Tag Archives: media bias

Why Won’t the Media Review the Campus Rape Book?

Campus Rape Frenzy, the new book by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor. Jr. deals with the gross unfairness and lack of due process for males accused of sexual assault on campus. It has been reviewed by The Wall St. Journal, National Review, The Daily Caller, American Conservative, Real Clear Politics and Campus Reform. Notice any trend in that list? Yes, they are all conservative outlets.

So far we haven’t noticed any mainstream or liberal outlet reviewing the book, though it’s possible that we or Google have missed one or two. MTC didn’t expect The New York Times to review it since The Times rarely reviews conservative books. In this case, the book demonstrates that in one case after another The Times produced slovenly, misleading and inaccurate reporting on the subject as it did in the Duke lacrosse fake rape case. But all, or almost all, other outlets boycotted the book too? Under pressure from campus feminists and liberal orthodoxy, our press corps, like our universities are signing on to massive dishonesty.

Here is an anonymous online commenter making a similar point:

“I’m trying this on for size for why I avoided the book. The book is simply too depressing and discouraging. We have gotten to the point that, under powerful pressure from the Federal government and others, most of our universities, supposedly the bedrock of our intellectual life and important repositories of our knowledge of the past, have created systems that are massively unfair and inconsistent with our historic principles of justice.

The average person dares not question this massive apparatus without the high risk of personal or professional woe and possibly destruction. The underlying source of this is the power of the state, which has taken a well-intentioned statute and turned it into a weapon of political and cultural destruction. This has happened in plain sight. Our politics, our media, our educational leaders and so far our courts have proved to be timorous and so far ineffective counterweights to this power. I already know this. It’s discouraging to drag myself through it again.”

There Is No Campus Rape Epidemic, But a Lot of Media Malpractice

By KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr.

This is an excerpt from the new book, The Campus Rape Frenzy, the
Attack on Due Process at America’s Universities by KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor Jr.


The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within the Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues.”

Tom Jolly, New York Times sports editor, confessed in February 2008 that he regretted aspects of his paper’s much-criticized coverage of the Duke lacrosse case.  He vowed to do better. “Knowledge gained by hindsight has informed our approach to other stories since then,” said Jolly, who later became an associate managing editor.

But The Times did not do better. Its handling of recent campus sexual assault cases has been pervaded by the same biases that drove its Duke lacrosse coverage. The paper has continued to unquestioningly accept alleged victims’ stories while omitting evidence that might harm their credibility. Like almost all other mainstream media, the Times also has glossed over how university procedures stack the deck against accused students.

With the Times setting the tone, the mainstream media have presented a misleading picture of almost every aspect of the campus sexual assault problem. The coverage has had three critical flaws. The first is the “believe-the-survivor” dogma, which presumes the guilt of accused students—a sentiment that Harvard Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen has identified as a “near-religious teaching.”

Related: Ten Campus Rapes—or Were They?

Second, most journalists have embraced without skepticism or context surveys purporting to show that 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted—thereby portraying campuses as awash in an unprecedented wave of violent crime.  Third, most media coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses fails to report in any meaningful way (if at all) the actual procedures that colleges employ in sexual assault cases.

Richard Pérez-Peña, a veteran reporter who joined The Times in 1992, wrote most of its stories on alleged campus sexual assault between January 2012 and December 2014. He debuted on the beat with a long article suggesting that Yale quarterback Patrick Witt was a liar and a rapist. Pérez-Peña implied that Witt and Yale’s officials had misled the public when they said that Witt had withdrawn from the Rhodes Scholarship competition because of a conflict between the Yale-Harvard game and his scheduled interview. The real reason for Witt’s withdrawal, Pérez-Peña asserted, was a mysterious sexual misconduct allegation.

Even if true, this information would hardly have been worthy of aggressive treatment by the nation’s most powerful newspaper. In addition, the reporter relied on an undisclosed number of anonymous sources. Indeed, he never figured out who Witt’s accuser was. He never learned what the accuser alleged Witt had done.  (Neither did Witt.)

The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within the Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues.”

He insinuated that Yale had suspended Witt. (In fact, Witt was finishing his senior thesis off campus while preparing for the NFL draft.) In his article, Pérez-Peña never described the “informal complaint” process that Yale used against Witt, a process that denied him any right to present evidence of his innocence. Witt, like all students accused under the “informal” process since 2011, was found guilty and given a reprimand.

The Yale Daily News almost immediately raised doubts about the article, citing contemporaneous emails from Witt that conflicted with Pérez-Peña’s account. Shortly thereafter, several people outside the traditional media, including one of us (KC Johnson), raised questions about Pérez-Peña’s work. The cheeky sports website Deadspin published a comprehensive takedown of Pérez-Peña’s timeline. Worth editor-in- chief Richard Bradley, writing on his personal blog, Shots in the Dark, concluded that “The Times—and, yes, Richard Pérez-Peña—owe Patrick Witt an apology. Then Pérez-Peña and the editor who green-lighted this story should be fired.”

Related: Education Dept. Rules on Campus Rape Called Illegal

Pérez-Peña was not fired. But the problems with his work spurred The Times’ public editor, Arthur Brisbane, to do the reporting that Pérez-Peña should have done. Brisbane spoke to Witt’s agent, uncovered emails Pérez-Peña hadn’t found and described Yale’s “informal” complaint process. “Maybe you just can’t publish this story, not with the facts known now,” Brisbane concluded because “when something as serious as a person’s reputation is at stake, it’s not enough to rely on anonymous sourcing, effectively saying ‘trust us.’”

Such criticism appears to have had little or no effect inside The Times newsroom. Indeed, in a November 4, 2014, tweet, Times reporter Vivian Yee (@VivianHYee) defended Pérez-Peña’s work, gloating that despite the public editor’s devastating criticism, “for the record, there was no ‘retraction’ on our story” about Witt. Meanwhile, Yale’s actions, compounded by Times errors, “nearly ruined my life,” Witt wrote in November 2014.

Most of Pérez-Peña’s nearly 20 articles (a few with joint bylines) on campus sexual assault allegations exhibited the same problems as his Witt coverage. In an October 2012 piece, he uncritically presented Angie Epifano’s “wrenching account” of her supposed mistreatment by Amherst. Pérez-Peña made no effort to contact either the student Epifano accused of rape or the Amherst employees she portrayed as uncaring. In what was billed as a straight news article, the reporter celebrated Amherst President Biddy Martin’s adoption of draconian disciplinary procedures—the same procedures that paved the way for Amherst’s expulsion of Michael Cheng. In another article, Pérez-Peña gushed that “it may be that no college leader in the country was as well prepared to face this controversy than [sic] Biddy Martin.”

In a March 2013 article, Pérez-Peña wrote inaccurately that the 2011 Dear Colleague letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights “did not markedly change   interpretation of the law; instead, it reminded colleges of obligations that many of them had ignored, and signaled that there was a new seriousness in Washington about enforcing them.”   Hours later, an editor seems to have noticed the error, and the first clause quoted above was changed to say that “[t]he letter [did] change the interpretation of parts of the law.” But with the rest of the sentence unaltered, the new version was an absurd assertion that OCR had “reminded” colleges of nonexistent “obligations” that they had previously “ignored.”

Related: The “Jackie” Interview in the UVA Fake Rape

In 2014, an article by Pérez-Peña and Kate Taylor asserted that “there is scant evidence that sexual assault is more or less prevalent than in the past”—a claim contradicted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics data concluding that sexual assault rates had plunged since 1996. FBI crime statistics show a similar pattern.

The spring and summer of 2014 also featured two in-depth pieces on alleged campus sexual assault by Times investigative journalist Walt Bogdanich, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner and acclaimed investigative reporter. Unlike Pérez-Peña’s articles, Bogdanich’s two articles presented cases in which the allegations were plausible. The acknowledged conduct in both cases was deeply disturbing, and the accused students were extremely unsympathetic. But still, both pieces omitted critical evidence.

Bogdanich’s comments in a 2015 interview may help explain why. Discussing his approach to campus sexual assault allegations, he remarked that investigative reporters like him “get upset …  when we see powerful people unfairly taking advantage of the less powerful.” But in the typical campus context (if not in one and perhaps both of Bogdanich’s cases), the accused student is more often the party treated unfairly by “powerful people.” Bogdanich’s emotionalism and the apparent presumption of guilt in cases involving campus sexual assault accusations served his readers poorly.

