Vol. 1 - #2
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The Making of a Non-Scandal
by Adriene Sere
The President of the United States very likely committed rape. Repeat: He very likely committed rape.
According to businesswoman Juanita Broaddrick, Bill Clinton raped her 21 years ago when he was the attorney general of Arkansas. Her story: she and Clinton first met when he made a campaign stop at her nursing home facility in Van Buren. He invited her to visit him at his campaign headquarters in Little Rock. She gave him a call the following week when she went to Little Rock for a conference. They made plans to meet in the coffee shop of the hotel. Later, Clinton called her from the hotel lobby, and asked if they could instead meet in her room so he could avoid the reporters in the coffee shop.
Once alone with her, he wasted little time. He began kissing her, and she told him 'no.' He kissed her again, and this time began biting on her lip. He pushed her down on the bed, continued to bite on her lip, and raped her, as she pleaded with him to stop. After the rape was over, he walked to the door, calmly put his sunglasses on, and told her, "You better put some ice on that," pointing to her lip which swelled to twice its normal size.
Broaddrick said she blamed herself immediately after the rape because she had allowed a man into her room. She also said she knew that no authority would believe that this man, the attorney general, a rising political star, had raped her. Like most rape victims, she didn't go to the police.
Years later, Ken Starr interviewed Broaddrick about the rumor of the rape during his investigation of Clinton. Broaddrick confirmed that the story was true. Starr made note of her account, but did not find it useful as "evidence," since Starr's investigation was focused on catching Clinton in a legal lie. But having finally broken the silence, Broaddrick decided to no longer keep the dirty little secret. She went public with her story, a story that had great credibility, largely because of the fact that as a well-to-do businesswoman, Broaddrick had nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward.
According to the polls, the vast majority of people who heard Broaddrick's account, which was eventually aired on Dateline, believe that she told the truth: they believe that Bill Clinton raped her. Strangely, or not so strangely, this highly credible account has become an irrelevant and buried news story. Bill Clinton remains a popular president, secure in his post-impeachment position as leader of this country. The people of this country, by and large pleased with a leader who offered more police on the streets, three-strikes-you're-out legislation, harsher and longer sentences for convicted (poor, Black) criminals, does not seem to care that their president allegedly raped at least one womanpossibly many, many women. Most rapists do not rape just once. The other publicly made rape accusations against Clinton remain ignored.
Those who supposedly advocate for the forgotten, the scapegoated, the abused have shown almost no concern for the women who have spoken outor for those women who have stayed silent. The Democrats have ardently protected Bill Clinton whose politics, in many ways, resemble what radical Republican politics were a decade ago. Though Clinton has betrayed almost all of the former tenets of the Democratic party over the past six years, Democrats have stood steadfastly by him through every accusation of harassment, assault, and even rape.
"Pro-human rights" leftists, who protested "sexual McCarthyism" so loudly during the impeachment hearings, are now calm and quiet, apparently at peace with the rape allegations. Establishment feminists offered lip service concern for the alleged rape victim, but have spent most of their time rallying around the accused, and rationalizing as to why they are not hypocrites. "Anti-oppression" civil rights activistsmany of whom can muster up such compassion for abusive sports heroeshaven't made a sound of protest against the President's alleged violence against women.
Most importantly, the common person on the street knows Juanita Broaddrick's story only vaguely, and prefers not to know. The "sex scandals" are half joke, half migraine headache that finally lifted, and the rape charges are nothing if not more "sex scandal." Although people by and large claimed to find the President's sexual use of his intern unimportant because the sex had been "consentual," the Broaddrick accusation makes clear that the question of "consent" is, at least at this point, neither here nor there. Whatever the President does or has done to women, it is all "just sex."
The Republicans, whom most of the country blames for amplifying the "sex scandals," were key players in nullifying the real scandalsexual exploitation, and alleged serial sexual assault, including rape. The Republicans used the President's misuse of power for their own reactionary political purposes, reducing women's issues to mere political transactions. For months on end, the Republicans exhibited unsurpassed theatrical outrage over Clinton's behavior toward Paula Jones, Kathleen Willey, and Monica Lewinskybehavior they, like the rest of the country, ultimately identified as "extra-marital sex."
