Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Knock, knock. Who's there? Evidently not the police.

My reply to Robert Spencer's latest ripose to my Islamophobia columns is coming up later today, but in the meantime, here is my Boston Globe column (with links added) on a problem closer, literally, to home: the recent Supreme Court ruling on the legality of no-knock searches. My perspective diverges from both the conventional civil liberatarian view, which enshrines the exclusionary rule as a deterrent and antidote to police misconduct, and from the standard conservative view which tends to idolize the police.

EARLIER this month, the Supreme Court came down with a ruling that some see as a step toward a police state and others as a common-sense approach to justice. In Hudson v. Michigan, the court ruled 5-4 that if the police enter a suspect's home without knocking, this does not make the search unconstitutional.

The majority emphasized that it was not giving a stamp of approval to no-knock searches. While the rule requiring the police to knock, announce themselves, and wait briefly before entering a residence is not part of the Fourth Amendment (which protects citizens from unlawful searches), this procedure has long been a part of common law. What the court held was that a violation of this rule -- unlike, say, a search without a proper warrant -- is not serious enough to require throwing out the evidence found in the search and letting the defendant go free.

Writing on Slate.com, Akhil Reed Amar, professor of constitutional law at Yale University and former law clerk to Justice Stephen Breyer (one of the dissenters in Hudson), argues that the case raises larger questions about enforcing Fourth Amendment rights. Like the "knock and announce" rule for police entry, the exclusionary rule, which requires dismissal of improperly obtained evidence in a criminal case, is not in the Constitution. As Amar notes, it was not envisioned by the Founding Fathers and was not used by American courts for nearly a century after the Bill of Rights was written. In 1961, in Mapp v. Ohio, the Supreme Court made it the law of the land.

Justice Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in Hudson is broadly critical of the exclusionary rule as a remedy for illegal searches. While Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the majority, he wrote a separate opinion that stressed that the reasoning in this case should apply only to no-knock but otherwise valid searches, with no effect on the exclusionary rule in general.

Scalia's critique makes some excellent points. If the police conduct an illegal and even abusive search -- for instance, trashing the house and roughing up the residents -- the exclusionary rule per se does not punish the bad cops or compensate their victims. The only "reward" for individuals whose rights are violated is that the evidence from an unlawful search cannot be used against them. And if the search uncovers no evidence of guilt -- if the person is innocent -- the exclusionary rule offers no benefits.

The exclusionary rule creates other problems in the justice system. True, cases of murderers and rapists going free because the evidence is dismissed on the proverbial technicality are fairly unusual. What's far more common is police officers lying to cover up technical improprieties in a search, and judges accepting these lies so as to avoid dismissing valid and reliable evidence. But as a result, public confidence in police credibility can be severely undermined. And sometimes -- as in the O.J. Simpson case, when the police entered Simpson's house without a warrant on the blatantly false pretext of being concerned for his safety -- this lack of credibility can lead the jurors to suspect a frame-up.

Yet there is a major problem with Scalia's reasoning. He argues that while 50 years ago abusive police tactics were common and few remedies were available, the situation today is markedly different: Police forces are much more respectful of citizens' rights, and there are far more recourses to civil rights litigation. Yet, writing on the website of Reason magazine, editor Tim Cavanaugh notes that there has been an opposite trend toward increasingly militarized police forces and military-style raids -- particularly in drug cases. In Mississippi, a man named Cory Maye now sits on death row for shooting a police officer whom he mistook for an intruder during a no-knock nighttime raid on his house, in search of drugs on what was apparently a false tip.

Scalia maintains, as does Amar, that civil litigation against the police is the best way to protect the rights of the innocent. But this can also let the police off the hook if they have violated the rights of someone who is guilty: A jury is unlikely to sympathize with a criminal. In such cases, perhaps judicial review boards to assess damages and penalties are a good answer.

Meanwhile, leaving the exclusionary rule intact but exempting no-knock searches from its scope sends the dangerous message that for the police to burst into a citizen's house unannounced is no big deal.

I don't think that "no-knock, no-announce, no-wait" police searches are a trivial matter in a liberal, individual rights-based society. I don't think police professionalism and respect for civil rights in the USA today are everything Scalia seems to believe. (See, for instance, this article by St. Petersburg Times columnst Robyn Blumner.) And, as I said in my column, I think it could be very difficult for a suspect who is guilty, or even a suspect with a police record, to obtain redress against an illegal police search. At the same time, if a murder case was dismissed because the search that yielded the bloody knife was conducted without a knock, I'd be pretty outraged. So maybe it's time to think of other remedies, such as police misconduct review boards that could assess penalties for violators.

Of course, the other issue here is that most cases involving questionable searches are not about murder, rape, or other crimes of violence; they're about drugs. I'm not as gung-ho on drug legalization as some of my libertarian pals, but it's very hard to disagree with the proposition that the War on Drugs is eviscerating our civil liberties -- more so than the War on Terror, for a much longer time, and with a far less compelling reason.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

"Islamophobia" and Islamic radicalism

I have previously blogged about the question of when the critique of politicized radical Islam turns to anti-Muslim bigotry.

Now, I have two recent articles on the topic: my column in Reason, which covers some of the same ground as the blogposts, and a Boston Globe column on Oriana Falacci, recently profiled in The New Yorker.

Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, there has been much debate about the threat that Islamic extremism poses to the West—and about when concern over such extremism turns to anti-Muslim bigotry.

Such labels as "bigotry" and "Islamophobia" are often indiscriminately slapped on all outspoken critics of fanatical Muslim radicalism. But the real thing does exist.

For an example, one can turn to a profile of Italian writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci by Margaret Talbot in a recent issue of The New Yorker. Fallaci, who rose to fame with her fearless reportage from danger zones and her gutsy interviews of famous and infamous public figures, has more recently drawn attention—and, in the eyes of many people, become infamous herself—with two polemics against the Islamic threat, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason.

Fallaci, who is currently facing legal charges of defaming Islam in Italy, has many defenders who describe her as a passionate anti-Jihadist unfairly accused of racism. Yet her recent writings do have an unmistakable whiff of racism, indiscriminately lumping together radical Islamic terrorists and Somali vendors of fake designer bags who urinate on the street corners of Italy's great cities. Journalist Christopher Hitchens, himself a strong polemicist against radical Islamic fundamentalism, has described The Rage and the Pride in The Atlantic magazine as "a sort of primer in how not to write about Islam." He has noted that Fallaci's diatribes have all the marks of other screeds about filthy, disease-ridden, sexually threatening aliens.

The New Yorker profile reinforces this impression. Talbot, whom some conservative bloggers have accused of smearing Fallaci either out of liberal soft-headedness or even out of envy toward Fallaci's passion and moral conviction, actually treats her subject with a lot of respect. She is well aware, for instance, that Fallaci's concern about the deep-seated problems in much of Islamic culture today, including in some immigrant Muslim communities in Europe (the treatment of women, the resistance to modernization, the religious intolerance, and anti-Semitism), is amply justified. But some of Fallaci's own words as quoted by Talbot are quite damning.

