The C is for Crank

Michael Moore, on Rachel Maddow Show: Assange Rape Accusers "Have to Be Treated Seriously"

By Erica C. Barnett December 22, 2010

Thank you, Rachel Maddow, and thank you, Michael Moore. Maddow: For saying what needed to be said, in a national forum watched by millions of people. Moore: For admitting he was wrong.

The back story: Two women accused Wikileaks founder Julian Assange of rape. Not of "sex by surprise," not of "a broken condom," of rape. Sweden sought extradition from the UK for Assange's arrest. Assange's lawyers fought extradition, accusing Sweden's pursuit of him as politically motivated (which it probably was---sadly, the vast majority of rape allegations don't result in charges, much less an international manhunt) and the women as liars (which only a court can decide). They then lied to the press about what Assange was accused of doing, first saying it was an obscure Swedish offense called "sex by surprise," then saying he was guilty, at most, of a broken condom.

Both of these claims about the charges were false. But they got picked up and repeated by prominent people, people with national platforms like Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore, who both dismissed the charges, effectively declaring Assange innocent of all charges without a trial.

And then something else happened: The actual documents---the rape charges, in which one woman said Assange ripped her clothes and pushed her  down physically before having sex with her against her wishes, and the other said he initiated sex while she was asleep, after which she asked him repeatedly to stop---got leaked. (Oops.) And Julian Assange---champion of free information, leaker of countless documents---was furious about the leaks. Because once the charges themselves were leaked, no one could credibly claim that they should simply be ignored.

That's where #mooreandme came in. NYC blogger Sady Doyle, furious that two "progressive" TV personalities, people she admired, were dismissing the women's charges simply because they admired the man who was being accused, started a Twitter campaign asking Moore to apologize for dismissing, and acknowledge that it's possible for a man to be a hero for free speech and simultaneously believe he could capable of doing a bad thing. Most rapists aren't the Green River Killer. In fact many rapists are respected members of their communities---husbands, fathers, churchgoers, and neighbors.

For a full week, Moore didn't respond. (Olbermann, meanwhile, responded by blocking people's Twitter accounts and asserting that he was the real victim here.) Last night, on the Rachel Maddow show, he finally did.



Here's how Maddow---prompted by thousands of tweets asking her to address Moore's dismissal of the Assange rape allegations---led off her segment with Moore:
The timing could not be more suspicious. The man accused says he’s being pursued for political reasons. But even if you’re suspicious about the timing, there are two women who went to the police with what are essentially date-rape charges against this guy.

This doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

Can your suspicion about the forces arrayed against Julian Assange and Wikileaks — your suspicion about the timing and pursuit of these charges — coexist with respect for the women making these accusations against him and with a commitment to take rape allegations seriously, even when the person accused is someone that for other reasons you like?

And then Michael Moore said this:
Every woman who claims to have been sexually assaulted or raped has to be, must be, taken seriously. Those charges have to be investigated to the fullest extent possible. For too long, and too many women have been abused in our society, because they were not listened to, and they just got shoved aside. The older people here remember how it used to be. It’s not that much better now, it got a little better, because of the women’s movement made that happen. I think these two alleged victims have to be treated very seriously and Mr. Assange has to answer the questions.

See what he did there? He saw that he was wrong, and he admitted it. He successfully held two thoughts in his mind at once: That one can be a staunch defender of Wikileaks, and also believe that rape allegations should be taken seriously as a matter of course. And for that, I, and the hundreds of others who've been tweeting #mooreandme for the past week, are grateful.

He also responded directly to Sady, thanking her for the campaign. Read Sady's response here.
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