Bill Cosby, Cosby, feminism, media, press, rape, Richard Stellar, sexual assault, Sharon Waxman, The Wrap, TheWrap
Image courtesy of Det Snakker Viom
In case you haven’t been paying much attention to the news–I sure haven’t, honestly; it depresses me–recently Bill Cosby was accused of sexual assault/rape. He denied it (as one might expect), and a few of his friends defended him and made the (reasonable) point about due process, assumption of innocence, and that he’s a good guy they can’t imagine would have done anything like that. And I have to admit that it depresses me a lot; my sense of humor is apparently an amalgam of multiple sexual abusers like Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. Lucky me. (George Carlin is in there too. And Bob & Ray and others.) I don’t want him to be guilty any more than his friends.
But then multiple other women came forward with their own stories, in a manner that makes it hard to believe that Cosby is totally innocent. And thus the debate was engaged, and the mainstream media went absolutely nuts, as it is wont to do. Reminded me of the OJ highway chase, honestly. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, unemployment, the recent election results, the latest committee report that there is no there there regard Benghazi–all this might as well not exist. It’s all Cosby, all the time.
A web zine called The Wrap (that I have never heard of) weighed in on the topic several times, and then yesterday published a post by a writer named Richard Stellar (ditto) that was titled, incredibly, “The Rape of Bill Cosby”. As if this weren’t obnoxious enough, the lead sentence continued in this vein. “Bill Cosby raped me. Now that I have your attention . . .” And it went on like that. Disguised as an accusation of the media feeding frenzy, Stellar went on to insult victims of rape everywhere (“There is no legitimacy to justice if there is no real evidence, and evidence has a way of vanishing as memories dim with the marching of time”) along with accusing the women who have come forward of trying to “cash in” on the story.
So okay, this was horrific. It was victim blaming in almost it’s most classic form. But then, in a response to a Twitter-storm of protest, Sharon Waxman, CEO and lead editor for The Wrap, defended the post and Stellar, insisting it was a 1st Amendment issue and that the outrage was designed to squash alternative views.
It’s spectacularly clear that Ms. Waxman simply doesn’t get it. In her “apology” (which I put in quotes because it’s only one level removed from the classic non-apology apology of the form “I’m sorry if anyone’s feelings were hurt” that politicians use all the time), she writes, “Our Hollyblogs are written by independent bloggers and represent their own views.” Ms Waxman, I’m sorry, this is your Webzine; take responsibility for what it prints. Don’t try to fob off responsibility because it’s an “independent blogger”. Besides, as you yourself said, “Richard Stellar has been blogging for TheWrap almost since the site has existed”. Given that, it’s even more critical that you take responsibility; while Stellar may be “independent” in some absolute sense of the word, his long association with your publication renders claims of total independence dubious at best.
She also writes, “What would be the point of only publishing points of view with which we agree?” This is a classic straw-man argument, one that she has gone to again and again on Twitter. No one is arguing that. Indeed, if you had posted–or Stellar had written–a post in defense of Cosby that didn’t denigrate his accusers in the title, not to mention attributing to them motives of which he can have zero knowledge and engaging in an epic spasm of victim blaming, while people would have protested, it would have been more like the “debate” that you say you want.
I honestly wonder if Ms. Waxman truly does not understand why women are so reluctant to report sexual assaults or domestic violence, or why so many women held their tongues until someone finally couldn’t take it any more and had to report it. And what is the likelihood that a woman suffering one of the most violating, humiliating of crimes really wants “15 minutes of fame” to talk about it? I stipulate it’s possible, but must believe it’s very rare. Particularly against a figure that has been almost universally beloved for more than a generation. Is Stellar kidding about that? It’s a ridiculous accusation, and insults the pain and suffering of the accusers. It’s classic, almost a Platonic ideal, of victim blaming. That she could publish such a piece and then defend it so vehemently is simply astonishing.
And that is what is at issue here, in my opinion. Waxman’s TheWrap ran with a post that engaged in insulting, denigrating, dismissive victim blaming right from the title onward, and furthermore was easily interpreted to be insulting to any rape victims, not just those who might have been assaulted by Cosby. (How many different ways can one interpret “Bill Cosby raped me”, other than as a lame attempt at “humor” that insults rape victims everywhere? It enraged me, and I’m a male who has never experienced rape; I can’t even imagine how it felt to women who have experienced sexual assault.)
In her “apology” and her Twitter remarks, Waxman keeps trying to make the point again and again that the people protesting Stellar’s post don’t want to engage in debate, and that’s simply not the issue at all. The issue is the way Stellar addressed his point of view, which was horrific. It’s not unlike when anti-abortionists call pro-choice folks “baby-killers”. There is debate, and then there is trolling, victim blaming, insulting, and being inflammatory; Stellar’s post was the latter. It’s not like there aren’t plenty of “independent bloggers” who would be more than happy to write on this topic without being insulting and dismissive. Why couldn’t The Wrap engage one of them, post it, and stop engaging in straw-man tactics and trying to grab the higher ground of “freedom of speech”? Because freedom of speech doesn’t mean a WebZine has to publish everyone’s obnoxious, noxious opinions. You want to publish an opposing viewpoint, go for it. You want to continue publishing abrasive click bait, and you’ll keep getting castigated.
It’s up to you, Ms. Waxman. Here’s hoping you have an open mind, and not just a reflexive defense mechanism.