About Muslim immigration, she tells Talbot: "The tolerance level was already surpassed fifteen or twenty years ago... when the Left let the Muslims disembark on our coasts by the thousands." She rejects the idea that there can be a moderate Islam or moderate Muslims: "Of course there are exceptions. Also, considering the mathematical calculation of probabilities, some good Muslims must exist. I mean Muslims who appreciate freedom and democracy and secularism. But... good Muslims are few." She claims, in a rather blatant distortion of history, that since its birth Islam has had a unique propensity among all religions to slaughter or enslave "all those who live differently."

The planned building of a new mosque and Islamic center near Siena enrages Fallaci so much that she promises Talbot that, if she is alive at the time of its opening, she will blow it up: "I do not want to see this mosque—it's very near my house in Tuscany. I do not want to see a twenty-four-metre minaret in the landscape of Giotto. When I cannot even wear a cross or carry a Bible in their country!"

These are ugly words, based on the bizarre assumption that the West must respond to religious intolerance in many Muslim countries with religious intolerance of our own.

Despite its manifest problems, Islamic culture today is not monolithic. There are regions, such as Bosnia, where the Muslim populations are modern and moderate; there are progressive and reformist forces within Islam. In the United States, where the social and economic structures are far more flexible and more conducive to the integration of immigrants than in most of Europe, Muslim radicalism has not been a serious problem. (In the United States, all Muslim protests against the publication of the infamous Danish Mohammed cartoons have been nonviolent.)

The problems posed for the West, from within and without, by radical Islamic fundamentalism need to be honestly addressed. But if this response turns to anti-Muslim bigotry—which on some "anti-jihadist" websites turns to defending Slobodan Milosevic's genocide against Bosnian Muslims —it will leave us with little reason for hope. Fallaci's passion ultimately leads to a dead-end.

I have to say that on this topic, I find myself saying something I never expected: I agree with James "I Root for Hurricanes" Wolcott, who takes issue with some pro-war bloggers' defense of Fallaci. It gives me no joy to say this. I have always admired Fallaci for her very real bravery and the sheer power of her personality as a magnificent eccentric, an emancipated woman of a mold that predates modern feminism. But many of her comments in the New Yorker article -- which I believe gives Fallaci's achievements and courage their due -- are rather vile,, not just about Muslims but gays and Mexicans; and there is no way of getting around that.

I also happen to agree with Wolcott on this story. A mentally ill man who happens to be of Muslim background and to have a Muslim name shoots a man in a movie theater (then puts down the gun and waits to surrender to the police), and some conservative bloggers jump to the conclusion that it was a terrorist act (or "A Jihad of One"). This despite the lack of the tiniest shred of evidence that the shooting was religiously or politically motivated, or in any way different from other violent acts by other troubled individuals. (The real issue in this particular incident, as a Baltimore Sun report indicates, may be the difficulty of forcing a person into psychiatric treatment unless they have been formally recognized as a threat to themselves or others -- a threshold that may be impossible to met until the person actually does commit a violent act.) This is simply wrong, not to use a stronger word.

By the way, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch has replied to my columns and has also challenged me to a debate, in which I have no intention of engaging. I will, however, reply to two points.

On the subject of Fallaci's failure to distinguish between Islamic terroists and " Somali vendors of fake designer bags who urinate on the street corners of Italy's great cities," Spencer has this to say:

There are several problems with this. One is that the Somali vendors and other Muslims in the West have not made any serious attempt to root jihad terrorists out of their ranks. Another is that such people as Young's Somali vendor do exist, and while they are not members of terrorist groups, they are manifesting disrespect for the country and culture to which they have come. Is Fallaci wrong to be indignant about that? Such disrespect, of course, stems from the same sources as jihadism: contempt for the infidel and for jahili society, the non-Islamic society of ignorance and impurity. Thus one feeds into the other.
Point one: If Spencer or Fallaci know of any instances of terrorists in the ranks of Somali street vendors, let's have them.

Point two -- public urination as a mini-jihad -- doesn't really merit an answer, but I'll answer anyway. Apparently, in the world according to Spencer and Fallaci, peeing on street corners and in other public places is a behavior peculiar to Muslim immigrants. (Has either of them ever been to New York?) As it happens, I have travelled in Italy a lot and have seen a lot of the Somali street vendors. On two occasions, I have seen men urinating in the street. Neither of them was a Somali or a Muslim.

Spencer also challenges my assertion that "Christian doctrine for centuries mandated Christian rule by force," and writes:

She should produce such a doctrine, but she can't, because it doesn't exist.
Oh yeah? Well, how about the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which codified the idea of heresy as a high crime? See, also, this article in First Things in which conservative Catholic Michael Novak discusses Thomas Aquinas' view of heresy as a capital crime. (Aquinas recommends toleration for the religious practices of Muslims and Jews, but so does Islam with regard to Jews and Christians.) Novak quotes historian David Abulafia on the religious codes of the time:

Heresy, indeed, is presented as treason. Those who deny the articles of the Catholic faith implicitly deny the claims of rulers to derive their authority from God. They are enemies not merely of God and of the souls of individuals, but of the social fabric. Their questioning of religious truth involves a questioning of the monarch's command over the law; as enemies of the law, they are its legitimate targets, and the position of primacy accorded to legislation against heretics is thus entirely proper.

Sounds a lot like "Christian rule by force" to me.

According to Spencer, I'm a "dhimmi," a term traditionally used to denote Christians and Jews who lived under Islamic rule and enjoyed certain rights but were relgated to second-class status (and nowadays used by certain "anti-jihadists" to denote any non-Muslim they regard as too soft on Islam). Well, considering JihadWatch.com puts Bernard Lewis, the eminent historian of Islam who warned about the danger of Islamic radicalism all the way back in 1990, in the same category, I think I'm in good company.

Spencer wants to debate me, apparently, in order to demonstrate that he knows more about Islamic teachings and history than I do. And he probably does. However, I know bigotry when I see it, and Spencer's argument about public urination as a manifestation of the Muslim peril seals the deal as far as I'm concerned. I notice that JihadWatch.com issued no invitation to a debate to Bernard Lewis when targeting him for their smear. For Spencer vs. Lewis, I would definitely tune in.

So I won't be debating Spencer on his site, though I have to say I was highly amused by one of his commenters who suggested that my deplorable views on "Islamophobia" are due to the fact that (1) I'm a non-Jew (which would come as a big surprise to my Israeli relatives -- and, by the way, isn't this argument merely a reversal of the idea that Jewish commentators can't be fair when writing about Islam or the Middle East?), and (2) I'm a woman, and a lot of women secretly yearn for male power, and hence I am probably drawn to the male dominance represented by Islam. (Which is so true.)

