Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Slate's Emily Yoffe On The Hunting Ground

If you pull nothing else from Emily Yoffe's fine investigation on the facts behind The Hunting Ground, consider this:
Like most journalists and critics, I first wrote about The Hunting Ground on Feb. 27 of this year, the day the film made its theatrical debut, and did so unaware that, the same week, the unnamed man Willingham calls a rapist was standing trial in Middlesex County on the charges stemming from her criminal complaint. I learned of Winston’s trial when a juror contacted me after it concluded to express dismay that Winston had been forced to stand trial—and had faced potential jail time—for what she saw as a drunken hook-up. Winston declined to talk with me directly, but I spoke extensively with Norman Zalkind, the lawyer who represented him at trial.

The makers of The Hunting Ground say they gave the young men implicated in the film a chance to comment, and none responded. But it wasn’t until February, a month after the documentary made a celebrated debut at the Sundance Film Festival, that Winston says he was first contacted by a representative for the film. He referred this person to Zalkind, who says he never heard from anyone representing The Hunting Ground. I contacted Kirby Dick to talk to him about the Willingham case. He declined to speak with me, but asked for a list of written questions. I sent him my questions by email, and he replied, “After careful consideration I respectfully decline.” I also contacted CNN to discuss the case. A representative did not respond to a request for comment.
I have previously been willing to cut Erica Kinsman considerable slack because of new evidence that turned up in her civil trial against Jameis Winston, but this behavior on the part of the filmmakers is simply inexcusable, and quite possibly damning — as is Yoffe's confession that she "learned of Winston’s trial when a juror contacted me after it concluded to express dismay that Winston had been forced to stand trial—and had faced potential jail time—for what she saw as a drunken hook-up." It's hard, looking at this, to avoid the thought that Kinsman is intent on shaking down a high-value NFL draftee, and using a prominent film as the vehicle in support of that aim.

Update: Robby Soave, formerly Jezebel's "idiot"  for questioning what later became an obvious rape hoax at the University of Virginia, points us at a Radley Balko article at the WaPo asking why so many high-profile rape stories end up fizzling. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but he offers four reasons why this is so:
  1. "One possibility is that the nascent anti-campus rape movement isn’t as seasoned as the activist groups to whom we’ve become accustomed. We’re used to groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (or if you’re familiar with it, the Institute for Justice, a libertarian law firm) who are incredibly meticulous about vetting their poster cases."
  2. "A second explanation could just be that the cases that fell apart are the ones we remember — or, we remember them because they fell apart. There may be some truth to this. Exoneration stories certainly capture the public’s attention."
  3.  "...[T]here’s a strong desire to find the “emblematic” case, one that checks off all the right boxes — a sympathetic victim, a privileged attacker, an indifferent administration, and so on. Real life doesn’t usually produce such clean-cut cases."
  4. "Another possibility merges these two points: The alleged victims most eager to generate publicity for their stories may be the those most likely to say what activists or journalists in search of a good story want to hear."
Zealots have their cosmology, and it rarely survives any sort of substantive examination. Rape culture activists are nothing if not religious in nature, and so here we are.

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