs, not their lives.
As Ana Marie Cox said in her excellent post about Franken, “He might have been denied ‘due process,’ but that’s not because he won’t appear in front of the Ethics Committee, which will drop its recently opened investigation if he leaves the Senate; it’s because he’s not being criminally charged. His life won’t just not be over, it won’t even be ruined—he’s a wealthy man with many friends who show no sign of desertion. And I can’t see a man with Franken’s sizable talents and ego ever totally disappearing from the national stage.”
What Franken did may not be the same as Harvey Weinstein or Matt Lauer, but that doesn’t make what he’s accused of doing good, or something that should be brushed off because it was a “joke,” or because his accuser is a Republican. Yes, there should be different levels of punishment for different crimes, but considering he isn’t going to jail or losing his life—just losing his “extraordinarily prestigious and well-paying job”—I think this is fair based on what we know now.
But to go back to Brzezinski’s question: “Should we believe all women?” Yes, because the great majority of them are telling the truth. The rate of false rape allegations is between 2 and 10%, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, “since records began in 1989, in the US there are only 52 cases where men convicted of sexual assault were exonerated because it turned out they were falsely accused. By way of comparison, in the same period, there are 790 cases in which people were exonerated for murder.”
If you want to know more about false rape accusations, Quartz has a fantastic article about that from May of this year, which talks about the rate of false rape accusations and why it happens in the cases it does.
One thing that the article brings up that is especially important is that while there is no profile for someone who is a victim of rape, we know that false accusers have this in common: “almost invariably, adult false accusers who persist in pursuing charges have a previous history of bizarre fabrications or criminal fraud. Indeed, they’re often criminals whose family and friends are also criminals; broken people trapped in chaotic lives.”
The odds are in women’s favor. Now, should we do our due diligence and ask questions if we feel there are inconsistencies? Of course, because that is what good reporting is. However, just because we don’t want Al Franken or Johnny Depp or George Takei to have done something wrong doesn’t mean that the allegations and evidence should be tossed aside because we don’t want to hear it.
So yes, unless there is actual evidence to the contrary that isn’t just someone’s opinion, believe the women. Believe the victims.
(via The Wrap, image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com)
Want more stories like this? Become a subscriber and support the site!
—The Mary Sue has a strict comment policy that forbids, but is not limited to, personal insults toward anyone, hate speech, and trolling.—
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org