Ashe Schow writes at The Washington Examiner about a Columbia oped editor failing to present all the facts in Emma Sulkowicz’s (the woman who carries her mattress around and was invited to the State of the Union address as a result) rape charge.
A former opinion editor for the Columbia Spectator — Columbia University’s student newspaper — has expressed remorse for not being “thorough and impartial” in reporting stories on sexual assault.
Daniel Garisto, a junior at Columbia College (part of CU), responded to a recent expose in the Daily Beast that provided Paul Nungesser’s account of what happened between him and fellow Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz. Sulkowicz has made numerous media appearances claiming she was hit, choked and raped by Nungesser and is carrying a mattress around campus as an art project and effort to get him to leave the school.
Garisto said he was “perturbed” by the Daily Beast article, because of its claim that Nungesser was found guilty in a “trial-by-media.” He explained his role in telling the stories of accusers in an effort to “promote discourse about sexual assault policy.
“But I think we — not just the opinion page, not just Spec — but we, the members of the campus media, failed specifically with Sulkowicz’s story by not being thorough and impartial,” Garisto wrote.
“Instead, campus media’s goal to promote discussion about sexual assault and to support survivors became conflated with a fear of rigorous reporting,” he added. “Personally, I felt that if I covered the existence of a different perspective — say, that due process should be respected — not only would I have been excoriated, but many would have said that I was harming survivors and the fight against sexual assault.”
Garisto explained that it is difficult to get other perspectives when writing about sexual assault, because the accused aren’t forthcoming — especially when they are still anonymous — and others are afraid to comment for fear of backlash. Garisto himself said he fully expects to receive a backlash just for writing his opinion.
And therein lies the biggest problem in the discussion of campus sexual assault. Activists fighting for a broader definition of consent under which nearly all sex could be considered rape,pushing false statistics, claiming that false accusations are so rare as to never be a concern and shaming anyone who dares tell the other side of the story make it impossible to have a rational discussion about a very serious issue.
Yes, rape happens. Yes, false accusations (and the more blurry wrongful or unproven accusations) happen. Yes, accusers deserve support. Yes, the accused deserve due process.
But the media, as Garisto pointed out, does a disservice to the discussion, accusers and the accused.
“Critical coverage isn’t only for the benefit of the accused, but for the public and the survivors themselves. Thorough and impartial reporting can only serve to validate a survivor’s claims, while biased or incomplete reporting can only serve to fuel doubt and mistrust,” Garisto wrote. “The media helps no one by remaining lax in its coverage.”
Garisto did try to alleviate some of the backlash he will receive by claiming he thinks Nungesser is “probably guilty” —breaking the media ethics he spent so much time addressing. But his overall point remains valid, it is not the media’s responsibility to provide only one side of the issue — that makes real reform that protects the accuser and the accused impossible.