Why I disagree with the Jezebel article on The Newsroom

The HBO program The Newsroom deals with many issues, one of them being the way that “old media” is reacting to “new media”. In her article pertaining to the most recent episode of The Newsroom, Julianne Escobedo Shepherd ends it with a description of a character death.

At the end of Sunday’s episode, Charlie Skinner, The Newsroom‘s moral dad played by Sam Waterston, has a heart attack and croaks, hitting his head on a desk near a computer on the way down—a symbolic sledgehammer that was meant to parallel the way the “internet” is “killing” “real journalism,” or something.

Skinner is a character who is a member of the old media. He fights tooth and nail with younger reporters and especially with the new owner over the direction the media is going. Some of the other old media types have also been seen to fight the new media at varying levels and with varying levels of frustration with the use of the internet and sites like twitter. Often some very good points are brought up in their hesitance to fully embrace the tools that the internet provides. Often times these characters are hesitant to embrace any of those tools. Shepherd seems to take this as the show itself sending the message “old media good, new media bad”. But if Sorkin is Dr. Frankenstein and the show his monster, I believe that a lot is overlooked with that simplistic view of television.

There are people in this world who are old media. Those people do drag their feet when it comes to embracing the new tools that the internet gives us. In order for The Newsroom to be a credible show, if it has old media types working for ACN (the news company featured in the show) then it has to portray them as old media types. When I watch the show (as I discussed on Liberal Dan Radio tonight) I don’t view the show as lauding old media as being king and scoffing at new media. I see a message that says “these old media guys really need to get with the program or they will fall behind”. Real life has flawed people and as such any show is going to have to have flawed characters in order to be realistic.

Which brings me to the initial subject of the article written in Jezebel, an article not on old vs new media but on rape, rape culture, and how The Newsroom handled a case of rape in this of all weeks where Rolling Stone fumbled the ball and showed horrible journalistic practices in its covering of rapes on UVA. A criticism that Shephard has is that the show was “poorly timed” as if Sorkin and HBO chose to release this episode in the middle of the Rolling Stone controversy. I think it may be a matter of dumb luck, be that luck good or bad.

This particular episode had a sub plot of the producer, Don, and his assignment by his new boss to go investigate a campus website that was created to expose rapists on campus. He was to find the creator of the website and one of her rapists and put them on camera together in studio. Don obviously is uncomfortable with this idea well before “the scene” that has caused much ire on the internet. But eventually Don is able to do some “old school” “detective work” and find the creator of the website. (Another criticism by Shephard is that Mary calling Don’s detective work “old school” was Sorkin trying to make Mary look bad. I took it as Mary being sarcastic to Don. But to each their own I suppose.)

Shephard is critical of every single bit of this scene. Another issue she brings up is with how Don refers to the rape that is alleged by the female character as a “kind of rape”. This of course is not what a rape victim would want to hear. And of course a reporter asking a victim of rape about her rape should not belittle the rape. However, Don is nervous and flawed and does not behave in a manner in which the perfect reporter would behave in that circumstance.

Another part of the show discussion has Mary (the victim) stating to Don “The law is plainly failing rape victims. That must be obvious to you”. His response is:

“It is, but in fairness, the law wasn’t built to serve victims … I’ve heard two competing stories, one from a very credible woman who has no reason to lie, the other from a guy I judge to be a little sketchy who has every reason to lie, and I’m obligated to believe the sketchy guy… I believe I’m morally obligated. I’m the guy who goes around saying OJ’s not guilty because a jury said so.”

Is that the best way to respond? It is correct to say that the law wasn’t built to serve victims. Ben Franklin once stated that it would be better for 100 guilty people to go free than have one innocent person locked up. We have an adversarial system of justice that should make it difficult to put people away in prison. Now, do you explain this to a rape victim who is visibly upset? That doesn’t seem to be the ideal thing to say under the circumstances. Perhaps he could have worded the later part better? Maybe instead of saying “and I’m obligated to believe the sketchy guy” he could have said “while I do not believe you are lying I also feel morally obligated to treat people as innocent until proven guilty in a court of law”. This might be a better way to put it, and it might not be. But, again, Don is nervous and flawed and does not behave in a manner in which the perfect reporter would behave in that circumstance.

And I think you see my point here. People are not perfect. If placed in that situation I guarantee you that I would be fumbling around and that I would not say the right things. I would stumble. I would make mistakes. I would misword things in ways that I would realize later were horribly stupid. But that is how life works. People like Don exist today. And a show cannot be taken seriously if it ignores that such people existed today when presenting such a situation. Had Don not been the fumbling idiot who is condescending to this victim, it would seem less real. Don has been a fumbling idiot when it comes to other interactions with women as well. If he all of a sudden starts acting perfect around women, that would be going out of character. And the biggest mistake that The Newsroom could make would be to have all of its characters be perfect people in a perfect way.

Sometimes the best example to give in a tv show is to show what not to do in a given situation. I cringed when he said “kind of rape”. I cringed when he said he was “obliged to believe the sketchy guy”. And that is the point. We are supposed to cringe at such things. We are supposed to see them go down and say “wow, that didn’t go well”. We can then use our hindsight in this fictitious universe where nobody was actually hurt and show the flaws that exist in society. We can look at the flawed characters and say “look guys, that is what you look like when you act this way towards victims of rape… STOP IT!”. That The Newsroom has such flawed characters in it does not make the show disdainful of women. It makes the show more realistic. It makes the show more credible. It also opens the door for good conversations on how we all should be treating persons who come forward as victims of rape.