Meanwhile, for the scary reality of Islamic radicalism and intolerance, see this collection of excerpts from textbooks produced by our friends the Saudis. (Hat tip: Joe Gandelman.)

And here is an interesting article on the History News Network by Michael Furnish, assistant professor of Islamic history at Georgia Perimeter College in Dunwoody, GA. Furnish castigates several politically correct myths about Islam, including the myth that Islam is an essentially and profoundly peaceful religion hijacked by terrorists. He notes that violent radicalism does have roots in Muslim theology; but he does not deny the existence of other, more peaceful strands in Islam. Writes Furnish:

Islam is where Christianity was before the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) and then the Enlightenment led the West to divorce religion and state, thereby removing (mostly) the threat of religious-based warfare. As a fellow monotheist with Muslims, I pray that the moderate strands within Islam win out over the more fundamentalist ones, allowing that civilization to follow suit. And for we in the West to help with that, we need to open our eyes to the reality of the harsher aspects of Islam and Islamic history. Anything else is simple—and dangerous—self-deception.
Very true; but honesty about the harsher and darker aspects of Islam and Islamic history is not the same as tarring all of Islam with the same brush and denying that the moderate strands even exist.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Bill Clinton and Joe Gandelman on divisive politics

Over at The Moderate Voice, Joe Gandelman praises a Bill Clinton speech decrying political divisiveness:

He told his left-leaning audience of about 500 journalists to consider opposing views and appreciate the value of working with people who differ with them. He urged them not to turn public figures into "two-dimensional cartoons."

While he doesn't agree with much of the Bush administration policies, Clinton said, he has come to understand President Bush better. Clinton said Bush has "an intuitive intelligence," provoking laughter from the audience. But Clinton said he meant that seriously.

What concerns him more, he said, is a particular strain of the Republican Party that he said has gotten control in Washington. Reminding his audience that he grew up in the South as a native of Arkansas, Clinton said right-wing ideologues and "ultra-conservative, white Southerners" have "demonized" those who think differently from them.

Some will no doubt roll their eyes at Clinton's preaching and argue that he still downplays the demonizing that liberals do (including Al Gore's denunciation of critics of race-based preferences as people who "use their color blind the way duck hunters use a duck blind -- they hide behind it and hope the ducks won't notice"). Still, these days I find a bit of hypocrisy better than honest bashing.

Joe's own comment is worth reposting in its entirety:

The politics of demonization (which is also practiced by some Democrats as well) has infected the content and tone of national debate, the tenor of generally-polarized radio talk shows and, most definitely, the blogosphere where some think that if someone writes a differing idea they MUST be the Enemy.

There was even a case of a progressive blogger being driven from posting because his anonymous identity was exposed (see here and follow up here). It's quite notable that you don't see bloggers exposing the identities (or running the private phone numbers on their blogs) of people they AGREE WITH. Just why do you think that's the case?

I met this same progressive blogger who wanted to protect his identity at a Stanford University conference on blogging last year. How? Another progressive blogger at the conference made a blanket statement swiping at conservative bloggers and THIS progressive blogger got up to DEFEND the integrity of conservative bloggers on the panel and some others associated with them as people who seriously debated issues in good faith.

And, indeed, later I was invited to drinks at a table that included that same anonymous blogger on the left and several bloggers on the right, who proceeded to energetically discuss political issues but but weren't out to destroy each other — and who didn't feel that just because someone disagreed they were the enemy and that they would not read or link to them or would de-link them.

So there are thoughtful, constructive people with different ideas out there in politics and the blogosphere. Will the political and blog cultures drive them away?

The answer, I suspect, is yes. I often disagree with Joe Gandelman, but he deserves nothing but plaudits for being a voice of moderation in the blogosphere and being open to discussion across the lines of right and left. Thanks, Joe.

Sorry, but more on C******

(Thanks to my friend John K. for the asterisks idea.)

By now you've probably heard of Coulter's latest stunt: her comment in an interview with John Hawkins of RightWingNews.com that Vietnam veteran and Iraq war critic John Murtha was "the reason soldiers invented 'fragging.'" Coulter is true to obscene form. Meanwhile, Hawkins is quoted by Editor & Publisher as commenting:

Although, I wouldn't have phrased that like Ann did, I would say in her defense that in that quote she didn't say that she wanted to kill Murtha, she'd didn't say that she thought he should be killed, and she didn't say that she thought Murtha should have been fragged. Is that hair splitting?

Why, I'm glad you asked, John. It is. Would you say the same thing about a left-wing enfant terrible? Of course not.

Meanwhile, E & P says that Coulter's shock-jock tactics haven't cost her any subscribers to her syndicated column. O tempora, o mores.

Meanwhile, read this interesting column by WorldNetDaily's Ileana Mercer, who strongly challenges Coulter on conservative grounds.

Ann Coulter, I imagine, considers herself an individualist, not a collectivist. Which is why her views on grief perplex. About certain September 11 widows Coulter has written the following: "These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted as if the terrorist attacks happened only to them." (Emphasis added.)

Nations don't grieve; individuals who incur loss do. The nation, following September 11, can legitimately lay claim to the confusion that comes with a loss of a previous sense of security and to the sorrow that accompanies the deaths of compatriots. However, only the immediate relatives of the victims were in fact bereaved. The nation might be shocked, reeling, but only the families of the dead were utterly devastated. With every day that dawns, they alone face the kind of pain the rest of us cannot fathom.

The line, "letting the community grieve and get on with the healing process," is standard in liberal locution (adopted, sadly, by many Crunchy Cons); it's straight out of Oprah's vernacular.

The idea that people not directly affected by a tragedy ought to perform the rites reserved for the bereaved conjures the image of a tribe in the paroxysmal throws of a grief ritual. It's inspired by the equally primitive specter of Oprah's televised group therapy sessions, in which every individual's pain is equally weighted.

In the abstract, September 11 was an attack on "our nation." In reality, some felt it more than others.

Mercer also draws an interesting contrast between the "Jersey Girls" and Michael Berg, the father of slain American Nick Berg, who she argues does deserve the opprobrium Coulter heaps on the anti-Bush 9/11 widows. Berg recently voiced regret about the death of the man who personally beheaded his son, the infamous terrorist Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi.

Finally, she ably deconstructs Coulter's pretensions as the woman who would be Mencken:

[O]n the "Lou Dobbs Tonight" show, Coulter anointed herself as the Right's H. L. Mencken. Coulter is certainly sui generis, but she's no Mencken.

First, while not-quite "Godless," Mencken held "that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind – that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking."

"In America," he contended, "[religion] is used as a club and a cloak by both politicians and moralists, all of them lusting for power and most of them palpable frauds."

More material, Mencken was a libertarian. He hated government with all his bolshy being and was deeply suspicious of power – all power, not only liberal power. To Mencken, all government was evil, and "all government must necessarily make war upon liberty." Therefore, the only good politician was "one with a pistol at his head. Put it in his hand and it's goodbye to the Bill of Rights."