But by the time Broaddrick's rape accusation was aired on television, the Republican outrage was gone, since the opportunity to use the accusation for political purposes had passed. The war is over. Who cares if Helen was abducted or fell in love? Who cares if she's even alive? Women have been used by men as instruments of trade and war for a long, long time. Through the ridiculous impeachment attempt, which was technically based on nothing more than a lie about "consentual sex", Republicans did their part to erase the gains that the women's movement of previous decades had made in trying to get this country to take sexual harassment and violence against women seriously.
Of all the guilty parties, the mainstream media were the most influential in the creation of the non-scandal around the President's alleged violence against women. The media, with so much control over public information and discourse, have demonstrated that they have the power to turn a pimple on Monica's nose into the talk of the nation and, likewise, to downplay a highly credible accusation of rape against the President so that is seems no more serious than an unpaid traffic ticket. The media's diminishment of the Broaddrick accusation was just as deliberate and purposeful as their magnification of the details surrounding Monica Lewinsky's "consentual" sexual servicing of the President.
The mainstream media had known about Juanita Broaddrick's story for a long time. Broaddrick offered her account directly to the media, but the media refused to expose it, obsessing instead on the "scandal" of Clinton's "consentual" sex with his intern. After many months of exposure through alternative venues, such as the internet, the mainstream media could no longer get away with their silence. NBC Dateline recorded an interview with Broaddrick on January 20, during the height of the impeachment trial. However, NBC refused to air the interview until after Clinton was acquitted on February 12. They claimed that they held back the interview only to check, and then double checkfor an entire monthBroaddrick's statements. Anti-Clinton conservatives have pointed out that the media did hardly any fact checking when they gave coverage to pornographer Larry Flynt's rumors of Republican politicians' previous extra-marital affairs. But double standards aside, since when does NBC need an entire month to researchafter an interviewa very contained story like Broaddrick's?
The Wall Street Journal ended the mainstream media white-out on Feb. 19, safely after Clinton's acquittal, printing Broaddrick's story in an opinion piecehardly the place for a "real" news story. Thereafter, the dam broke, but there was not much of a flood. The mainstream media successfully managed the story, giving it strategically downplayed coverage.
The media consistently used the words "sexual assault" instead of "rape"thereby placing Broaddrick's allegation in the same category as a brief grope, far easier to trivialize and dismiss. One exception to this use of euphemism appeared when the media covered feminists' lack of response to the allegations: "Feminists hit for silence on rape claim," the Seattle Times headline announced (2/28/99). The article itself, from Gannett News Service, freely used the word "rape." Clearly the media had no legal or editorial problem with using the word rape. The words they chose depended solely on whom they wanted to turn the public against (feminists), and whom they wanted to protect (a man in a position of power).
The articles that recounted Broaddrick's accusation relayed Broaddrick's story with evasive, misleading phrases, the word "rape" nowhere to be seen. For example, the Seattle Times article "'Jane Doe No. 5' takes the story public" (2/23/99) read, "She resisted his advances, she said, but soon he pulled her back onto the bed and forced her to have sex." Why such an indirect, almost ornate, description of the attack? Why not report, "...he raped her"? Because a direct description, including the use of the word rape, would be alarming, and the media does not want to alarm the public about Clinton, just feminists. The phrase "forced her to have sex" works as a confusing verbal sedative. Is a woman "having sex" when someone is raping her? The media's euphemistic and brief coverage, in the midst of endless stories about the "scandals" of Clinton's "consentual sex" with Monica Lewinsky and, before that, his flashing of Paula Jones, helped to bury Broaddrick's account of rape.
Why, after such stubbornly obsessive coverage of the so-called "sex scandals," did the media want to bury this story? Because unlike the accusations of more minor incidents of sexual exploitation and assault, Broaddrick's accusation could not be transformed into meaninglessness through over-exposure.
