Washington Post reporter Nick Anderson’s response to our June 16 critique of his (and three of his colleagues’) very long front-page articles on June 12 as misleading readers about campus sexual assault is revealing, both for what it says and for what it does not.
As to the latter, a Post reader might assume that the only criticism of the paper’s work came from what Anderson calls a “conservative journal.” Anderson conveniently overlooks the fact that we, the authors of the article, are a Democrat and an independent, both of whom have voted for President Obama twice. The Post’s efforts also received strong rebukes from Robby Soave in Reason, a libertarian journal, as well as Ashe Schow in the Washington Examiner and David French in National Review Online.
More important, Anderson does not even attempt to rebut our exposé of the misleading nature of several of the Post’s “survivor” stories. The Post’s lead story, for example, describes as a “survivor” a student who woke up after a night of drinking to find her head bloodied and a man she didn’t know in her bed. Some 2,700 words later, any readers who got to the end would have learned that this appears in fact not to have been sexual assault at all, but rather a typical drunken hookup that neither party remembers well. Even the accuser conceded that “she doesn’t know for sure whether she had wanted sex in the moment.” This admission came after police showed her photos of the hickeys that the accused said her lips had branded on his neck, as evidence that she “was very into everything that was happening.” As for the bleeding, it was apparently self-inflicted when the accuser fell out of her loft bed onto the floor, while the male was asleep.
The Post learned these details only because this “survivor,” a Michigan State student named Rachel Sienkowski, filed a report with police, who then spoke to the man that she accused. The lengthy Post series, which included a page in which dozens of “sexual assault survivors tell their stories,” provides scant indication that either Anderson or any of his colleagues made any attempt to speak with both sides in other stories that the paper featured.
Rather than defending such results, and the one-sided approach to reporting that produced them, Anderson’s response confines itself to bolstering the Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll and the newspaper’s assertion that it confirms claims by the administration, most of the media, and others that around 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted while at school. But the Anderson response does not come to grips with our demonstration that the poll and accompanying reporting were structured to inflate the number, chiefly by listing a wide range of conduct (including sex while “drunk”) that could trigger a positive response from the students polled.