Bogdanich’s first showcase article was a 5,200-word front-pager in April 2014. I left the clear impression that Jameis Winston—the Heisman Trophy–winning, NFL first draft choice, former Florida State University quarterback—had raped a fellow first-year student named Erica Kinsman. Whether or not a rapist, Winston was a singularly unappealing character—“an embarrassment in a lot of ways to the university,” as former FSU coach Bobby Bowden put it. He seemed a perfect fit for the media narrative of coddled star athletes raping fellow students and getting away with it. Perhaps it was for this reason that in almost all of the paper’s more than 20 articles about the case, Bogdanich and other Times reporters omitted virtually all the evidence that cast doubt on the alleged victim’s credibility.

Shortly into his magnum opus, Bogdanich implied that Kinsman had been drugged. She claimed that someone at a bar had given her a drink, apparently spiked with a date-rape drug, which caused her to black out. He did not mention that two toxicology reports had shown no trace of any known drug in her system.

Bogdanich added, “After partially blacking out…she found herself in an apartment with a man on top of her, sexually assaulting her.” That portrayal and Kinsman’s various suggestions to police to the same effect was contradicted not only by other witnesses but also, later, by Kinsman’s own December 2014 testimony admitting that she went voluntarily with Winston into his bedroom.

Kinsman’s initial recorded phone report (through a friend) to campus police was that after leaving an off-campus bar, she had been hit on the back of the head, blacked out, and found herself being raped by a stranger. Yet a medical exam detected no sign of a blow to the head. Kinsman never repeated the claim. The Times never mentioned it and therefore did not explore how the accuser changed her story.

Finally, Winston’s lawyers had alleged that Kinsman’s aunt (also her first lawyer) introduced an ugly racial element to the case when she said in a phone call that Kinsman (who is white) would never voluntarily sleep with a “black boy.” The aunt never responded to an email from one of us asking whether she had made such a remark. The possibility of racial bias in the accuser’s family has never been mentioned in the Times.

The   two  most  plausible  views  of the encounter    are  that  after Kinsman went voluntarily into Winston’s bedroom, (1) she made it clear at some point that she did not consent to sex but he proceeded anyway or (2) she consented to sex and never clearly withdrew her consent but later alleged rape because she felt she had been badly treated by Winston during the  encounter—as she clearly was, according to his version of events (for example, he let his roommate enter the room while he was in bed with Kinsman before taking her into the bathroom to have sex on the hard  floor).

The evidence in the case remains ambiguous, and Kinsman’s shifting stories significantly undermine her credibility. State Attorney William Meggs concluded that the evidence did not show probable guilt. Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding, who presided over FSU’s two-day disciplinary hearing, cited conflicts between Kinsman’s testimony and other, undisputed evidence, to reach the same conclusion.

One of us (Stuart Taylor) exposed The Times’ mistreatment of Winston at length in February 2015, in Real Clear Sports. An official Times response stressed that the point of the Bogdanich article had been to critique shoddy work on the case by Tallahassee police. But The Times did not challenge any of the exposé’s factual assertions. None of this record prevented the Pulitzer Prize Board from naming Bogdanich in April 2015 as a finalist, for “stories exposing preferential police treatment for Florida State University football players who are accused of sexual assault and other criminal offenses.”

In his next piece for The Times, this one focusing on Hobart and William Smith (HWS), a small school in upstate New York, Bogdanich displayed a similarly one-sided approach. According to Bogdanich, at a party in September 2013, a first-year student called “Anna” had had sex with several football players in a row. Bogdanich’s work clearly conveyed the impression that this was a rape because Anna had been incapacitated by alcohol. But neither the police nor an HWS disciplinary hearing found sufficient evidence to make that determination, even (in the latter case) under the low standard of proof decreed by OCR. Bogdanich waved away these findings by claiming, again, that the police work had been shoddy. He also asserted that at HWS, the absence of “the usual courtroom checks and balances” had been unfair to the accuser.

On top of such claims, Bogdanich committed acts of careless journalism. He did not explore (until after The Finger Lakes Times had reported) the accuser’s refusal, on the advice of her lawyer, to give police access to her rape kit, which hampered their investigation. Bogdanich appears not even to have attempted to speak with the accused students or their lawyers. Worse, he glossed over the refusal of the accuser’s only corroborating witness to testify in the HWS disciplinary process. The reporter wrote that this critical witness “stands by his account, according to Anna.”

