Last night was the longest night of the year. I mean, it was the solstice: Nights have literally been getting longer and longer, and last night lasted for longer than any others, for as long as a night can. And I mention that because, in a stunningly melodramatic Emily-Brontean sort of coincidence, this was also the best possible metaphor for my feelings about #MooreandMe. That, after six days of it, after nearly a week, it seemed that every day was given to a greater and greater portion of darkness. That a number of beliefs I’d held, as a political activist and as a person who works in journalism and has at times done actual reporting, as a woman and as a survivor and as a proud progressive and as a human, were being kind of unavoidably shattered.
Which beliefs? Well, for one, the idea that journalists are obliged to tell the truth. That’s a big one, something not necessarily even related to rape, that hurts pretty badly. I’m the daughter of a reporter, a woman who got death threats before I was even born, because she reported about KKK activities and they didn’t like the way she’d covered it or her commitment to telling the truth about them, I mean: The KKK wanted to murder my mother, just because she believed that the responsibility of journalists was to tell the truth to the people, no matter what the issue and no matter what the risk or cost to the journalist in question. So, yeah, it matters to me that journalists uphold that responsibility. If it nearly killed my mother, it can slightly inconvenience or embarrass Keith Olbermann and Michael Moore.
And when I first started publishing, a writer and editor I admired greatly agreed to tell me how journalism worked, how the Internet worked, how things like “pitching” and all of that worked. He agreed to help me, in an act of incredible and unexpected generosity, for no real reason — I was literally nobody. Why was I worth his time? — but he sent me an e-mail in which he required that I give him a few personal assurances, that I keep in mind (he didn’t say this, but I thought it) that a betrayal of those assurances would betray him directly. Would mean I had used his help to do bad things, and had therefore betrayed the massive amount of trust, goodwill, patience, and willingness to help that he had inexplicably shown me. The first thing I had to promise him was that I would meet my deadlines. The second thing I had to promise him was that I would never knowingly tell a lie. There were other things I promised, but that was in all caps, NEVER LIE, and I think about it every time I write a piece; I made a promise to a good and generous man that I would not lie, and I intend to keep it. It matters to me, that journalists uphold their responsibility to tell the truth to the people. That is a principle nearly as dear as feminism to my heart: Just plain telling the truth.
The thing is, though: What I’ve learned is that Keith Olbermann does not care about that responsibility. At all. That he will willingly violate that standard, as he deems it to be necessary or convenient. He violated it once, when he said that consensual sex without a condom was considered rape in Sweden: That was factually untrue, and he didn’t correct it. He violated it twice, when Michael Moore went on his show and said that Assange was only alleged to have had a condom break, when that was factually untrue. Assange was alleged to have penetrated one woman in her sleep which is rape under all circumstances, and to have held a woman down and pinned her to prevent her from reaching for a condom, thereby using force to coerce her, and a few other things which constitute sexual assault. It bears repeating: We only got the fullest and most detailed account of these charges over the weekend, but the Guardian and other reputable sources had already reported that the allegations were indeed allegations of rape and sexual assault, and we had many of the relevant details including the unconsciousness and the pinning down, this was all known, and Michael Moore did not tell the truth, and Keith Olbermann did not correct him.
Up until this point in the story, either of these two things could have been considered mistakes.
