Over the past week, I’ve been thrust into a media storm over a column I penned for the American University Eagle attacking our ever-broadening concepts of what constitutes rape. As has been pointed out countless times by now, it is a provocative argument — and one that hasn’t really been touched since Camille Paglia and Katie Roiphe were in the spotlight in the 90′s. But it’s proven that the uncomfortable questions that feminists thought were dead and buried actually still have life. Outside of the establishment’s bubble, personal responsibility still retains some of its popularity.
The outpouring of support that I have received from Middle America has been heartening and reassuring. The essence of my argument — don’t engage in volatile, risky situations unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences of your actions — is a common sense, mainstream argument among everyday Americans. Indeed, the backlash seems mainly to be coming from pampered, upper class white people from the coasts who don’t want to admit that ours is a world filled with risk and imperfections. The media discourse surrounding this event has mainly revolved around the latter’s interpretation of the world. Is it any wonder that the mainstream media is losing the trust of Americans?
The ABC News coverage of my column, for instance, was nothing less than a hit piece. The original title of the article, penned by Susan Donaldson James, was “American University Erupts Over Date Rape: Girls Who Drink and Go to Frat Parties Deserve Date Rape, Says Student Newspaper Columnist.” Deserve. The same word was also included in the first paragraph, as well as a discourse-poisoning remark that this month is Sexual Abuse Awareness Month and a description of my piece as a “diatribe.” After an angry e-mail exchange with the reporter, she changed the two instances of ‘deserved’ to ‘invite’ and ‘responsible for’ — neither of which are particularly accurate descriptors of my point, either, but are certainly a step up from the outright libel of “deserving to be date-raped.”
The CBS News experience, which occurred 24 hours after the ABC piece hit the web, was designed to intimidate. The producer assigned to my story went out of her way to put me ill-at-ease, barking orders at me (“Come on — get in the car!”) and sarcastically snipping “I’ll bet your mom is going to enjoy this,” in the sort of tone that asked “Don’t you just hate women, you misogynist bastard?” (My mother, in fact, has been extremely supportive of me and is most responsible for my embrace of adult responsibility.) Originally, I was to appear live from the American University campus, but our reception — notoriously spotty — failed us and we hurried to the CBS bureau in a mad rush, racing up stairs and through the studio with two minutes until airtime. My throat was dry by the time I sat down in my seat, barely giving me time to get a cup of water.
If one has never appeared on national television, it’s difficult to imagine how strange the situation is: it’s designed to be intimidating. You don’t look at a screen and respond to your opponent: instead, you stare into a big black box that operates as the camera while listening to mid-quality audio coming from a microphone connected to your ear. It’s all very impersonal, and it almost seems surreal as it’s going on.
Maggie Rodriguez’ questions were somewhat patronizing, both of them asking me, in essence, if I “really believed it” or “wanted to take something back.” (I felt like Ann Coulter or something; another television interview ran the headline: “Did He Go Too Far?”) Colleagues have told me that they suspect that these interviews, in part, occurred because they expected me to issue mealy-mouthed apologies, giving the news organizations an opportunity to look like Good Guys who put the college douche in his place.
All of the television interviewers — all of whom have been hostile to or at least uncomfortable with my column — have conspicuously omitted the fact of my homosexuality. The lingering assumption that they want people to take away is that I’m a privileged frat boy trying to justify his bad behavior — and many comments on national websites prove as much. It’s maddeningly dumb that this should actually make a difference, of course, but with the narrative being as it is, it softens the blow of the argument. It truly seems that the media has so embraced the feminist date-rape propaganda that the only people who can even vaguely “get away” with telling straight men’s side of the narrative are women — such as Paglia and Roiphe — and gay men.
The radio format has given me insight as to why conservatives have fled to that venue, though: only when I appeared on the radio did I feel completely confident that I’d fully have a chance to flesh out my ideas, explain myself in context, and not have to worry about being subject to a hit piece. The mainstream media deals in soundbites; radio actually deals in discussion of the issues. I have appeared on radio shows all over the country now, and every one of the hosts, whether on my side or not, has given me a chance to engage in a vigorous debate.
Sometimes, we end up being surprised by the lessons that we learn from events. Entering the belly of the media beast has given me a new-found appreciation for Middle America’s ability to move beyond soundbites and embrace common-sense dialogue. That the media keeps spitting on their values is testament to the fact that it has willingly embraced suicide.
Watch: “Let’s Talk Live” (Thursday, April 1st)
Listen: “The Gil Gross Show” (Segment begins at 8:30)