media

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Those Drugs Were for Rape, Not Sex

The bombshell news rocking social media on Monday afternoon was the revelation that Bill Cosby himself had admitted to drugging young women before sexually assaulting them. The news, unearthed in court documents from 2005, set off a loud cry of public condemnation. Putting aside the incredibly messed up fact that more than 40 women have accused him of just such attacks over the course of several decades and people still continued to defend him until today, even this collective outrage is stomach turning. Why? Check out these headlines:

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Have you spotted the problem yet? No? Tell me – where do you see the word “rape” in any of those headlines?

As the story broke, news outlets pounced, each wanting to get a hot take up. In their haste, they relied on Cosby’s characterization of his intent: he wanted to have sex. But he didn’t have sex with those women. He drugged them, taking away their ability to enthusiastically consent. That’s not sex. That’s rape. Calling it by any other name is an insult to the courageous women who came forward with their stories, not to mention every other person out there who has endured a similar attack.

Language matters. It frames our understanding of the world around us. And as long as we allow ourselves to deride the significance of consent by referring to sexual violence as sex, we’re never going to get to a place where the crime is treated as it should be. We will provide cover to those who seek to find excuses for the inexcusable. We will allow for the shaming of survivors who were never to blame for what happened to them but are continuously forced to defend themselves against such disparagement. We will foster an environment where those who have been assaulted don’t feel safe seeking out justice.

This is rape culture. And most people won’t bat an eye.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife Janay during an NFL football news conference, Friday, May 23, 2014, at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md. Ray Rice spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest for assaulting his fiance, now his wife, at a casino in Atlantic City, N.J.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

How Not to Talk About Ray Rice

By all means, let’s talk about Ray Rice and domestic violence. But before you broach the subject, let’s put a few caveats in place.

Let’s stop questioning Janay’s decision to stay with him. The reasons women stay with their abusers are well-documented, and blaming Janay for her abuse is part of a culture that shames women who have already been victimized.

Let’s stop lauding the Ravens for their decision to terminate Ray Rice. The evidence to support such action was available four months ago, had highly paid investigators been incentivized to get to the bottom of things instead of protect the NFL’s reputation and the competitiveness of the Ravens as a team. The only reason action is being taken now is because TMZ (of all sources) gave them no other option.  The NFL? They didn’t fire Rice. That wasn’t on them.

Let’s stop being excited that the NFL has stiffened the penalties for domestic abuse charges. Beating the hell out of another individual the first time around means a six game suspension. Doing it one more time means you’re banished for at least a year, but after that, you can always get picked up again. Those same behaviors would destroy a traditional career the first time around. And let’s not forget that these NFL penalties for domestic abuse are on par with the punishment for marijuana use. Yes, getting stoned is apparently the same thing as brutally attacking another human being.

Let’s stop bemoaning the dismantling of a career for a promising young man. This isn’t an unfortunate accident. This is a man who brutally attacked another person, and is paying the price. That’s not a tragedy. No, the only tragic part of this story is that there’s any sympathy being given to him at all.

Let’s stop talking about the fact that the victim was a woman as the primary reason for outrage. It frames women as victims in need of protection. The more important issue is that an assault took place. The gender of the victim is only relevant in the context of broader discourse, as we recognize the rate of violence against women as a whole is exponentially higher than instances of domestic violence against men (while acknowledging that the latter still happens and is condemnation worthy itself).

If you want to talk about the prevalence of domestic violence, or the cultural norms that discourage reporting, or the backlash that victims face for reporting at all, or the continued belief that domestic abuse is a private struggle, then by all means, let’s go. Even better, let’s talk about solutions. But if you want to dish out shame and blame and undeserved pats on the backs of those who fell down on the job, you can take your drivel elsewhere.

About That Evil Media Bias

liberal media bias

Stop complaining about media bias. Seriously. Just stop.

I’ve been hearing it since I was a little girl. Granted, that’s what happens when you grow up in a family that likes to talk politics, particularly when your family is conservative. Believe it or not, I spent the bulk of my childhood hearing that Fox was the only fair and balanced reporting out there. Imagine my surprise…

But I digress.

Every other minute, we’re assaulted with complaints about how the mainstream media is in Obama’s pocket, or how conservative media outlets are the MOST guilty of bias. The end result? You’re looking at a generation of voters who don’t want to hear about the news. They don’t trust anyone. And that’s a scary thought.

Let’s put this in context, shall we?

Bias isn’t always bad. Bias is bad when it masquerades as objectivity. When we pretend that commentators are journalists, we discredit the profession altogether.

Does that mean that commentators are bad? Not in the least. While not the “whole” truth of anything, biased reporting does grant us perspective on issues that a bare bones reading of facts might not, and may raise questions you hadn’t thought of before.

Bias isn’t going anywhere. Commentators are here to stay. We can either yell about it, or figure out a better way to digest it.

Consuming biased media isn’t bad. Consuming media from a singular perspective probably is. So watch Fox. Watch MSNBC. Watch CNN. And then watch BBC and Al-Jazeera. Variety is GOOD.

And while we’re at it, don’t just watch. News on television is pretty. It’s sometimes easier to process than a 3000 word article. But it’s never complete; advertising concerns and ratings competition can drive not only story selection but story construction. So quit being lazy, and read. 

In fact, read from a variety of sources. The New York Times and Economist and Guardian and all the names you hear repeated over and over again are good. But there are a lot of people writing in really compelling ways about really important issues out there who are not mainstream. Don’t be afraid to start following along with a new blog or news site. That being said…

Never accept a claim you hear or read on face. Research the ideas that seem fishy, but more than that, research the ideas that make sense. There’s always more to the story.

Never accept statistics on face. If someone cites a stat, find the study it came from. Look at the size of the study. Look at the margin of error. Look at the methodology. Look at what the study concluded, and measure that against the argument it was used to support. Look at criticisms of the study in question. Look at the age of the study. Look at the studies that have come since. A statistic does not a fact make.

There’s a caveat to all this. Bias isn’t bad. Abusing a platform to spread lies or hate is a horse of a different color. IF as you watch, and read, and research, you find that a given commentator or reporter is providing FACTUALLY INCORRECT information without apology or correction, or if you find that they are REPEATEDLY MISREPRESENTING information, don’t support it. Call it out. Call out people who cite it as though it were Biblical truth.

As a caveat to a caveat, this is not an excuse to broadly dismiss a publication or station. I’m not biggest fan of Fox, but that doesn’t mean they are incapable of decent coverage from time to time on certain issues. I’m a big fan of MSNBC, but I can’t stomach Al Sharpton and I’m glad Ed Schultz is gone.

Just because you really like a host or commentator or writer is not a justification for blind trust, either. Maddow, for instance, is one of my favorites, but I almost always follow up her stories with research of my own. It’s not because I don’t trust or like her; it’s because being a well-informed and responsible consumer of media is important. 

You want to know the best defense against bias in the media? A well-balanced diet of said bias.