Since 2012, the New York Times has led the way in systematically biased coverage of on-campus sexual assault allegations and how colleges are responding. The paper has relentlessly hyped the issue, has smeared quite possibly innocent students while omitting evidence that they were innocent, and has cheered efforts to presume guilt and deny due process for the accused. It has also parroted egregiously misleading statistical claims used by the Obama administration and others to portray the campus rape problem, which is clearly serious, as an out-of-control “epidemic,” which it clearly is not. (In fact, the campus rate rape has plunged in the past 20 years.)
Now the Washington Post has joined a race to the bottom among the legacy media, in a June 12 package of two very long front-page articles and a third inside the paper that includes both the results of a Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll and detailed interviews of some respondents. The main headline: “1 in 5 women say they were violated.” The articles and the poll purport to confirm claims by the administration, its congressional supporters, most of the media, and campus activists that around 20 percent of female college students are sexually assaulted while at school. In this portrayal, the nation’s campuses are hotbeds of violent crime.
But like many other advocacy polls on sexual assault, the Post-Kaiser poll misleads readers—most of whom surely will assume that “sexual assault” means criminal sexual assault—by using that criminally charged phrase for shock value in the articles while deliberately avoiding it in the survey questions. As detailed below, those questions are so broad as to invite survey respondents to complain about virtually any encounter that they later regretted, including many that were not sexual assault or rape as defined by law.
According to the Post’s accompanying articles, the “survivors” of these sexual encounters experienced enormous pain and suffering. But it’s not entirely clear how the Post determined that the students with whom the paper spoke are in fact “survivors” of sexual assault, although some clearly were. Virtually none of these students went to the police, nor did most report any incident to their colleges, whose adjudication procedures are all but designed to find the accused student guilty. Instead, the Post reporters simply assumed the truth of most of their sources’ claims and thus the guilt of the accused.
Details from the few subjects who did report matters to police reflect badly on the Post’s credibility. Take, for instance, the student with whom one of the Post’s front-pagers leads, Rachel Sienkowski. Reporters Emma Brown, Nick Anderson, Susan Svrluga, and Steve Hendrix say in their second paragraph that a few weeks after arriving on the Michigan State campus, Sienkowski “had become a survivor” after an afternoon of tailgating ended with a man she didn’t know in her bed. She went to the police, the Post reported, because she awoke not only having been violated, but with her head bloodied.