Mencken certainly would have had few kind words for dirigiste Dubya, the ultimate statist. Coulter, conversely, has shown Bush (who isn't even conservative) almost unquestioning loyalty, other than to protest his Harriet Miers indiscretion and, of late, his infarct over illegal immigration. Such singular devotion would have been alien to Mencken.

Nor would the very brilliant elitist have found this president's manifest, all-round ignorance endearing – Bush's penchant for logical and linguistic infelicities would have repulsed Mencken.

About foreign forays, Mencken stated acerbically that "the United States should mind its own business. If it is actually commissioned by God to put down totalitarianism, let it start in Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Santo Domingo and Mississippi." Mencken believed that "waging a war for a purely moral reason [was] as absurd as ravishing a woman for a purely moral reason." Not in a million years would he have endorsed Bush's Iraq misadventure.

Since he was not a party animal, but a man of principle, conformity to the clan would not have seen Mencken fall into contradiction as Coulter has: She rightly condemned Madeleine Albright's "pre-emptive attack" on Slobodan Milosevic, as having been "solely for purposes of regime change based on false information presented to the American people," but has adopted a different – decidedly double – standard regarding Bush's Iraq excursion.

To repeat: Coulter is sui generis, but Mencken she is not.

I'm not a fan of Mencken's isolationism, which I believe Mercer shares, and which would have likely left Hitler in power in Europe. Mencken had his share of faults, including an anti-Semitic streak (evident in quotations in an article that tries to absolve him of the charge). His sharp satire could be quite nasty. But as Mercer says, he was willing to speak the truth to all power regardless of party affilliation.

We could use a Mencken right now.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Connecting the dots... into a smear

Yesterday, InsideHigherEd.com published an article titled, Connecting the Dots, by Alan Jones, dean of the faculty and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Pitzer College. Jones's thesis: there is a concerted assault on higher education under the guise of rooting out "left-wing bias," spearheaded by David Horowitz and his ilk and funded by right-wing foundations (Olin, Bradley, Scaife). Supposedly independent scholars, analysts, and journalists who promote the critique of left-wing bias in the academy are actually a part of the same "large and integrated network" (vast right-wing conspiracy, anyone?) because their funding comes from the same sources.

Imagine my surprise at finding out that I, too, am a part of this network. Well, actually I'm making up the surprise part, since a friend tipped me off. Here's what Jones says:

Another example illustrative of the quietly incestuous nature of this network is presented by an article by the Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young. The article is entitled “Liberal bias in the ivory tower” and by all appearances is an independent opinion piece written by a regular Globe columnist. At the end of the article Young identifies herself as “a contributing editor at Reason Magazine.” What is undisclosed in the article is that Reason Magazine is the publication of the Reason Foundation, whose funding sources are virtually the same as those funding Horowitz’s “Academic Bill of Rights” project and Neal’s ACTA.

Young’s premise for the article is stated in her opening sentence: “Yet another study has come out documenting what most conservatives consider to be blindingly obvious: the leftwing tilt of the American professoriate.” The study that she references was conducted by Stanley Rothman, now emeritus professor at Smith College; S. Robert Lichter, emeritus professor at George Mason University; and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, and was published in the online journal Forum. This study was also cited by Neal in her testimony in Pennsylvania. Young does not inform her readers that Rothman is director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change, a center with funding sources that are remarkably redundant with Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Lichter is also president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which again has funding sources that are redundant with those referenced earlier.

Needless to say, I am always careful to study Reason magazine's funding sources and to make sure I follow their agenda. *sarcasm off* And, needless to say, Reason itself never goes against anything endorsed by some of its funders. Right?

Actually, as a commenter at InsideHigherEd points out:

The article mentions a piece by Cathy Young in the Boston Globe on liberal bias in academe. It then questions that judgment by noting Young’s connection with Reason Magazine, which is funded by the Reason Foundation, whose funders also support Horowitz and ACTA.

Here’s the problem with this dot-connecting. Reason Magazine has come out squarely against Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights.See http://www.reason.com/links/links021705.shtml and http://www.reason.com/links/links091703.shtml for the articles. Guilt by association is an easy way to avoid the substance of what people say.

To this, I might add that in this post on my blog last January, I was scathingly critical of Horowitz, his habitual distortions and unsupported claims, and generally his approach to fighting "political correctness" on campus.

Jones replies:

Sorry — the more telling comment about Cathy Young was edited out. Ms. Young is also vice president of the Women’s Freedom Network which, if you check Media Transparency, is funded by the same sources as we’ve been discussing.

Since Jones brings up the Women's Freedom Network, I should explain that while I did in fact co-found that organization in 1994, I never received a penny from it, except, a few times, reimbursement for travel expenses for trips to Washington, DC. I should also add that my active association with the WFN ended in 1998 or 1999, except for speaking at its 10th anniversary event in 2004 and allowing the WFN newsletter to reprint some of my articles (all for free). My position with it today is purely an honorary one.

Incidentally, here are a few biggies Jones's fishing expedition missed. I also have an unpaid position as a fellow with the Cato Institute, another institution on his right-wing conspiracy roster. They once paid me the grand sum of $500 for co-writing a paper on feminist jurisprudence. I have spoken, for a fee, at a number of Federalist Society events and panels. I have written a paper on domestic violence for the Independent Women's Forum. Oh, and I have eaten free lunches at American Enterprise Institute events. I think that's it.

None of that, of course, has stopped me from criticizing organizations whose funding comes from the same sources, including the IWF. Anyone familiar with my work knows that I have little compunction about criticizing both the left and the right. (I invite Jones to look around my website if he wants evidence.)

I should also add that Jones signficantly distorts the content of my article, which does not rely solely on the Lichter/Nevitte study and acknowledges its conservative funding sources:

A typical reaction to such studies from the left has been to shoot the messenger without denying the basic facts of the message. Thus, on his website, Michael Bérubé, a professor of literature and cultural studies at Penn State who has often locked horns with conservative critics of the academy, challenges the study's sample size and points out that it was financed by a conservative foundation. Then he cites a 2001 survey by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute which yielded fairly similar results: 5.3 percent of faculty members were classified as ''far left," 42.3 percent as ''liberal," 34.3 percent as ''middle of the road," 17.7 percent as ''conservative," and 0.3 percent as ''far right." ''Yep," concedes Bérubé, ''we're a pretty liberal bunch."

Jones's allegation that I am a shill for my right-wing masters is as ridiculous as a right-wing blogger's charge some months ago that a blogpost I wrote disputing a specific allegation (by the same blogger) of pro-liberal bias in the New York Times' news coverage was done at the bidding of the New York Times, since I am a columnist for the Boston Globe and the Globe is owned by the Times corporation. It is also a disgusting smear, and I expect a retraction and an apology.