 

Liberal Dan Radio 12/10/2014: Bad Things

On the December 10, 2014 episode of Liberal Dan Radio:

The torture documents were released by the Senate this week. Some call it a political ploy, others call it needed oversight. I will discuss certain aspects of the law and why we should consider ourselves to be a better nation than others.

An episode of Newsroom aired on Sunday and it caused a stir in feminist circles. People did not appreciate how Sorkin handled the topic of on campus rape. However, I believe the criticisms are misguided and I will discuss why.

I believe I also found a bug on healthcare.gov. I will go into that in more detail. Of course, bugs are meant to be fixed and are not an excuse to bring the whole thing down so calm down conservatives.

Finally, I have started a GoFundMe page in order to sell advertising for the show as well as encourage people to chip in and help support the show if they like it. So please, contribute.

Those stories, headlines, tweet of the week and more on Liberal Dan Radio: Talk From The Left, That’s Right:  Wednesday 8pm Central on Blog Talk Radio.

How the CA “Yes Means Yes” law gets it wrong

I want to start off by being clear. “Yes Means Yes” is the standard that all people should use when having sex with other people. “No Means No” is antiquated and puts the responsibility on the victim to say no instead of putting the responsibility on all parties involved who want to have sex to make sure that all other parties involved also want to have sex. No means no implies that the absence of a no means consent is given. That is horrific. That allows for people like Cee Lo to say that unconscious people cannot be raped. Yes means yes implies that in the absence of a clear yes, it is rape.

So why do I have problems with the law? Well there are several issues.

1) Sex does not always simply involve two people. 

This is the wording from the law:

An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by both parties to sexual activity

Both parties implies only two. So the law is not specific enough to handle cases handled on college campuses. This is a relatively minor issue but it is one that was missed in the drafting of the law. It also shows that the people writing the law were ignoring reality because the idea that college sex is limited to only two people at a given time is frankly a silly one.

2) Rape happens on more places than just colleges.

Rape can happen anywhere, and by anyone. It can take place in high school. It can take place in the workplace. It can take place at your house. It can take place in a friends house. It can take place in a car. It can take place on a date. It can take place in a back alley (those are rarer than some might have you believe). So why draft a law setting a “Yes Means Yes” standard but only having that standard apply to colleges? That just doesn’t make any sense to me at all. A “Yes Means Yes” standard should be universal and apply to everyone, not just on colleges.

3) Government is abdicating its responsibility of punishing rapists.

This law is not setting forth any standards to be used by law enforcement or the courts to adapt an affirmative consent standard universally across the state of California. Instead it is pushing its responsibility to investigate and punish rapists onto college disciplinary boards. I doubt that all California colleges who are covered by this law are up to the task of determining the guilt or innocence of an individual. Are these panels made up of, or at least headed up by, judges who are adept at determining if someone committed an act of sexual violence? I do not have faith in that idea at all.

Parts of the law do contain requirements like protecting the anonymity of the accuser and other such measures that the university should be required to take in order to make the environment as safe as possible for victims after they come forward. I take no issue with this at all. However, since it is the job of government to punish rapists, it should not be passing that job off to college administrations. Do you want some community college board determining if you committed an act of violence against another? I sure would not.

4) The burden of proof is too low. 

In setting the standards in this law, California has set:

A policy that the standard used in determining whether the elements of the complaint against the accused have been demonstrated is the preponderance of the evidence.

Since government is abdicating its responsibility it is also taking away a measure of due process from the accused. California is basically saying “hey, we do not do a good enough of a job punishing people who rape, so lets get our numbers up by making colleges do our work for us and while we are at it lets make it easier for them to punish people accused of crimes than it is for us”. Proving beyond reasonable doubt is a GOOD standard to have in criminal cases. It puts the burden on the state to prove that a crime has taken place  It makes it less likely for a mistake to have been made. Just like the mistake that was made with Caleb Warner.

5) This is just about money.

The law requires universities to do all this to get state funding. The punishment for noncompliance is no state money. Each section starts with:

In order to receive state funds…

An issue as serious as rape shouldn’t be tied to if a school gets money or not.

Rape on college is a big deal and a big problem. We do need to look at all the ways that we can educate people that rape will not be tolerated, on how to best step in to help others who might become a victim, and how to best deal with rape charges when they do come forward. To me, the governmental abdication of responsibility and a lowered burden of proof is not the way to accomplish these goals.

Liberal Dan Radio 10/1/2014: Attacking Victims and #yesmeansyes vs #MRA

On the October 1, 2014 episode of Liberal Dan Radio:

It has been revealed that in Louisiana a person who has been raped will be forced to pay for services received as part of a rape kit because many of the public hospitals have been privatized. I will discuss why this is wrong and why people shouldn’t be surprised Louisiana is doing this.

A pair of teachers have been charged with Carnal Knowledge of a Juvenile after a football game. The teachers work for Destrehan High School and had sex with the male 4 days before his 17th birthday. Certain conservatives, especially so called “Men’s RIghts Advocates” are up in arms about the double standard. I will go over why their fears are often unfounded and why they fight the people they need to be working with to end double standards.

Finally, California passed a “Yes Means Yes” law that places certain requirements on universities. Men’s rights groups are also up in arms about this law as well. I will explain why they are so very wrong in their criticisms of the law and where the criticisms should take place.

Those issues, headlines, words of redneck wisdom, tweet of the week and more on Liberal Dan Radio: Talk From The Left, That’s Right.