One consequence of moral panic!

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 5, 2017

Extremely weak skills break down:
Katie Van Syckle is night editor at The Cut, a New York Magazine blog about "Style, Self, Culture, Power."

She graduated from Dartmouth in 2005.

Dartmouth is a major upper-end college. New York Magazine is a major upper-end publication. That said, here's the way Van Syckle began last evening's report about Roy Moore:
VAN SYCKLE (12/4/17): Eight women have accused Republican Senate Candidate Roy Moore of sexual misconduct.

Moore has denied their claims, and on November 29th: “I do not know any of these women, did not date any of these women and have not engaged in any sexual misconduct with anyone.”

But now, one of the women, Debbie Wesson Gibson, has shared new evidence with the Washington Post that Moore did know her, and they had a relationship. Gibson said she briefly dated and consensually kissed Moore when she was 17 and he was 34. She said she came forward after watching Moore repeatedly lie about their relationship.
Truly, we'd call that astounding. Here's what New York Magazine has now said:

According to Van Syckle, eight women "have accused [Moore] of sexual misconduct."

One of the eight is Debbie Wesson Gibson. According to Van Syckle, this is her "accusation:"

"Gibson said she briefly dated and consensually kissed Moore when she was 17 and he was 34."

Is that a description of "sexual misconduct?" We include a point from the original November 10 Post report, in which Gibson said her mother knew about the dating relationship and enthusiastically approved.

“I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world,” she quoted her mother saying, back when the "sexual misconduct" was going on.

Van Syckle was attempting to summarize today's front-page report in the Washington Post, in which Gibson describes her long-ago interactions with Moore in these ways:
MCCRUMMEN (12/5/17): As Gibson previously told The Post, she said that she and Moore dated for a couple of months. She said he kissed her by the swimming pool concession stand at a local country club, that he played his guitar and read his own poetry to her, and that things ended when she went off to college in another part of Alabama, though they still kept in touch.

She said she helped Moore when he was campaigning for circuit court judge in 1982,
and remembers tucking fliers under windshield wipers at the Kmart parking lot.

She said that when she became engaged, Moore insisted on meeting her fiance to make sure he was “good enough for me.” She said that when Moore was first appointed as a circuit court judge in 1992, she sent him a gavel engraved with his name and a congratulatory note and that her family and his exchanged Christmas cards some years.

She said that she held Moore “in high esteem,” despite political differences with him, until she began hearing stories from other women who alleged that Moore pursued them as teenagers. She said that at first she did not want to believe the women.

“It takes what I thought was a very lovely part of my past, and it colors it, and it changes it irrevocably,” she said. “It changes it permanently.”
Which part of that sounds like a description of "sexual misconduct?" We further note that, in the original November 10 Post report, Gibson said her mother knew about the dating relationship and enthusiastically approved.

“I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world,” she quoted her mother saying, back when the "sexual misconduct" was going on. Elsewhere in today's Post report, Gibson describes the high esteem in which she held Moore in real time and in the years which followed their several months of dating.

Has Gibson actually accused Moore of "sexual misconduct?" Two other women plainly have; they've said they were assaulted by Moore in ways which seem to be criminal. But unless we're in a moral panic, does it really make sense to lump Gibson's story in with theirs?

It's all anthropology now! In truth, our frequently self-impressed species just isn't especially "rational." Especially at times of moral panic, we tend to stampede in the other direction, hard and fast, spewing cant as we go.

Anthropologcally speaking, we think it's amazing that a journalist twelve years out of Dartmouth could have written last night's report for a news org like New York Magazine.

That said, we were also struck by Stephanie McCrummen's weird formulations in this morning's Post report. For one example, let's look at this passage again:
MCCRUMMEN: [Gibson] said that she held Moore “in high esteem”...until she began hearing stories from other women who alleged that Moore pursued them as teenagers. She said that at first she did not want to believe the women.

“It takes what I thought was a very lovely part of my past, and it colors it, and it changes it irrevocably,” she said. “It changes it permanently.”
Does that make a lick of sense? According to McCrummen's formulation, Gibson had always held Moore in high esteem until—presumably in recent weeks—"she began hearing stories from other women who alleged that Moore pursued them as teenagers."

The word "pursued" is doing a lot of work in that puzzling passage. Yesterday, we warned you about the ubiquitous use of that all-encompassing, menacing word in reports about Moore.