As for Jones's larger point: Yes, right-of-center critics of the academy tend to drift to institutions that are congenial to their views. That does not invalidate their arguments -- any more than Jones's defense of the academy is compromised by the fact that he himself holds an academic post. Of course, we could also talk about the lavish funding for left-leaning academic projects from the Ford, Rockefeller and Macarthur foundations, to name only three. Ironically, Jones's diatribe resembles nothing so much as David Horowitz's attempt to sniff out George Soros's money behind every left-wing venture. It is pure left-wing McCarthyism.

Friday, June 16, 2006

More of Coulter's wit and wisdom

I will say right off that I have no intention of getting a copy of Ann Coulter's book, Godless.

By now, I have all the Coulter I need.

Here is, for instance, Coulter on Hannity & Colmes peddling anti-Darwinist idiocy as she discusses the philosophy of liberalism:

Well, it is an entire cosmology view of the world, beliefs in the supernatural. I do think, something I don't get to until the end of the book, that at the root of the lot of it is -- is their obsession with Darwinism and the Darwinian view of the world, which replaces sanctification of life with sanctification of sex and death. Sex and death. That's how you get the improvement in the species. And allegedly, the new species, which they've never been able to produce.

Of course, one might argue just as plausibly that Christianity, of which Coulter proclaims herself an ardent adherent (she's certainly got the "Love thy neighbor" part down pat), sanctifies death. I'm saying this not in order to take a swipe at Christianity but to point out how absurd Coulter's swipe at Darwinism is.

And then, the invaluable Patterico offers some excerpts from the first chapter of Godless, available online.

For instance:

I don’t particularly care if liberals believe in God. In fact, I would be crestfallen to discover any liberals in heaven.

This is probably the kind of line that Coulter apologists find exquisitely funny and mordant. Move over, Dorothy Parker. Maybe they should ask themselves if they still found it funny it that was, say, Molly Ivins or Jeaneane Garofalo on conservatives.

And then there's this:

Liberals use the word science exactly as they use the word constitutional.

Both words are nothing more or less than a general statement of liberal approval, having nothing to do with either science or the Constitution. (Thus, for example, the following sentence makes sense to liberals: President Clinton saved the Constitution by repeatedly ejaculating on a fat Jewish girl in the Oval Office.)

Patterico is aghast at La Coulter's use of the word "Jewish," which he says has vaguely anti-Semitic overtones. But even leaving that aside, Coulter's caricature of liberal views is so hyperbolic that it's not even particularly funny, because it has so little connection to reality. Again, let's try a role reversal:

Conservatives use the word science exactly as they use the word constitutional.

Both words are nothing more or less than a general statement of conservative approval, having nothing to do with either science or the Constitution. (Thus, for example, the following sentence makes sense to conservatives: Clarence Thomas saved the Constitution by repeatedly talking dirty to a black chick at work.)

Hilarious and full of insight, no?

The Coulterfied right

If there was still a shark for Ann Coulter to jump, one might have thought that she'd have jumped it with this now-infamous comment about the "Jersey Girls," four September 11 widows who have been highly critical of Bush:

These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing bush was part of the closure process.

These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparrazies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.

That's from Coulter's new book, Godless: The Church of Modern Liberalism. You might say that this time, Ann Coulter has out-Coultered herself.

Of course, I realize that by being outraged, I am giving Coulter exactly the response she -- like any provocateur -- wants. I would gladly ignore her if she were just some obscure ranter with a blog; there are many of those on the left and the right. But this is a woman who is widely seen as a leading conservative pundit, whose books are best-sellers (and selections of the Conservative Book Club), and who is a regular speaker at Conservative Political Action Committee conferences.

Godless would seem to provide a perfect opportunity for the right to throw Coulter overboard. And in fact, some conservatives have been highly critical. (On some of those blogposts, the commenters are vigorously sticking up for Coulter.) On the other hand, see this, and this, and this, and a lot of the trackbacks here.

See, also, a lot of commentary on the airwaves. On Fox, Sean Hannity should be, by now, scheduled for emergency surgery to have his lips separated from Coulter's butt. Bill O'Reilly has been fairly harsh toward Coulter, at least as far as her personal attack on the 9/11 widows is concerned, but he qualifies his criticism by saying that unlike his nemesis Al Franken, "Coulter doesn't lie" (here's an article at Spinsanity.org that shows otherwise). And listen to some of his guests.

David Horowitz, June 8:

Well, Ann Coulter is a national treasure, and her point is right on the mark. You know, she's a satirist. And satirists are going to push the envelope. And if you look at it out of context, it can look like it went over the top. She's not going to get a fair shake for, you know, her sentiments.


Ann Coulter is out there pushing the envelope. And somebody has to really rail into these hypocritical -- you know, like Hillary Clinton, all of them, hypocrites who have conducted a three-year campaign to portray our president as a liar, a child murderer.

The day before that, also on O'Reilly, there was Sandy Rios, conservative activist and former president of Concerned Women for America:

SANDY RIOS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Bill, I think, I don't disagree with your basic premise. I mean it is certainly not my choice to attack people. However, we are living in strange times. And I think while everybody else is making nice, Ann's words are laser focused on truth. She says things that no one else dares say and it kind of made me think about, for instance, holocaust pictures. Do we have to see pictures of emaciated bodies to understand what happened? It is kind of offensive. But, you know what, yes, we do.

Sometimes I think Ann's words, yes, as harsh as they are, they are like a clarion wakeup call, like cold water, like stop it because women have lost their husbands in an accidental bombing, which is tragic, and we have great sympathy for them, does not give them license to then criticize the commander in chief, to work against -

O'REILLY: Whoa, they are American citizens. They can criticize the commander in chief all day long.

RIOS: And then to be criticized in return.

O'Reilly, to his credit, points out that criticism does not equal name-calling.

RIOS: I know that that's true. ... But I would say that Ann is a unique person. I don't believe Ann does this stuff for theatrics. I think she really believes what she is saying and she has certainly a gift of words and imagery.

O'REILLY: If you're going to stand by that Sandy, then Ann Coulter writes in her book that these people are enjoying their husband's deaths. Come on, you know that's not true. That's brutal to say something like that.

RIOS: It is brutal. But Bill, I would say this, I do think we're living in a time where a lot of people enjoy the death of their loved ones. I know that sounds terrible.

On the same day, O'Reilly also had a pro-and-con on Coulter with Juan Williams and Republican strategist Karen Hanretty. Here's Hanretty:

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I picked up Ann Coulter's book today. I read chapter five, starting on page 99, which talks about the Jersey women, as they've become to be known, actually the Jersey girls.

And I think that if you read some of what Ann Coulter is saying and you put it into context, I don't think it's mean-spirited. I think a lot of it is sort of tongue in cheek. And Ann's own personal style probably wouldn't be my style or yours or Juan's, but it's certainly Ann's style.


And quite frankly, I think that this entire discussion evolving around Ann Coulter right now, in fact, proves the point that she is making in chapter five of her book, which is that liberals regularly trot out these heroes or, as she calls them, human shields that Republicans can't refute.

