Richard Cohen's History Of Downplaying Sexual Misconduct

Blog ››› ››› EMILY ARROWOOD

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen dismissed the real-life rape of a minor as "manhandl[ing]" and refused to acknowledge the realities of the sexual misconduct, a longstanding and common practice for Cohen.

In a Post op-ed on September 2, Cohen highlighted singer Miley Cyrus' recent MTV performance where she infamously twerked in order to bring attention to a New Yorker report by Ariel Levy on the horrific rape of a minor in Steubenville, OH in August 2012. Cohen euphemistically characterized the victim as being stripped and manhandled:

The first thing you should know about the so-called Steubenville Rape is that this was not a rape involving intercourse. The next thing you should know is that there weren't many young men involved -- just two were convicted. The next thing you should know is that just about everything you do know about the case from TV and the Internet was wrong. One medium fed the other, a vicious circle of rumor, innuendo and just plain lies. It made for marvelous television.

The New Yorker piece was done by Ariel Levy, a gifted writer. When I finished her story, I felt somewhat disconcerted -- unhappily immersed in a teenage culture that was stupid, dirty and so incredibly and obliviously misogynistic that I felt like a visitor to a foreign country. That country, such as it is, exists on the Internet -- in e-mails and tweets and Facebook, which formed itself into a digital lynch mob that demanded the arrest of the innocent for a crime -- gang rape -- that had not been committed. It also turned the victim into a reviled public figure, her name and picture (passed out, drunk) available with a Google query.

And yet what indisputably did happen is troubling enough. A teenage girl, stone-drunk, was stripped and manhandled. She was photographed and the picture passed around. Obviously, she was sexually mistreated. And while many people knew about all of this, no one did anything about it. The girl was dehumanized. As Levy put it, "[T]he teens seemed largely unaware that they'd been involved in a crime." She quoted the Jefferson County prosecutor, Jane Hanlin: "'They don't think that what they've seen is a rape in the classic sense. And if you were to interview a thousand teen-agers before this case started and said, "Is it illegal to take a video of another teenager naked?," I would be astonished if you could find even one who said yes.'"

Illegal is sort of beside the point. Right, proper, nice, respectful, decent -- you choose the word -- is more apt. This is what got me: a teenage culture that was brutal and unfeeling, that treated the young woman as dirt. "'She's deader than O.J.'s wife. She's deader than Caylee Anthony,' " one kid exulted in a YouTube posting. "'They raped her harder than that cop raped Marsellus Wallace in "Pulp Fiction." She is so raped right now.' " Yes, I know, they were all drunk, woozy and disoriented from a tawdry cable TV and celebrity culture.

After bizarrely emphasizing that what happened in Steubenville did not involve rape by intercourse, Cohen later referred to the crime as stripping and manhandling without ever definitively acknowledging that the assault amounted to rape. Of course, an Ohio jury found that the victim was raped and two teens were guilty of the crime.

Cohen has a historically dismissive stance when it comes to cases of sexual misconduct.

The Washington Post columnist previously excused the actions of convicted statutory rapist and film director Roman Polanski, referring to his 13-year-old victim as a "victim" who was seduced rather than raped.

He also dismissed allegations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed Anita Hill, writing that regardless of whether or not the accusations were true, the media should "forget" about the story. Cohen added that none of Hill's accusations made sense anyway, because if she had been sexually harassed by Thomas at work, she would have taken advantage of the benefits of affirmative action and found a different job. According to Cohen, Thomas was merely accused of "being a man."

When then-Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain was accused of sexual harassment, Cohen supposed that the accusers were most likely being truthful, but made sure to include his belief that "some sexual harassment claims arise from misunderstandings -- a remark that went sideways or a 'victim' whose shoulder is nothing but chips."

Posted In
Gender, Justice & Civil Liberties, Crime
Network/Outlet
The Washington Post
Person
Richard Cohen
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