Broaddrick's story, if it had been presented accurately and without the previous anesthesia of the misnamed "sex scandals," had the potential to reveal the real harm of patriarchal political power and, in particular, the connections between male supremacist authority and the abuse of women. The potential impact of Broaddrick's story could be avoided only if the media carefully muted it until after the impeachment trial, and then quickly abandoned it. And this is what they did. Broaddrick's story was completely replaced after just a few days of coverage with a series of very presidential photo ops, and then front page breaking news announcing just how many people watched Lewinsky's interview with Barbara Walters, and why Lewinsky's hair looked funny, and whether people's negative opinion of her had changed.
The media, knowing full well from the beginning that they would not pursue Broaddrick's story in order to determine its truth, or to investigate the several other rape accusations made against Clinton in previous years, or to examine what forms of recourse are or should be available to victims of violent politicians, informed readers that the country was simply too burned out on "Monica" (and, they forgot to mention, "Paula" before that) to care about Broaddrick's account of being raped.
In fact, the media's entire goal behind the non-stop, vacuous coverage of the "sex scandals" was to create this public exhaustion, setting the stage for public trivialization and dismissal of the entire spectrum of sexual aggression and violence against women, including rape. The purpose behind the obsessive "sex scandal" coverage had nothing to do with "the public's right to know" whether Bill actually ejaculated. And their point was not to sell advertisingthe media knew full well that the public was revolted and turning away from the news. Nor was the media's purpose to distract the public from "more important" stories with "entertaining" coverage of exploitation and abuse, as leftists unceasingly asserted (see sidebar "The Left and the Amazing Disappearing Woman").
The purpose was to distract the public from the significance of the abuse itself, rendering it as meaningless as possible in public consciousness and discourse. The media's goal was to turn these important issuesfrom sexual exploitation and sexual aggression to sexual assault and rapeinto non-issues.
It worked, by and large. Even women who don't go along with the belief that that some women count while other women don't, refuse at this point to view any accusation against Bill Clinton as consequential. "It's like being under a waterfall of sewage," one woman explained. "You don't want to stand there and figure out if there is anything meaningful in it. You just want to get away."
Which is more harmful, enforced silence or incessant white noise? Thirty years ago, the media pretended that men's violence against women hardly existed. There was only the violence committed by crazy men, or minority, disenfranchised men from whom white women needed to seek protection. Feminists exposed the reality of misogynist violence, including the fact that it is usually committed by men whom women trust. The violence now exposed, the mainstream media want to expose and expose and expose, like pornographers, until the public hardly cares. They intend to anesthetize our psyches by obsessively focusing on the non-essential details, details surrounding the more minor incidents in particular, so that the significance of the entire spectrum of exploitation and violence against women can once again be erased.
The work of feminists which brought to the public's consciousness the reality of misogynist violence is thus being co-opted and turned against us. This co-optation is succeeding, virtually unchallenged and unquestioned. We are seeing a collapse of integrity on the part of those who are suppose to resistthe feminists, leftists, civil rights advocates with media accessand a lethargy among those in the general population who might otherwise care. Women are being erased and, worst of all, many of us are agreeing to go along with the erasure.
In an eerie coincidence that perhaps was no coincidence at all, a central part of the Violence Against Women Act was ruled unconstitutional by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals just days after the Broaddrick story was aired and declared unimportant. The part of the act that gives women the right to sue their attackers in federal court has now been nullified in five eastern states for being a "sweeping intrusion into individual states' authority." The ruling will be appealed, but the appeal may not be successful. Will the public care if it isn't? After the country has dismissed as unimportant the accusations against the President, including the accusation of rape, isn't it a bit far fetched to expect the public to express outrage about the overturning of the act? Or other judicial wrong turns? Or individual acts of injustice against women?
The so-called "sex scandals" are over and done with. Now the questions we must face are: What is the fallout of the Presidential exploitation, assault, and rape non-scandal? Can the damage that has been done to women's issues though this orchestrated obliteration be undone at this point? If so, how?
Copyright © 1999
Adriene Sere - All rights reserved by author.
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