Media Employ Tabloid Tactics to Report on Rape Allegations Against Candidate

by Cara on October 30, 2010

in courts, homophobia, LGBTQ, media, misogyny, patriarchy, politics, race and racism, rape and sexual assault, violence against women and girls

Trigger Warning for descriptions of sexual violence, rape apologism, and homophobia

David King, the Republican candidate for Wisconsin Secretary of State, has been accused of raping an unconscious woman and impregnating her, days before Tuesday’s election. It’s no big surprise that the media has run with such a story in a salacious and gossipy manner, seeing how much they love political “controversies.” It is, however, quite the inexcusable shame that they’ve chosen to turn it into a tabloid-style sex scandal, with headlines like MSNBC’s Candidate accused of getting lesbian pregnant. There is, of course, no mention of rape whatsoever in that headline, and you’ll probably be unsurprised to see that the body of the story itself isn’t any better:

A 31-year-old woman has filed a lawsuit accusing the Republican candidate for secretary of state of getting her so drunk she passed out, having sex with her and getting her pregnant.

Charlette Harris, 31, made the allegations about candidate David King just days before the election, NBC station WTMJ-TV reported Thursday.

Harris claims King took her to lunch in August, got her drunk, she passed out and he had sex with her at his apartment, the Milwaukee Journal reported.

“Now, I’m pregnant,” Harris told TODAY’S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. “Everything’s not OK.”

A doctor’s note filed with the lawsuit appears to verify the pregnancy. Harris insists there are no other possible fathers.

“I’m a lesbian,” she said. “I’m gay. I’ve been with the same woman for four years.”

TODAY TMJ4 does slightly better by actually quoting Harris as using the word rape — showing that MSNBC purposely edited her quote so as to exclude it — but certainly not with the headline, which reads Candidate Accused of Getting Drunk Lesbian Pregnant.

Now those are what I call high journalistic standards.

The “reporting” displayed here is straight up misogynistic, racist, homophobic bigotry. A black, lesbian woman claims to have been raped while unconscious, and all the media can do is talk about “sex” and prominently refer to her as “drunk.” Apparently hateful old stereotypes about the promiscuity and social deviance of black women and lesbians are just too appealing to ever avoid promoting, even when discussing a rape victim.

The failure to use the word rape is seemingly deliberate, and makes the case simply look like salacious, personal gossip — an angle which Harris’ sexual orientation is crudely used to play up. Her sexuality is almost entirely irrelevant to this case — it’s certainly not more relevant than, say, her profession, seeing as how the rape allegedly took place after King found Harris employment. She’s known as “Lesbian” — or even better, “Drunk Lesbian” — in headlines not because her identity as a lesbian matters for the purpose of this story, but because the identity of lesbian is still seen as depraved and salacious in a homophobic, heterosexist, misogynistic culture.

No matter how many times MSNBC wants to rephrase it as such, there is no such thing as “sex” with an unconscious person. As Harris herself points out in the part of the quote they chose to omit, “That’s rape. That’s sexual assault.” And while the pregnancy is both a product and evidence of the alleged rape, it is not the crime or the real story. The failure to properly name the nature of her allegations is nothing less than rape apologism, and any news organization that has engaged in this erasure should be downright ashamed of itself.

As a final note, I’d like to point out that while I don’t know any more than you do whether the allegations are true or false, the alleged victim’s decision to file civil rather than criminal charges should not be taken as an indication of her credibility. While many commentators like to portray such a decision as being evidence of a false claim and simple motivation of a monetary reward, there are in fact a whole host of reasons why a victim of sexual violence may prefer to go the civil rather than criminal route. While not providing the victim with the same anonymity that is afforded in criminal cases, civil suits do have other benefits — Jaclyn manages to list 10 of them. A lack of criminal charges is not indicative of credibility of the claim; cases that prosecutors fail to pursue show us that all the time. All the decision means is that the victim found a civil case more attractive than a criminal one. Attempts to infer anything else from that decision are pure speculation, and rather ugly, rape apologist speculation at that.

Thanks to Jill for the link.

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{ 2 comments }

1 Lauren Eve Pomerantz November 1, 2010 at 2:47 pm

The other thing is that a criminal case might not result in an order to pay child support, since the purpose of a criminal case is to determine whether a person is guilty or innocent.

Suppose she did seek to have him criminally prosecuted. If the attorney general prosecuted the case and if he were found guilty, he would go to jail. She would then have to sue him civilly for support, although the guilty verdict would make such a trial relatively simple. However, if he were imprisoned on the basis of the guilty verdict, she’d have a hard time collecting support.

2 Katrina November 2, 2010 at 4:05 pm

The part that bugs me most is how they point out that she came forward before the election instead of after. The phrase, “just days before the election,” is definately loaded and writen in a way to make what she’s doing unthinkable. It like they are trying to damange her credibility because of the timing. I’m not surprised that it took her a little over 2 months to notice her pregnancy. And I’m assuming that her rape happened in early August. I hate how they are reporting this crime as if the victim just wants to blind side him with bad press.

I know that is only a tip of the ice berg when it comes to problems with this “news report”. Not only do you have to be the right race and sexual orientation to be taken seriously, but they snuck in that her timing was unconsiderate. If you’re too quick to press charges you have buyers remorse, but if you want to long you want to ruin a life for the hell of it. Bringing up the timing of charges just rubs me the wrong way.

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