So if you want to talk about the war on terror, they'll drag out Cindy Sheehan and say, well, you can't -- as you well know -- you can't criticize Cindy Sheehan because her son died in the war. Or...

O'REILLY: Now, look, that's a legitimate point. But Karen, for you to sit there and say that writing in a book that the four women from New Jersey are enjoying their husband's deaths is not...

HANRETTY: These are not just any four women, Bill.

O'REILLY: That's not mean-spirited. That's kind of a stunning statement for you to make. I mean...

HANRETTY: Well, I think you need to put it into context.


And along the same lines, courtesy of Patterico (to whom my hat is off for his relentless Coulter-slams): what on earth is Mickey Kaus smoking? Check out the transcript of his discussion with Robert Wright, where he offers some truly bizarre Coulter defenses.

In a semi-defense of Coulter, Michelle Malkin writes:

Unfortunately, lost in all the hype and hyperbole on both sides is the central point about the absolute moral authority the MSM confers on victims they agree with--while victims whose politics they do not share can't get the time of day. Ann told Sean Hannity today she hopes her comments will demolish the "liberal infallibility" the MSM confers on its faves.
Others, too, have argued that debunking the notion of the unique "moral authority" of victims is a valid point. It's an issue I have addressed myself in a critique of Cindy Sheehan's politics. But two points need to be made. One: As John Tierney pointed out in a recent New York Times column, it's not as if the right hasn't exploited grieving victims too. Two: except perhaps in Maureen Dowd's column, the absolute moral authority of victims does not exist. As Malkin herself inquires:

In any case, when was the last time anyone paid attention to the Jersey Girls?
All Coulter can do is garner them more sympathy with her revolting attack.

Oh, but as Bernie Goldberg has asserted, she says it all "with a twinkle in her eye."

I do think that Coulter has her uses. She is, for one thing, a pretty good litmus test of human decency. As far as I'm concerned, Coulter defenders are beyond the pale.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

More on rape victim advocates

Daran on Creative Destruction responds to my response to Barry, regarding my column on rape victim advocates and the presumption of innocence. There is also a lively debate about this in the comments section on my blog.

Again, here is the disputed section from my column:

But even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply. Appearing on the Fox News show ‘’The O’Reilly Factor,” Monika Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ‘’to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.”

To O’Reilly’s question, ‘’Even if they weren’t?” Hostler replied, ‘’I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.”

Barry, Daran and some of my commenters feel I'm being unfair to Hostler because (a) she said nothing to indicate a belief that men accused of rape or sexual assault should not have a legal presumption of innocence in the courtroom, and I am conflating the presumption of innocence in a court of law with a presumption of innocence in public opinion (which is not a requirement); and (b) she never said that the accused are definitely guilty.

Yes, I understand the difference between a legal and extralegal presumption of innocence. I don't think that any commentator who says, "I think X is probably guilty," is violating the presumption of innocence. However, it is a well-known fact that statements which paint the accused as guilty in the eyes of the public are widely seen as problematic. Hence, media references to "the alleged murderer," even if the alleged murderer shot someone in broad daylight in front of dozens of eyewitnesses. Hence, rules that, at least in some states, bar prosecutors from "making extrajudicial comments that have a substantial likelihood of heightening public condemnation of the accused."

The "women don't lie about rape" party line definitely promotes and heightens public condemnation of the accused, contributing to a climate in which jurors, for instance, may be more likely to see the accused as guilty.

Daran, in fact, seems to believe that creating such a climate is the appropriate job of rape victim advocates. Here is his response to some of my rhetorical queries:

Should they write letters to the editor complaining about the overly prominent coverage given a false accusation?

That again would seem to fall within the remit of victims’ advocates. Such coverage could prejudice real victims’ cases.

Should they, when a woman recants a story of being raped, argue — with no evidence — that she may have been raped after all and may have recanted under pressure or out of fear?

Is Cathy claiming the opposite? Is she claiming, without evidence, that in every case where a woman recants, the recantation is true? That these women are 100% reliable? If this is not Cathy’s position (and I suspect it isn’t) then logically she must agree with the proposition, in which case what is her objection to a victims’ advocate saying so?

So coverage of false accusations of rape prejudices the cases of real victims? By making potential jurors (and, perhaps, prosecutors and law enforcement personnel) of the fact that some rape charges are false and making them more likely to give the accused the benefit of the doubt? In other words, by bolstering the presumption of innocence?

On the second point -- I am not, of course, saying that every recantation is true. However, it seems to me that unless there is some evidence that the recantation may be false, such speculation is uncalled for.

To my question:

Should they denounced the “abusive” tactics of a defense attorney who brings up the complainant’s history of false reports of rape?

Daran responds:

If the defence attorney’s activities are abusive then certainly they should be denounced.

I'm not sure if Daran misread my hypothetical question. Of course I believe that abusive tactics by defense attorneys should be denounced. If, for instance, a defense attorney brings back the complainant's history of sexual promiscuity, or past involvement in prostitution, I would happily join the rape victims advocates in their denunciations. I asked about bringing up past false accusations of rape, something that is directly relevant to an accuser's credibility if that's what the case hinges on.

What I'm talking about is the kind of case I discussed in my 2004 Salon.com article about rape shield laws:

In 1991, a Maryland real estate agent named Gary Hart (no relation to the politician) was accused of raping a waitress he had been dating. The woman claimed that their relationship had been platonic, and that Hart had attacked her while she was staying overnight at his apartment. Hart claimed that they had been sexually involved, and that the woman had gotten angry because he refused to take her along on a trip. The defense was able to bring in evidence that Hart's accuser had a history of emotional instability, had made several false claims of sexual assault to psychiatrists and police, and had on several occasions reacted to romantic rejection with outbursts of violent rage. Hart was acquitted.

The trial received extensive local coverage, and the use of the alleged victim's troubled personal history in the courtroom was widely treated as if it were a gratuitous smear. A letter published in the Baltimore Sun asserted that even if the woman had not been raped by Hart, she suffered "a brutal form of abuse ... inside the courtroom." This curious logic ignores the fact that if Hart did not commit rape, his accuser was guilty of a pretty brutal form of abuse toward him -- and that her reliability as a witness was key to the case.

One reason I tend to be a bit harsh on the sexual assault victim advocacy community is that I have yet to see a case in which these activists, as well as feminist groups, did not side with the alleged victim. (Some other cases of this kind, including the Oliver Jovanovic case in New York, are described in the article linked above.) I would apply the same standard to other advocacy group. I take a pretty dim view of fathers' rights activists who feel compelled to side with every father in every custody dispute.

