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'Washington Post' Op-Ed Tone Deaf On View Of Sexual Assault?


I'm Michel Martin, and this TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We are continuing our discussion with our Beauty Shop panel of journalists and commentators. Andra Gillespie, Bridget Johnson, Connie Schultz and Alexis Wilkinson are with us. Bridget Johnson, I just wanted to ask you briefly about, you know, your take on Hillary Clinton, and the rollout of the book and the storylines that are emerging around her assumed presidential candidacy so far - not announced, but that seems to be where things are going.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: I am looking forward to watching said phantom candidacy that we all know is going to happen because her - the way her strategy is unfolding, you know, she wants to break from the Obama administration. She was trying to put distance between her and Obama. But she also was not trying to put much effort into winning over some of her hardest critics - for example, on Benghazi. So - and I noticed how she was also taking blame for the 2008 campaign strategy, which was interesting because as if the Clintons ever had a problem with strategy in the political arena. But I see this as a signal that she wants to bring down any perception of demographic barriers and aim for a wider swath than she had before. She's not going to be just a women's candidate. And she wants to grab the voters who came out for Obama.

MARTIN: I just have a really, super quick question for Connie. I'm curious about - well, maybe, Professor Gillespie, this is for you - but briefly, if you would. The racial politics of this - I mean, it seems like we're not really talking about that. But other people are talking about that. I'm thinking about, you know, Congressman James Clyburn's book, memoir - the number three Democrat in the House - opens with this encounter where he has President Clinton - former President Clinton calling him at two in the morning to complain about how he felt Hillary was being treated. And that became kind of a racial thing. It had a racial tone to it. And then she says that, you know - in her discussion in the book, she says that she let the president, Obama, know that the preposterous charge of racism against Bill was particularly painful. And Barack made clear that neither he nor his team believe that accusation. But some people do, and I just wonder whether she's, you know - how is she handling that so far?

ANDRA GILLESPIE: Well, so far, I mean, I think it's been handled pretty well. And I doubt it will be much of an issue unless there's a prominent black candidate running against her. I mean, Bill Clinton is going to have to own that some of the things that he said did sound mildly racist in 2008. And so long as he's aware of that and doesn't make those missteps again, I don't think that that's necessarily going to hurt Hillary Clinton's chances among African-Americans. Is she going to get the same type of stratospheric support and, perhaps, the same high turnout? Well, she will if she asks for the vote and cultivates that constituency and canvases there. But if not, she'll get the same, typical support that most blacks give Democratic candidates, which we could expect to be somewhere about 90 percent.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Which is not small. So...


MARTIN: OK. All right, let's talk about something that's gotten a lot of discussion in social media. There's been a lot of talk about campus sexual assault in recent, which the White House has assembled a task forced to look into this - getting a lot of high-level attention to it. We've talked about this on the program. Now, Washington Post columnist George Will - he's also a Fox News contributor - weighed in on the subject in an op-ed that upset a lot of people. He says that a lot of the discussions around sexual assault allow women - young women - to cry rape when, really, the issue is that they've made sexual decisions that they later regret. And he's also very critical of the academy, he says, for not kind of standing up against, what he feels, is kind of overreaching - you know, federal overreach. And there are a number of issues there. But I wanted to ask - Alexis, I'm going to start with you on this because, you know, there are obviously people who turn back and say that really, what you're engaging in is victim blaming. This - we've seen this movie before. And what you're saying is nothing new. And your attitude is exactly the one we're trying to counteract. But what do you say about this?

ALEXIS WILKINSON: I mean, the man put sexual assault in quotes. From the beginning of reading that piece, I knew what I was getting into. And I think it's only really notable because of it's, like, lack of nuance and compassion. And sort of - you know, it's the same, like - it's the same sort of thanks, Obama, victim-blaming rhetoric that is so - I'm fatigued of it, honestly - like, conservative, white male, thanks, Obama rhetoric. I'm over it. And it doesn't surprise me anymore. And I think just sort of railing against progressivism - and what particularly struck me about the piece, though, was the example that he used of, I guess, the sort of, like, preposterous, in quotes, "rape charges" that are being brought up now where, you know, a girl says no to having sex and then, like, falls asleep, and then, like, doesn't say no again when the guy tries again - even after she said no the first time. And I just - I want - when people sort of use those sort of examples, I really - it makes me so mad as a student, and as someone who has friends who have been sexually assaulted and as a person who has been put into sexually coercive situations. I just don't understand how, like, no does not mean no - like, how many - you know, no means no, and that, like, crying means no, and no response means no. I mean, why would you want to have sex with someone who doesn't actively want to have sex with you? Like, just go take a shower. Like, go figure it out. But, like, it's male entitlement. And it's very, very basic-level. And it's just - it's - I'm at my wits end with sort of dealing with that stuff.

MARTIN: Andra, now, you say you disagree with Will's - the core of his argument. But you said he did have one point. What was that?