Maybe Keith Olbermann actually didn’t know the allegations; that’s irresponsible, if you’re going to report on them you should probably know them, but it happens. Maybe Michael Moore didn’t know them either. Maybe Keith Olbermann didn’t know that the article he RT’d, alleging that an Assange accuser had “CIA ties” because she’d talked to this one dude this one time, came from a guy who also doesn’t believe that the Holocaust happened (which is to say: Not someone whose ability to assess the truth of a situation is, uh, all that great?) or that the guy represented WikiLeaks in Russia and so had a direct personal investment and was in no way an objective or neutral source, maybe Keith Olbermann didn’t read it that closely, maybe he didn’t research, maybe he didn’t think about it long enough to realize how he was shaming and smearing and endangering women for alleging rape, maybe he didn’t realize that by helping that guy put it out there, he was making the world unsafe not just for her but for many rape victims who would see him do this and become too scared to report their rapes, he was promoting a pro-WikiLeaks agenda at the expense of the facts and the safety of the women in the case, maybe it was an honest mistake. It was a re-tweet. Those take 0.5 seconds and little to no thought. My dog has accidentally RT’d things by stepping on my computer keyboard. It could have been a mistake — I mean, he got it from Bianca Jagger, who seems like a nice lady, and I’m not protesting her specifically because her role in spreading this misinformation is substantial but she’s not one of the nation’s leading left-wing journalists and thus just doesn’t have the same responsibility to truth that Olbermann has, truth isn’t her career — anyway, maybe he just trusted Bianca Jagger and he made a mistake. Until yesterday, it was possible to believe that Keith Olbermann had just screwed up, and since everyone screws up, it was possible to believe he’d just say, “whoops! I screwed up. I’m sorry.”
I mean: I accidentally posted a link to the accusers’ photos, in another forum, yesterday, because someone sent me a link to them and I had to click on it to vet it, and I got it confused with a different YouTube video I had open in a different tab (okay, I’ll admit, it was the “I Only Wanna Be With You” video which has a young Keith Olbermann in it: I’m human, I think that’s funny under the circumstances). So when I wanted to post the “Only Wanna Be With You” video, I just posted the first YouTube link I could find in my browser, and actually posted the photos of the women alleging rape against Julian Assange. That was a MASSIVE fuck-up. I endangered those women, by not looking closely enough at a link. I’ll say it again: I, exactly like Keith Olbermann, endangered the lives of two women, by not looking closely enough at a link before posting it. But when I did it, it was a mistake, and I took it down as soon as I realized what I had done, and I said “I’m sorry.” I did that within ten minutes. It wasn’t hard, because I knew it was wrong, and I wanted to correct it.
Keith Olbermann doesn’t think what he did was wrong. After yesterday, we know that he did not make a mistake, he did not screw up, he will not apologize: He doesn’t think it’s wrong. He doesn’t think it’s bad, to say false things that obscure the facts of a rape case and minimize allegations, and then refuse to correct them. He’s doing it on purpose. He came back into the #MooreandMe thread, and the first thing he said was (unable to link directly, due to RE-BLOCKING), “I endorse, sympathize with, and empathize with, the rape consciousness goals of #mooreandme.” Great. Amazing. As far as responses go, he couldn’t have started his response any better. But then, it all went downhill. Like so:
and have already apologized accordingly.
Except he didn’t. He apologized “if anyone thinks” he had “addressed it without full sensitivity.” If, thinks: These are words you insert into an apology to create the impression that you might not have done anything wrong, that it might just all be in the head of the person who wants an apology. If, in particular; I have reasons for noting that word, when Keith Olbermann uses it. And you will soon hear them. But Keith Olbermann gave a non-apology, an “I may have offended” non-apology, of the sort he has condemned on his own show many times. And he never addressed what he was being called upon to apologize for: Giving out false information, and not correcting it. He never apologized for that.