In my Salon article, I cite other instances of anti-presumption of innocence rhetoric not just by rape victim advocates but by feminist attorneys and legal scholars:

For some feminists, the dogma that "women never lie" means that there is, for all intents and purposes, no presumption of innocence for the defendant. After the 1997 trial of sportscaster Marv Albert, defending the judge's decision to admit compromising information about Albert's sexual past but not about his accuser's, attorney Gloria Allred decried "the notion that there's some sort of moral equivalency between the defendant and the victim" -- forgetting that as long as the defendant hasn't been convicted, he and his accuser are indeed moral equals in the eyes of the law. Wendy Murphy has blasted Kobe Bryant's attorneys for feeding uncorroborated rumors about the alleged victim to the media maw. Yet, appearing on Fox News, she made the claim, highly prejudicial to Bryant and so far untested in a court of law, that the woman "suffered pretty terrible injuries" the likes of which she had not seen despite having prosecuted "hundreds of sex crimes cases."

I must say, with all due respect to Hostler, that I find it very hard to believe that in all her years in the sexual assault field, she has never seen someone who came forward with a claim of sexual assault that, in fact, had never happened. It's hard to believe simply as a matter of statistical probability. I'm not saying that she's lying; I suspect it's simply a matter of preferring not to see.

Personally, I think that the knee-jerk, virtually unconditional public backing of every woman claiming to be a rape victim, even when the evidence strongly suggests she may not be, can only backfire not only on the advocates but on women who really are victims of rape. Eventually, the activists' support for charges that turn out to be false or highly dubious will come back to haunt them -- and to undermine their credibility -- when they line up to support a rape victim who really is being unfairly attacked.

Correction: In my initial post I mistakenly attributed the response to Adam Gurri, not Daran; my apologies.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Israel boycott: update

Here is my Boston Globe column on the move by British educators and Canadian public employees to boycott Israeli institutions.

IN THE 1980s, there was a concerted movement to make South Africa a pariah state because of its policy of racial apartheid. Today, a similar effort is directed at the state of Israel. A week ago, the anti-Israel campaign achieved two significant victories. Britain's National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education, one of the country's two leading educators' associations, voted for a boycott of Israeli academics and colleges unless they take a stand against Israel's "apartheid policy." On the same day, the Ontario division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the largest labor union in Canada, voted for a boycott of Israel because of its treatment of Palestinians.

The British Foreign Office condemned the teachers' boycott as "counterproductive and retrograde." The reaction from Israel was even stronger. The chairman of the Knesset Committee for Science and Technology, Zevulun Orlev, asked the British parliament to "decry the anti-Semitic and racist decision."

Anti-Semitic or not, the movement to boycott Israel is hypocritical, sanctimonious, and quite simply wrong. It is a shocking example of selective outrage. Yes, Israeli policies are a legitimate target for criticism, and even most of Israel's supporters will admit there has been ill-treatment of Palestinians. Yet no one is demanding a boycott of Russian academics over Russia's occupation of Chechnya, and the accompanying atrocities (which dwarf Israel's human rights abuses in the occupied territories). No one wants to boycott China because of the occupation of Tibet, the persecution of religious minorities, and other abuses by the Chinese regime. No one wants to boycott Saudi Arabia because of its misogyny and religious intolerance.

Partly, this double standard is rooted in the familiar leftist mentality that strenuously condemns bad behavior by Western or pro-Western governments while turning a blind eye to the far worse misdeeds of communist and Third World regimes. But the movement to boycott Israel is especially repulsive for several reasons.

Apartheid-era South Africa, whose pariah status also reflected a double standard, was at least a truly repugnant regime intent on preserving white supremacy. Israel is a flawed democracy intent on preserving itself in the face of forces intent on its destruction.

What's more, the anti-Israel boycott combines this anti-Western, anti-democracy bias with an element of "picking on the little guy." The British professors and the Canadian public employees are not boycotting American institutions because of the occupation of Iraq. Obviously, such a boycott would cripple any institution's ability to function. But lashing out at Israel as a proxy for America is something that can be done with minimal inconvenience.

Nor should anti-Semitism be discounted. British scholar Mona Baker, a leading champion of the boycott, has written that while other countries are guilty of abuses, singling out Israel is appropriate because "Zionist influence [that is, Israeli influence] spreads far beyond its own immediate areas of dominion, and now widely influences many key domestic agendas in the West. . . This is particularly obvious in the case of the United States, where Zionist lobbies are extremely powerful with both Congress and the media." An international Jewish conspiracy: a sadly familiar tune.

Maybe American institutions should consider responding to such anti-Israel boycotts with their own boycotts. So far, the American Federation of Teachers has sent a letter to Britain's National Association of Teachers strongly condemning the move. The American Association of University Professors, which has generally taken a stand against academic boycotts, has remained quiet. * see clarification below

Jonathan Knight, who directs the American Association's program in academic freedom and tenure, told me that the issue is moot because the British group no longer exists as an independent body. On June 1, it merged with the British Association of University Teachers into a single group, the University and College Union, which is still deciding which policies of the two original organizations it will follow. The British Association of University Teachers previously approved a resolution to boycott Israel's academic institutions, but then rescinded it after an outcry.

Right now, while the decision is being pondered, would be a good time for the American Association to make a strong statement against this boycott. But this raises the issue of just how strongly the US group is committed to the anti-boycott cause. Its planned conference on academic boycotts came under fire for giving eight of the 22 speaking slots to strong supporters of the Israeli boycott -- and then collapsed after the revelation that the conference packet inadvertently included an anti-Semitic article from a Holocaust-denying magazine.

The American Association should now stand up and be counted. A boycott of Israel would be the shame of academe.

Not much to add to this at the moment; but for more of the history of the AAUP conference fiasco, see this article at Inside Higher Ed. See, also, this earlier article, and particularly the comments section for the posts by Joan C. Scott, chair of the AAUP Committee on Academic Freedom and one of the conference organizers. Scott blames

a carefully orchestrated campaign to abort the conference by a lobby of people (pro-Israel occupation)who believe that any representation of a point of view other than theirs is ananthema (sic)

Here come the tentacles of that Zionist conspiracy again! As one of the other commenters point out:

Joan Scott should say whether she is for an academic and cultural boycott of Israel or not; she should say whether she thinks that Israel has the right to exist within the 1967 borders or not. It shouldn’t be necessary to ask, but these days, it is.

After this fiasco, the AAUP's silence on the British vote becomes more significant, and more depressing.

More: Having re-read my column, I realized that I did not make it clear that the AAUP did issue a statement last year criticizing the AUT's vote endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

However, as I said, the AAUP's subsequent behavior (the handling of the conference on the boycott and the silence on the latest NATFHE vote) does call into question the strength of its commitment to the anti-boycott cause.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Catching up (3): Rape victim advocates and the presumption of innocence

Another thing I missed during my blogging hiatus: Ampersand (Barry) responds to my column and blogpost about the Duke University rape case.