GILLESPIE: I mean, I do think that younger people today have a very skewed example of what political correctness is and what healthy dialogue is. And so I want to create a safe space for people to be able to coexist who have extremely liberal and extremely conservative views. So they should all have a chance to talk and to dialogue without being viewed as bigoted. So you know, that being said, The New York Times talked about this yesterday when they were talking about evangelical student groups and sort of the challenges that they're having on campuses now, trying to live out their doctrine in the midst of nondiscrimination clauses. But when it comes to sexual assault, I just thought George Will was completely tone deaf. The example that he uses was clearly an example of rape. The woman said no. So yeah, it was stupid that she was spooning with this guy. But she said no, and that's all that matters. And the idea that he was incredulous to the idea that somebody who was impaired by drugs or alcohol can't give consent - you know, I just - that blows my mind. I mean, it kind of shows his age. It kind of shows how not with it he is. And I, you know, wonder, like, what do the women in his life feel that they - feel about these kinds of statements? And are they going to try to educate him so that he can be more sensitive in the future?

MARTIN: Well, what was the one thing you'd agree with?

GILLESPIE: Not about nothing on the sexual assault part.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Well...

GILLESPIE: Yes - nothing on the sexual assault part. But yes, you know...

MARTIN: That he should be allowed to give his wrong opinions - is that the part that you agree with? (Laughing) Is that what you're saying?

GILLESPIE: He should be allowed to give his wrong opinions. And I have the right, in dialogue, to be able to say, I think you're really, really wrong and you might want to consider that other side. But yes, I think extremely liberal and extremely conservative people should not have speech codes imposed upon them just because somebody else is offended by what they say. Just because somebody is offended by what they say doesn't mean that you can't have a respectful dialogue. And I think younger people, my students in particular, sometimes have a harder time with difficult dialogues because they expect that at the end, we're all going to agree - and we're not. And we just have to learn how to manage that.

MARTIN: Connie, can I have a brief word from you on this, if I can 'cause I'm interested in your take on this, both as a parent of daughters and also...


MARTIN: As a mother of daughters who are old enough to be confronting, you know, this whole question of ambiguous consent and whether...


MARTIN: Because I think one part of what he's saying is, look, you know, you have to take some responsibility for yourself. You know, what do you say?

SCHULTZ: As if women don't. I want to say something about his - I do not give him a pass on age. I do not give him a pass on gender. I don't care how old he is or how long he's been a man. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and should be adhering to the standards required to hold that honor. And that means, if you don't know what women are thinking about this, you go talk to women. If you are so out of touch as to convey a status of privilege, claiming that women have been able to claim status because they've become victims, you are so out of touch with how journalism should be practiced, let alone what women are experiencing on campuses. And yes, I am a mother. We have three daughters and a daughter-in-law in our family. And I went from zero to 100 in the time it took me to read that paragraph of George Will's - in case there was any doubt where I stand on this.

MARTIN: There isn't.


MARTIN: OK, before we go, I'm just going to steal just two more minutes. And Bridget, forgive me, I'm going to pass you by on this because I just wanted to ask - we're going to hear from the co-founder of Essence Magazine in a minute. And Essence Magazine is in hot water over the July cover because it features the cast of the upcoming romantic comedy "Think Like A Man Too." The movie has a predominantly black ensemble cast, but the magazine chose not to include the movie's white stars in their cover. And I was curious about how people feel about this because, you know, if - we've made such a big deal out of the fact that, you know, Vanity Fair, in previous issues, for example, has not showcased African-Americans in Hollywood. They did, you know, in - current issue. I - what do you - Bridget, do you mind if I ask, does this hurt your feelings? How do you feel about it?

JOHNSON: Well, I mean, as a very, palest, whitest-of-the-white person, I am not actually offended by it. But I think that it would also be an opportunity to showcase racial harmony. And if you think that Vanity Fair and other magazines aren't doing a good job of that, then you could take the lead and you could set the standard.

MARTIN: Alexis, what do you think?

WILKINSON: I think, you know, obviously, as you said, magazines aimed at white audiences routinely exclude black actors. Even when they are the star of show they'll do the side actor, the sidekick or something, rather than focus on the main person. And Essence was created with that injustice in mind. So I understand totally why they did it. That being said, they included everyone but the white actors. And the cast is already so big that I think if they had just included a couple, like, white faces, it wouldn't have, you know, destructed - or disturbed the visual message, or the dogmatic message of, you know, being a black magazine, they're trying to send. And, you know, the way they did it does make it seem more of, like, an intentional snub because the cast is so big. But I totally understand why they did it. And, you know, I'm not offended, or I don't think people should be offended.

MARTIN: You don't? OK. All right. Well, we'll see if anybody's offended and we'll have to call and hear them. All right, sorry ladies. We don't have a chance to hear from everybody on this, but thank you all. Alexis Wilkinson is a student at Harvard University. She is president of the Harvard Lampoon, and she joined us from WGBH in Boston. Andra Gillespie is an associate professor of political science at Emory University. She was with us from member station WBGO in Newark, New Jersey. Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with us from member station WCPN in Cleveland, Ohio. And Bridget Johnson is the Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media, a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. She joined us in Washington, D.C. Thank you all so much for joining us.

JOHNSON: Thanks, Michel.

GILLESPIE: Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thank you, Michel, love your show.

WILKINSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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