So, right there, again, with “and have already apologized accordingly,” Keith Olbermann was starting it up again, the false information. And, I mean, it gets worse from there, with his insisting that the tactics of #MooreandMe mirror those of rapists and rape apologists — comparing us to rapists and rape apologists, for protesting, that was a shocking new low even for him — and saying that we “hurt” rape victims (how?) and saying that asking for charitable donations to organizations that provide assistance and crisis counseling to rape victims equated to “buying [us] off,” even though none of us will ever benefit from those donations except to the extent to which we will require assistance after having been raped or sexually assaulted, or to the extent to which a handful of us — one or two people I know about or have heard from, I think, who’ve told me the names of the organizations they work for, and then last night’s mass RAINN e-mail that came as a surprise and with which I had no connection — might professionally provide assistance to people who have been raped and sexually assaulted, even though the only people he would help by donating to those organizations would be rape survivors, even though he is a wealthy man and he was being asked for charitable donations, he felt comfortable comparing us to people who want to blackmail someone for petty personal greed, he felt comfortable misrepresenting the truth to that gross and appalling degree. He said, “I do not know of what Julian Assange is guilty, if anything, and neither does anybody else.” Which is undeniably true, and no-one is really arguing otherwise. I’ve made some pretty irresponsible statements in the past few weeks, because of how angry this case makes me, but when someone has come into this comment section and argued that Assange IS a rapist, IS guilty, I’ve corrected them. I’ve corrected myself, for over-implying it. Nobody knows of what Assange is guilty, if anything. But Keith Olbermann knows what the allegations against him are, because they are widely known, at this point — it isn’t the first few days, when no-one knew anything and you could be forgiven for screwing up; he knows, people have every reason to know — and he should be able to correct his earlier, false reports about them. To proceed otherwise is, in the words of Keith Olbermann, “not fact-based.”
It is not fact-based, SIR. It is not. It is not BASED ON FACT. You are getting the facts WRONG, SIR, and you have got to CORRECT THEM. SIR.
And then, it got personal. Because it genuinely wasn’t, before: I wasn’t angry with Keith Olbermann at all. I did make fun of him, but hey, Keith Olbermann makes fun of public figures all the time. He knows how it works. He acted in a very melodramatic and ridiculous and easy-to-make-fun-of way in public; he put the clown suit on, he did the make-up and the wig and the funny rubber nose, and then we laughed at him, because he made himself look like a freaking clown. Public figures who take themselves very seriously are always somewhat comic, especially when they overreact. Someone who covers politicians for a living should get that.
Anyway, I had actually considered Il Keithitano the comic relief in all this, before yesterday. As wrong as he’d gotten this stuff, as responsible as he was for promoting false info and for participating in a smear campaign of Assange’s accusers and endangering their lives, at least he’d responded, which was what we wanted, and at least he’d tried to apologize, though not for the thing he’d been asked to apologize for. I had mentioned Keith Olbermann in one paragraph of my first #MooreandMe post, I’d directed like three or four tweets of the dozens I made that day @KeithOlbermann, Keith Olbermann was not at the center of this protest, Keith Olbermann was not the point, until Keith Olbermann somehow inexplicably decided that Keith Olbermann was the point and proceeded to act as if Keith Olbermann were the point, thereby miraculously creating nine million times more angry attention and more angry tweets directed at Keith Olbermann. (Keith, buddy, do you seriously just not know how the Internet WORKS? DO YOU NEED HELP WITH THIS?) He was making me laugh and giving us free and useful and good publicity, so I wasn’t angry. Then he did something that made me angry. Then he did it to me.
First, it was the “kill yourself” Tweet. That’s right: Of the hundreds of Tweets, he managed to find the one that went over the line and got violent, and he re-posted that to represent the protest as a whole. Which it didn’t: I haven’t been off Twitter for a week, and I have explicitly only been looking at #MooreandMe and my own @replies in case someone had important information I needed to communicate to the other protesters, and I know what’s on that feed, what the majority of the content is. It’s not “kill yourself.” Dozens of #MooreandMe protesters immediately condemned that Tweet — ScottMadin, Amaditalks, everyone who re-tweeted their condemnations — because it’s not what we stand for and it’s not what we want.
But I also know what the people talking to me are saying. They’re saying a lot worse than “kill yourself” — which, by the way, is what Keith Olbermann once told a very annoying-sounding critic to do, and that was an actual news story, Keith Olbermann telling some random guy “kill yourself” in an e-mail, so it’s not a phrase he’s unfamiliar with and maybe that Tweeter wasn’t either — a lot of the time. And when I said that Keith Olbermann fans were telling me to kill myself, were making fun of me for having survived a sexual assault, were threatening us all with rape, well? He asked for examples. One word: “Examples?” Directed @ me.
