The Times’s Shoddy Reporting on Campus Rape

Two different items in the last week in the New York Times provide a reminder of why the struggle for due process on campus has such difficulty penetrating the media.

The first example came in the latest from Richard Pérez-Peña, who while ostensibly a hard news reporter for the newspaper seems to envision his role as a cheerleader for Title IX complaints. Pérez-Peña joined Kate Taylor in a front-page Times article that read more like an opinion piece in Mother Jones or The Nation in favor of the administration’s war on due process.

Pérez-Peña and Taylor led off with the story of a Columbia student named Emma Sulkowicz, who said that she was raped. Her alleged assailant, however, got off. (Neither Pérez-Peña nor Taylor gave any indication of contacting the accused student to get his side of the story.) The alleged assailant remains free in part because Sulkowicz, for reasons the article doesn’t explain, never filed a criminal report. Instead, she lodged a complaint through Columbia’s due process-unfriendly sexual assault system–which nonetheless found the accused student not culpable.

Rather than consider the possibility that the judgment of Columbia’s disciplinary process might have been correct–and, again, after apparently not choosing to contact the accused student– Pérez-Peña and Taylor used Sulkowicz’s case to frame their story. The message? Accusers experienced “frustrated searches for aid and justice from the university,” and this fight prompted the administration’s recent Task Force recommendations and OCR Q&A document.

In a 2318-word article, Pérez-Peña and Taylor mentioned the phrase “due process” once, in this sentence: “Some civil libertarians have cried foul, and public universities have asked whether the rule could conflict with the due process rights they, as arms of the states, must give the accused.” Neither Pérez-Peña nor Taylor appear to have interviewed any civil libertarians, and no reader could possibly contextualize the concerns these civil libertarians have, since Pérez-Peña and Taylor, as is common in these types of articles, declined to actually describe the processes that Columbia uses to adjudicate sexual assault claims.

Pérez-Peñas reporting on college sexual assault issues is almost a parody of political correctness, but it also helps illustrate why so many on the left–including, sadly, much of the Democratic Party’s mainstream–have embraced calls for reducing the already minimal due process protections that students accused of sexual assault on campus possess.

But for more than three years, Republicans have controlled the House of Representatives, and if any oversight has occurred of the OCR, it’s been very minimal indeed. A glimpse why comes in an op-ed from Times columnist Ross Douthat, the op-ed page’s conservative voice. Douthat at least mentions the civil libertarian critiques of Cathy Young, Amy Kitchens, and Megan McArdle, and includes a quote from McArdle.

But he isn’t quite willing to accept their arguments. They make “a plausible case against some of the activists’ prescriptions,” but not enough, it seems, to challenge the activists’ basic claim of a campus crime wave, which Douthat describes as a “specific and toxic issue in college social life: the prevalence on campuses, often in alcohol-infused situations, of rape and sexual assault.”

The remainder of his piece is an attack on “moral retreat” in colleges; the whole affair, he suggests, reveals “the internal contradictions of social liberalism.” The “corrupt order” of today’s colleges, Douthat reasons, must be toppled. This goal makes him basically indifferent to the fact that as a result of these new policies, in the next few years an untold number of students will (falsely) be branded rapists by their colleges. “The protesting students may be overzealous and unduly ideological,” he muses, “but when you’re running an essentially corrupt institution, sometimes that’s the kind of opposition you deserve.” But the colleges aren’t the victims of a false allegation.

Pérez-Peña and Taylor represent the politically correct, Douthat the social conservatives, but support for due process isn’t high on either side’s agenda.


  • KC Johnson

    KC Johnson is a history professor at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center. He is the author, along with Stuart Taylor, of The Campus Rape Frenzy: The Attack on Due Process at America's Universities.

    View all posts

One thought on “The Times’s Shoddy Reporting on Campus Rape”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *