So it turns out that liberal news sources may not be trying to irresponsibly spread false stories.
On Monday, The Washington Post revealed that an undercover “journalist” attempted to get a false account published. In the story, she claimed that Alabama Senatorial Candidate Roy Moore had impregnated her when she was 15 and drove her to Mississippi to have an abortion. Prior allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore charge that as an adult man, he pursued relationships with teenage girls, giving precedent to this narrative.
The infiltrator works for Project Veritas, a conservative organization that covertly films their interactions with left-wing journalists. It was later revealed that this same investigator had attempted to embed herself into additional high-profile, left-leaning news sources like The New York Times.
While Wednesday’s events may deceive you, with Today host Matt Lauer, Minnesota Public Radio mainstay Garrison Keillor, CW Executive Producer Andrew Kreisberg, and CNN producer Teddy Davis all fired for sexual misconduct in one day, a stubborn, fundamental unwillingness to believe women still remains. This persists despite the cascade of sexual assault and misconduct allegations, in addition to piles of evidence like video recordings and written messages in which perpetrators admit to their predatory behavior.
As these news stories break, I am hopeful that we are moving forward toward believing survivors of sexual violence. But I fear the lengths that people are willing to go to undermine truth and women’s sense of safety. This isn’t a revolutionary idea, but we simply have to believe survivors of sexual violence. It must be established, time and time again, that there is truth to their statements, and there must be consequences for the perpetrators. Slow persistence is the only route to changing public opinion.
Project Veritas’ choice in this particular lie is telling. It reveals that they believe journalistic standards are low for these sexual-misconduct narratives. Although this event is being portrayed as an attempt to undermine “the liberal media,” from their perspective it is instead an attempt to expose the low standards that already exist.
Creating a more inclusive environment in which all survivors of sexual assault feel more comfortable speaking out is the ultimate goal, but for now it is critical to maintain intensely rigorous standards of journalism that will shut down infiltrators like Project Veritas’ employees. It is likely that other sting operations will be attempted. Showing those convinced of the corruption in mainstream media that these operations come to nothing is the best way to dissuade misguided believers.
We have to be in this for the long haul. Stories like “A Rape On Campus” may happen again. In November of 2014, female University of Virginia student told Rolling Stone that she had been gang-raped by several members of a fraternity, but the story turned out to be entirely false. Despite the extremely concerning lack of journalistic rigor that this story demonstrated, Rolling Stone can still be considered a trustworthy entity. We must forgive news sources that have otherwise proven themselves to be thorough and reliable.
We must look at each individual news source on its own rather than view them collectively as large swathes of right-wing and left-wing media organizations. Mistakes will be made, and they cannot be excused, like The New York Times’ profile of a self-identifying neo-Nazi this week. The piece showed an undeniable error in judgment and demonstrates the importance of the American public’s vigilance in calling out our news sources when they fail us.
I perceive considerably less hypocrisy on the left. When Al Franken was accused of sexual misconduct, leaders on the left were quick to condemn his actions and call for an ethics investigation. Liberal comedian Louis C.K. alienated his fan base when five women came forward and he admitted to his predatory behavior. Across the aisle, President Donald Trump, who was accused of sexual misconduct by 16 women, condemned Franken’s misconduct and commented on Lauer’s firing.
“Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for ‘inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace,’” Trump wrote on Wednesday. “But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News.”
Trump’s tweet suggests that if the allegations against Lauer are worthy of firing, then anti-Trump news stories should merit losing a job as well. These false equivalencies must be called out for what they are. At the end of the day, I have faith that mainstream media organizations will survive this onslaught of criticism. I am less certain that a linear path will take us to believing survivors of sexual violence. After all, we might be giving a pedophile a seat in the Senate.
Hannah Reale is a member of the class of 2020. Hannah can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.