“According to Anna”? A careful reporter would have asked the witness himself, whom Bogdanich quoted on other points. The Finger Lakes Times reported claims by both the district attorney and HWS’s president that Bogdanich had taken out of context material from the college disciplinary board’s hearing transcript. If these assertions were unfair, The New   York Times could have disproved them by posting the transcript on its website. It did not do so.

The New York Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses “seems of a piece with the leftist bias I noticed within The Times newsroom regarding climate change, gay marriage, abortion, affirmative action, labor, and other hot-button issues,” former Times editor Tom Kuntz told us via email. Kuntz, a self-described libertarian, had worked for the newspaper since 1987 but left in early 2016, in part because he no longer felt comfortable with its generally slanted coverage and lack of balance.

“This bias can no longer be chalked up as simply a function of too many lefty reporters and editors in the newsroom,” Kuntz added. “The Times has geared it survival strategy to preaching to the liberal converted. Although no one in authority at The Times says so explicitly in public, you can read between the lines of such statements as the October 2015 announcement by CEO Mark Thompson. He said that The Times plans to ‘double the number of [its] most loyal readers,’ and ‘double its digital revenue,’ by 2020, by catering to those who most reliably part with money for Times content.”

A company statement quoted by Kuntz said The Times planned to develop loyal readers “increasingly from younger demographics and international audiences”—groups with predominantly liberal views. Indeed, said Kuntz, “I noticed in many corporate strategy briefings over recent years that The Times seems to care little about bringing conservative readers into the fold. In PowerPoint presentations and the like, competitors listed as ones that mattered were liberal outfits like the Huffington Post and the Guardian—not conservative outlets, with the exception of The Wall Street Journal. The Drudge Report, Fox News, and the Daily Mail, for example, were ignored despite their enormous audiences.”

This corporate strategy was consistent with a much-noted 2014 newsroom innovation study led by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, son and possible successor of the current publisher, according to Kuntz. The junior Sulzberger soon became senior editor for strategy (before rising even further in the company), and his “first task,” according to Executive Editor Dean Baquet’s memo about   the appointment, was “to help the newsroom’s leaders and [editorial page editor] Andy Rosenthal build a joint newsroom-editorial page audience development operation that can pull all the levers and build readership.”

Related: FIRE Makes the OCR Back Down

Another longtime and respected Times journalist with whom we spoke has a very different view of the newspaper’s motivations. This insider says that “the notion that there is a decision to feed red meat to the liberal base is just nonsense. It’s horseshit. We write a lot about climate change, and we do it with a point of view that accepts the scientific consensus and ‘liberal’ worldview. Is that an attempt to attract eyeballs by throwing red meat to liberal readers or is it coverage of something important we and our readers care about? We write a lot about police violence, Black Lives Matter, and the post-Ferguson law enforcement environment. We write a lot about women’s issues such as access to abortion and contraception. You can argue with the coverage if you like, but it’s complete nonsense to think there’s a sudden strategy to drive digital readership on campus sex issues by throwing out liberal swill to drive up pageviews.

“There’s a complicated and fair discussion you could have about bias, conscious and unconscious in what we do,” The Times journalist continued. “On campus rape, I think you can argue both that it’s a hugely important issue we need to address and that our coverage has tended to disproportionately reflect the ‘liberal’ world view of feminist activists, and that it has been slow to adequately address the rights of accused males. That’s a worthy discussion. But seeing some kind of cabal to crank out liberal catnip to get clicks reflects a complete failure to understand how this place works.”

Whether the reason is groupthink or a strategy of firing up the newspaper’s liberal base, The Times’ coverage of alleged sexual assault on college campuses has represented a journalistic failure—and a particularly troubling one, given the paper’s earlier failure on this issue in the Duke lacrosse case.

All available materials from cases mentioned in this book are posted on here.

KC Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, covers higher education matters for Minding the Campus. Stuart Taylor Jr., a National Journal contributing editor, was the co-author with KC Johnson of Until Proven Innocent, the classic study of the Duke Lacrosse hoax.