In particular, he takes issue with this passage:

But even some people who applaud this change believe that in some cases, the pendulum has swung too far. Many feminists seem to think that in sexual assault cases the presumption of innocence should not apply. Appearing on the Fox News show ‘’The O’Reilly Factor,” Monika Hostler of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault declared that her role was ‘’to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.”

To O’Reilly’s question, ‘’Even if they weren’t?” Hostler replied, ‘’I can’t say that I’ve come across one that wasn’t.”

Says Barry:

Cathy is conflating two things that should be kept separate: an individual citizen’s own opinion, and our Court system. Yes, agents of our Court system are required to presume innocence, but unless she’s sworn in on a jury, Ms. Hostler doesn’t share that requirement.


Cathy thinks that rape victims’ advocates should not assume that a rape happened until it’s been proven beyond any reasonable doubt. How, exactly, does Cathy imagine that would work? Victim advocates don’t have the resources or the training to conduct independent investigations. Courts can take years to reach a “guilty” verdict - assuming there’s ever a trail, which there isn’t for most rapes. Should advocates refuse to help victims (pardon me, alleged victims) until a “guilty” verdict is handed down?

Barry then gives his satirical version of how a conversation between a rape victim advocate and a caller to a rape crisis center would go in the world according to me:

ADVOCATE: (picks up phone) Hello, rape crisis hotline. How may I help you?

WOMAN: (Distraught) My… I… I think I’ve been raped. This guy I know, Edward, he held me down and forced….

ADVOCATE: (Interrupting) You mean he allegedly held you down and forced you.

WOMAN: What?

ADVOCATE: I have to presume Edward’s innocent until he’s been proved guilty beyond all reasonable doubt. Please go on.

WOMAN: Okay… He, well, I kept saying “no, please don’t.” But he ignored what I said and ripped off my skirt -

ADVOCATE: You mean Edward allegedly ignored and allegedly ripped off your skirt. I’m keeping open to the possibility that you’re lying. Now, please hold, while I get Edward’s attorney on the line so he can cross-examine you. If your story remains credible after adversarial cross, then we can begin talking about dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome.

WOMAN: Umn… Could I talk to someone who’ll believe me?

ADVOCATE: Before a trial takes place? What do you think this is, Nazi Germany?

Barry then suggests that I misrepresented Hostler's position:

Even if Cathy had fairly quoted Ms. Hostler, Cathy’s argument would be wrong, for the reasons given above. But as it happens, Ms. Hostler wasn’t quoted fairly (there’s a transcript of the interview here). Here’s the important bit:

O’REILLY: You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?

HOSTLER: Oh, absolutely. But my role in sexual assault is to support a woman or any victim that comes forward to say that they were sexually assaulted.

“Oh, absolutely” can be interpreted to mean “oh, absolutely, the courts shouldn’t presume the defendant is innocent. But my role is to support the victim.” That’s how Cathy seems to interpret it.

But if that’s what Hostler meant, why start the second sentence with the word “but”? A sentence starting with “but” usually contrasts with the previous sentence in some way - that’s what the word “but” means. But there’s no contrast here, so the “but” is out of place.

I think Hostler meant “oh, absolutely,” meaning “Oh, absolutely, defendants should get the presumption of innocence in court. But my role as an advocate is to support the victim.” If so, the word “but” makes much more sense, because there’s a contrast between the two sentences.

To back up his claim, Barry quotes another statement by Hostler in the interview:

HOSTLER: Bill, I wouldn’t say that I think that those particular boys are absolutely guilty. But what I do think is that woman was raped in that house on that night.

Says Barry:

It’s ironic that Cathy is criticizing Hostler for not giving the two accused rapists any benefit of the doubt. Ms. Hostler does give them the benefit of the doubt; it’s Cathy, assuming the worse of Ms. Hostler even though the interview as a whole doesn’t justify Cathy’s assumptions, who is unreasonably refusing to give the benefit of the doubt.

Wanting to remove all doubt, I emailed Ms. Hostler. She says “of course” she believes that courts should presume defendants innocent until proven guilty. With all due respect to Cathy, there was enough textual evidence in the interview itself to raise doubts about Cathy’s interpretation, and Cathy should have made that clear in her column. Not only did Cathy’s column fail to inform her readers of the presence of doubt; Cathy’s quotations omitted the elements of the original interview which would have enabled her readers to notice the ambiguity for themselves.

Although I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose, the effect is that Cathy has unfairly smeared Ms. Hostler before a national audience. I hope Cathy uses a future column to correct her distortions and apologize to Ms. Hostler.

Frankly, Barry's claim of textual distortion on my part puzzles me. My column never even mentioned Hostler's "Oh, absolutely" reply to O'Reilly's question, "You don’t believe as an American citizen that you should give anyone the presumption of innocence. Is that what you’re telling me?" I understood it, in fact, in exactly the same way as Barry did: Ms. Hostler was saying that yes, the courts should absolutely give the defendants the presumption of innocence. However, I don't think she would say the same of the court of public opinion. In fact, in the same interview, there was this exchange:

O'REILLY: All right, but you said, "Let's be clear that we won't know what -- that they're not guilty based on the outcome in court. That won't tell us anything."


Now, I will agree that in some cases it is entirely appropriate for the court of public opinion to find someone guilty before they have been found guilty in a court of law: for instance, if there is such clear evidence of guilt that conviction is only a matter of time. And I think there are cases in which there is so obvious a miscarriage of justice that there is nothing wrong with holding someone guilty in the court of public opinion *cough cough* O.J. Simpson *cough cough* despite a "not guilty" verdict.

However, Hostler seems to be saying that even if the Duke lacrosse players are acquitted in a case where the evidence is very much in dispute, the shadow of guilt in the court of public opinion should linger over them.

Note, too, that while she says the particular individuals who are accused may not be guilty of rape, someone in the house unquestionably is. This despite the fact that according to the police report, the woman initially said she was only groped, not raped.

As for the advocate's role: yes, of course sexual assault victim advocates should provide support and aid to anyone who reports a rape. But should they continue to back a woman's claims unconditionally even if emerging facts and details cast very serious doubt on her credibility? Should they support a woman who calls herself a rape victim because she had sex with her boyfriend after he threatened to break up with her? or because, after she told her date early in the evening that she didn't want to have sex, she got tipsy and they started making out and one thing led to another? Should they denounced the "abusive" tactics of a defense attorney who brings up the complainant's history of false reports of rape? Should they write letters to the editor complaining about the overly prominent coverage given a false accusation? Should they, when a woman recants a story of being raped, argue -- with no evidence -- that she may have been raped after all and may have recanted under pressure or out of fear? Should they go on national TV and make the claim that they have never seen a woman who said she was raped but really hadn't been?

My answer to all of the above would be "no."

And, while I certainly agree that rape crisis counselors should not be skeptical toward those seeking help, I don't think it would hurt for them to develop some guidelines to help identify false allegations. In many cases, the women who make such allegations are not malicious but deeply troubled individuals who need help -- just not the kind of help that includes complete support for their claims.