Keith Olbermann and the Twitter 'frenzy' over the word 'rape'
Keith Olbermann has called it quits. On Thursday afternoon, the talk show host announced he would be suspending his account on Twitter "until/if this frenzy is stopped." The frenzy? An outpouring of anger on Twitter over the words "rape" and "hooey" and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. It all goes to show the confusion and uncertainty swirling around the accusations leveled at Assange.
Assange is accused of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion of two women in Sweden. "He's accused of pinning one woman's arms and using his body weight to hold her down during an alleged assault, and of raping a woman while she was sleeping," The Post's Jessica Valenti wrote in an article comparing Sweden's laws to the U.S.
Everyone from Fox News's Glenn Beck to feminist writer Naomi Wolf is getting in swipes. Beck told viewers that Assange is being investigated for "sex by surprise" (again, not a real law) because of a "radical" feminist bent on revenge. Wolf wrote a snarking letter to Interpol in the Huffington Post, arguing that the accusers are using feminism to "assuage . . . personal injured feelings." And AOL News writer Dana Kennedy dismissed the incidents as a simple "condom malfunction." Now, we don't know if Assange is guilty or innocent -- but we do know that the accusations against him have been badly reported, misconstrued and generally pooh-poohed.
Olbermann got involved in the debate when filmmaker Michael Moore appeared on Olbermann's show to discuss why he was supporting Assange's fight for bail. At the end of the 15-minute interview, Olbermann asked how Moore felt about supporting a man accused of rape.
Moore's answer: The man deserves a fair trial. He said:
This whole thing stinks to the high heavens.... They go after people with this kind of lie and smear.... What they say he did... his condom broke during consensual sex; that is not a crime in Britain. This is all a bunch of hooey, as far as I'm concerned. The man has at least a right to be out of prison while awaiting his hearing.
Here's his full comment:
Bloggers seized on his statements, asserting that they were as good as saying the women making the accusations should not be believed.
On the blog Tiger Beatdown, the writer Sady said:
So, here are some cheerful statistics for you: According to RAINN [Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network], about 60% of rapes aren't reported. In those cases, there's about a 51% chance that the 40% of reported rapes will have an arrest made. There's an 80% chance of prosecution. And, given various factors including conviction and sentencing, there's only about a 16.3% chance that someone who commits rape will serve time for that rape. Meaning: If we factor in the rapes that go unreported, only 6% of rapists ever serve time. EVER.
The blog started a Twitter hashtag, called #MooreandMe and called for its readers to write to Moore on Twitter and ask for an apology.
While Moore stayed silent on the issue, Olbermann got in on the discussion, telling users to look into the charges brought against Assange. He also retweeted a link to an article in an Australian newspaper that questioned the charges.
The anger directed at Moore began to focus on Olbermann. Tommy Christopher at Mediaite writes:
Obviously, no decent person is immune to the horror of sexual abuse, at least anyone who knows six or more women. In the macro, Olbermann and Moore stand accused of allowing their zeal to defend Assange to override that empathy. Specifically, though, they have made a factual error regarding the accusations (not the "charges," not the guilt or innocence thereof) against Julian Assange. Both owe a correction, and without it, apologies are worthless.
As the day progressed, Olbermann issued an apology on Twitter:
Rape has touched my family, directly and savagely, and if anybody thinks I have addressed it without full sensitivity, then that assessment is the one that counts, and I apologize. But these accusations that I "revealed" an accuser's identity by retweeting Bianca Jagger's link, or that I 'shamed' an accuser by asking a question about the prosecution of a man governments are trying to bury, or that I do not 'understand' charges that have yet to be presented in their final form, reflect exactly the kind of rushing to judgment of which I'm accused, and merit the same kind of apology I have just given.
Thirteen hours later, he announced he would be suspending his account. Olbermann will likely address the incident on his television show, but the whole debate gets at the difficulty the press has been having reporting about Assange and the charges leveled against him in Sweden.
What do you make of the situation?
| December 16, 2010; 4:08 PM ET
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