So I gave him examples. Even though these posts were being tagged #MooreandMe, so he could see them, even though they were often including @KeithOlbermann tags, so he could see them, even though I’d RT’d one “example” five seconds before reporting that people were recommending that I kill myself and making fun of me for surviving a sexual assault in Keith Olbermann’s name and he was apparently looking at my Twitter feed when I posted that and thus able to see the “example,” I promptly sat down and I created links and I replied to Keith Olbermann with multiple links, and names, of some of the more especially egregious examples. I could give him more: I’ve been taking screen shots, I have over a dozen goddamned screen shots, in case one of the really scary ones — one of the ones that said they wanted me to cry, that sex with an unconscious person wasn’t rape, that “our pussies belonged to them,” that we weren’t really rape — turns out to be an actual, physical threat to me. And his response? To me saying something, and his asking me to prove it, and my replying with absolute goddamned proof that it was happening?
Seriously, if anybody is suggesting anybody in this stupidfest called #mooreandme kill themselves or anybody else, STOP
Don’t look at “stupidfest,” although it’s funny. Don’t look at “anybody,” don’t look at “stop.” Look at the word I’ve explicitly highlighted: “If.” Keith Olbermann asked for proof that something was happening to me, and I gave Keith Olbermann proof that it was indeed happening to me, and he responded by talking about how it would be bad if, if, if it was happening.
We’re protesting rape culture. We’re protesting rape apologism. We’re protesting the silencing of rape victims; we’re protesting a society that automatically disbelieves and seeks to discredit women who report assaults. We’re protesting all of that. And do you want to know what rape culture, rape apologism, the silencing and discrediting of women who report attacks on them, looks like? It looks like you telling a man that you’ve been attacked, and him asking you for proof that you’ve been attacked, and you providing him with that proof — actual, verifiable, indisputable proof, not just a little of it, but multiple proofs, if you are lucky enough to have them — that it happened to you, and that man responding to you with the word “if.” “If” it happened. “If” it is happening. When you have just given him proof that it happened, it happens, it is happening right now.
None of us in #MooreandMe doubted that Keith Olbermann had been told to kill himself. None of us did. When we saw proof, we believed it, and we condemned it instantly. We never dehumanized him to such an extent that we would refuse to believe him if he was being verbally assaulted, and we never hesitated to say that verbally assaulting Keith Olbermann was wrong. We were not hypocrites. But when I told Keith Olbermann I was being attacked, he asked for proof, and I gave it, and I said I had more proof I could give him, and he still refused to acknowledge it, he still talked about “if.”
THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT RAPE CULTURE CONSISTS OF. THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT WE ARE PROTESTING. That’s when he didn’t just do it to the Assange accusers — though I stand for their right to allege rape without being assaulted, attacked, harassed, or smeared, and know that what they are going through is far worse than what I am going through — and he didn’t just do it to all of the women who he scared into silence by making an example of those two Assange accusers, he did it, literally and specifically, to me. I told him about an attack, I proved the attack, and he said the attack would be bad “if.” “If” it was real. “If” I weren’t just being hysterical and making it up. WHEN KEITH OLBERMANN KNEW IT WAS REAL, Keith Olbermann said “if.”
I will never, for the rest of my life, financially or vocally support anything Keith Olbermann stands to profit from. I hear he’s not a fan of me smoking, he’s an anti-smoking advocate, smoking is “suicidal” and anti-feminist and somehow as bad as rape, and you know, here’s a promise for you: If Keith Olbermann gives a full retraction, apology, and financial support — not even naming a number, he could send them $5 he found in between the couch cushions — then I will do something for him. I will quit smoking if Keith Olbermann does those three things. No matter how hard it is, I’ll quit. Because I know he won’t do it; I know I will never have to quit smoking. Because Keith Olbermann chose a side. He chose a side, and the side was silencing women who report attacks, disbelieving them automatically. He chose a side, and the side he chose was rape apologism.