To us, that murky passage by McCrummen doesn't exactly make sense. Why would Gibson lose her sense of esteem for Moore when she heard that he had "pursued" other women? We're missing the logic there.

Does that passage really mean something different? Does it really mean that Gibson held Moore in high esteem until she began hearing stories from other women who alleged that Moore assaulted them?

That formulation would make perfect sense. Is that what Gibson actually said? We ask because McCrummen's presentation is hard to follow, here and in other places in her new report.

At times of moral panic, the meager rational skills of our species tend to break down. This breakdown has happened all over the press and pundit corps as Moore's distant past conduct is being assessed.

Two women have accused Moore of extremely serious criminal sexual assaults, but Gibson isn't one of those women. Except at times of moral panic, how hard is that to report?

Coming tomorrow: Starting tomorrow, we'll be explaining some of the cultural context within which these events took place forty years ago.

Some of our journalists are highly parochial. They may have gone to the finest schools, but their basic savvy quotients are extremely low, especially at times of tribal panic.

Two women have accused Moore of serious crimes. Would you count Gibson among them? In what type of Salem Village does that notion make sense?

“I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world.” Starting tomorrow, we'll be explaining why her mother said that.

14 comments:

  1. Media sex scandals have been around since the dawn of America. Andrew Jackson dealt with one directed against his wife. Even Abe Lincoln had to deal with charges of infidelity in 1846. This seems to be a feature of our media, not a bug.

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  2. Moore said he didn't even know Gibson. She has proof he did know her. He did nothing wrong towards her... but why is he now lying about this? Why is he denying dating or even knowing these women?

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    1. Who knows. But she seems to have been doing all the legwork in that rather chaste relationship. He sent her . nondescript graduation card, and yet she composes repeated mash notes to herself about what a swell guy he is.

      Her revelations mean little. And wasn't she legal at the time?

      When it comes to sex, this guy was about as meek as it comes. Not much predatory-ness going on there --so much for the wild 70s for him. But don't tell that to the sex scolds at MSNBC.

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  3. "I’d say you were the luckiest girl in the world.” Starting tomorrow, we'll be explaining why her mother said that."
    News flash: Prepare yourselves! Somerby reads people's minds from 40 years ago. Among other skills!
    By the way, as long as you're reading minds, what did the daughter think? What does that grown-up young daughter think now? Have any of the women made their feelings known publicly about those murky 40-year old events? (Answer: yeah, they have).

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    1. Does it make sense to lump these together?

      According to this anonyomous, totally-not-a-sockpuppet-for-a-crap-journalist poster, the answer is a resounding "yes."

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    2. Can consent be revoked later on? Like, 40 years later? Because that seems to be the presumption for the scolds.

      As well as the idea now that consent can't exist if there's a "power imbalance." Good luck seeing where this new rule ends up.

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    3. Pro Tip: "scolds" = MRA trollery.

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  4. This story has morphed into "Republicans support pedophilia" and "The Republican Party is in danger of becoming the party of pedophiles."
    No end in sight.

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    1. The Republican party would totally support pedophilia, if the alternative is a party which respects women and people of color.
      Christ on a Cheez-It, they just elected, as President of the United States, an admitted sexual predator less than 13 months ago. Am I not supposed to remember that, because it hurts Republican fee-fees?

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    2. Yeah, it's nuts. And I hate both Moore and Republicans.

      No talk of course that if Moore is an "accused child molester," then Franken's an accused attempted rapist.

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    3. When did Trump become an admitted sexual predator?

      And exactly what is that anyway? If it means someone who actively pursues sex and sexual relationships, and who wantonly objectifies the targets of their desire, then I know a number of women who could put men to shame in this department.

      But shhh! No word of this to the sex scolds. They might get very mad.

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    4. Or they might point their fingers at you and laugh and laugh and laugh.

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    5. "When did Trump become an admitted sexual predator? "

      The "Billy Bush" tape, where he admits he just walks right up to women and assaults them ("Grab 'em by the pussy").
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      "If it means someone who actively pursues sex and sexual relationships, and who wantonly objectifies the targets of their desire, then I know a number of women who could put men to shame in this department."

      It doesn't, but I totally get your point. Similarly, if operating a motor vehicle makes one a sexual predator, the roads will be loaded with sexual predators during tomorrow's rush-hour.

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