Reporters pretend they're confused about rape

Earlier today, I highlighted a couple of examples of how the media suffer from some serious blind spots when it comes to coverage of the hot-button topic of abortion. I noted that the struggles of pro-life Democrats to have their existence simply acknowledged by their party receive very little, if any, mainstream media coverage. Conversely, the pro-life platform of the Republican Party is big media story. I also pointed out how reporters love to ask consistent pro-life politicians about rape exceptions to abortion but hardly ever ask consistent pro-choice politicians about sex-selection abortions, late-term abortions or Down syndrome abortions.

For a look at how reporters have had historical trouble covering abortion with even a semblance of balance, you may be interested in this essay by Newsweek contributing editor Kenneth Woodward or the Los Angeles Times media analysis he references therein. Let's move on to another area where the media have had trouble reporting -- as opposed to advocating for a particular social issue goal. That's the curious attack on the pro-life Paul Ryan as someone who was trying to "redefine rape."

For anyone who has not been paying attention to newspapers or legal dramas for the past few decades, the justice system distinguishes between forcible rape (which is, well, exactly what is described by the words "forcible rape") and statutory rape. Statutory rape is where someone who is of legal age to consent to have sex (say, 18 in some jurisdictions) has sex with someone who is not of legal age to consent to have sex (say, 17 in some jurisdictions).

Now, I think most people with a basic comprehension of words understand this distinction. I think most people understand that there is a difference between someone who is violently assaulted and someone whose boyfriend is a couple of years older than they are. They may be strongly opposed to both sexual encounters, but I don't think that there's any real question that these are different types of rape and that it's in no way offensive to distinguish between them.

But for some reason the media have been pretending that they don't understand the difference and that to distinguish between these two legal definitions of rape is an attempt to "redefine" rape. These are perfectly fine talking points for pro-choice activists, but should journalists be playing along?

Here's ABC:

Now with Akin making headlines, Democrats will seek to tie Ryan to the Missouri congressman by highlighting social-issues legislation on which they've partnered.

Akin and Ryan cosponsored a 2011 bill, the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, that would redefine rape as "forcible rape," narrowing the scope of what's considered rape in cases of abortion.

First off, there is absolutely no evidence provided by ABC that this would "redefine" rape, as it claims. There is no evidence provided that it would narrow the scope of what's considered rape. And there's no mention of the fact that -- since Republicans dropped the wording because they viewed it as redundant or a political liability. They don't mention that 225 other representatives cosponsored this legislation -- including, shhhhhhh, eleven Democrats. Now, maybe it's totally legitimate to focus this much attention on one word that was never voted on because it was dropped from a bill cosponsored by 225 representatives from both parties. I don't know. But I smell something a bit lacking in terms of balance or fair reporting. Or, as one reporter noted, Barack Obama holds a position in support of taxpayer funding of abortions that is opposed by 72 percent of Americans, according to a Quinnipac Poll. Have the media been writing breathless reports about that? It's fantastic to write about abortion. But if you're writing about Ryan and abortion -- and you haven't found the time to cover sitting President Barack Obama's abortion record -- you may be doing it wrong.

But it looks like journalists are all in for pushing this pro-choice talking point about forcible rape. Do they really not understand the distinction between forcible rape and statutory rape? Really? Really? Come on. But here's Anderson Cooper of CNN:

Last year Paul #Ryan distinguished between "forcible rape" and other kinds. How come today he won't explain what he meant?

Is anyone else pretending that they don't understand the distinction? Sadly, hundreds of reporters are pretending they don't understand the distinction. Even Jake Tapper's otherwise fine and balanced report for ABC News emphasized that Paul Ryan didn't explain something we all know -- the headline was:

Ryan Refuses to Explain “Forcible” Rape as Dems Attempt More Akin-izing of the GOP Ticket

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell also played along with her story "Ryan backed more than one 'forcible rape' abortion bill," that repeated the same talking points and has been "updated" (which is what others call "corrected") for problems with the reporting. That includes the last paragraph which, after tarring Ryan as having some magical, mystical understanding of rape that is different from everyone else's, concedes that, well:

For broader context, the term "forcible rape" appears to have roots in the legal community, where it has been used by prosecutors to distinguish that crime from "statutory rape," which involves a minor unable to legally consent or a person who lacks mental capacity for legal consent.

By Wednesday night, one reporter found that there were already 337 stories about this pro-choice talking point that requires reporters to pretend that they don't actually understand the difference between statutory and forced rape. As I finish writing this, we see that the New York Times is now also pretending not to understand rape -- as this comprehensive take-down of that story's inaccurate and misleading reporting makes clear.

Either reporters are pushing an agenda supportive of abortion rights or they're idiots. It's one thing for pro-choice activists or the Democratic Party to advocate in support of those goals. But reporters playing games in service to that agenda is ridiculous. We're all better than that, no matter what side of the issue we're personally on.

Confused guy image via Shutterstock.

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