I don’t want Keith Olbermann’s apology. I wouldn’t accept it. I don’t want his money, though rape crisis centers could use it. I want Keith Olbermann to stand as an example: For the rest of our lives, when we talk about women being attacked, and not being believed by the media, I want us all to be able to cite, as our chief and most obvious example, Keith Olbermann and the “if.” Because that’s rape culture, ladies and gents. Given that I told him where to find a man explicitly making a rape threat against me and the #MooreandMe protesters, and what that rape threat was, and who had made it, and at whom, that is literally and specifically a prime and self-evident example of rape culture and rape apologism, right there.
“Examples?” Examples. “If.”
Last night was the longest night. The night I realized that a man whose job was to tell the truth simply would not tell it. The night that I realized I could prove beyond a doubt that I had been attacked, to Keith Olbermann, and he would still act as if I hadn’t been; the night I realized how little this champion of WikiLeaks and freedom and transparency and the Internet and truth is willing to report or observe or honor the truth, when it comes to women who report being assaulted.
But the longest night is over. The whole solstice thing, I mean: It’s over. And so is the other stuff. Do you know what comes after the longest night?
The light comes back. The nights get shorter. The darkness rolls back. We are still protesting @MMFlint, hashtag #MooreandMe, because even though Michael Moore is now recommending charitable organizations to donate to and miraculously not mentioning any rape crisis centers, we have reason to believe that he’s better than this. That he can say, “I got the facts wrong; they’re a matter of public record now, and I was wrong about them, and I care about the truth, so I’m sorry.” We have reason to believe that he’s better. It’s why we’re protesting: We thought he was better. We believed in him. And maybe he really is better; maybe this time, whatever level of faith we have in Michael Moore wasn’t grossly misplaced. Because we misplaced our faith, drastically, when we placed any level of faith in Keith Olbermann. He’s been given his ability to make a correction; he’s been given his chance to make a real and direct and complete apology. He made another choice. May God help him, because I don’t plan to.
We also have one person in the progressive media that we have every reason to believe in: One person we all love, that we think is the best thing to happen to the progressive media and to women in the media since God knows when, one person who hasn’t screwed up on this story yet, one person we trust and respect and have never felt betrayed by, in regard to this story. One person whose work we can support, financially and vocally, because we can trust that it wouldn’t include minimizing or misrepresenting or flat-out enabling harm done to us while denying the harm is being done, if she found that convenient. And Keith Olbermann will do that. He did it to the Assange accusers; he did it to all of us; he did it, literally and specifically, to me. We have Rachel Maddow. And she is going to be interviewing Michael Moore.
Forget Keith Olbermann. He was never at the center of this protest — he just tried to make himself the center of it, for whatever Godforsaken reason, and he fooled a lot of people into thinking that this was not about rape or rape culture or rape survivors but about the personal Feelings Journal of Keith Olbermann, The Man Too Delicate To Make Factual Corrections. Michael Moore is at the center of this protest, because we still believe in him. We still believe in Rachel Maddow, and she is interviewing him.
What I am asking you to do, today, is to write the most respectful, kind, and reasonable Tweets you have ever written in your entire life. Direct them at @maddow, hashtag #MooreandMe. Tell Rachel Maddow how much we respect her, and what big fans we are — feminist bloggers, particularly, tend to be embarrassingly big fans of Rachel Maddow, so that should be easy — and how much we would like her to address #MooreandMe in her interview with Michael Moore. Not to pat his back, not to give him a chance to air some whining about it — we’ve got Keith Olbermann, for male whining on behalf of inaccuracy — but to ask him the hard questions. Why he hasn’t responded, why he got it wrong. Don’t pressure her, bully her, intimidate her: Show her, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this is newsworthy, that she can be the journalist to break #MooreandMe and to get Michael Moore’s answer to an ongoing and large controversy.
We placed our faith in Keith Olbermann. We were wrong. We placed our faith in Michael Moore. We may or may not have been wrong about that, too. But we need to talk to Rachel Maddow. As a journalist, as a woman, we need to believe that she is still doing this right. That she’s not there to promote the agenda she finds convenient, but to report the truth, whatever it may turn out to be, and no matter what the cost.