In a video that aired during the Grammy Awards on Feb. 8, President Obama stated, as President of the United States and a certifiable hero to the kind of citizens who watch the Grammy Awards, this:
“Right now, nearly one in five women in America has been a victim of rape or attempted rape.”
Let’s begin with the fact that this is false, or at least, there is no reason to believe it is true, or even close to true. (More about this in a minute.) Was the President’s statement a lie? We can’t tell. If the President believes that rape is so common that 20% of all women are raped, then what he said is not a lie (a false statement knowingly made by the speaker in order to deceive), which leads to some uncomplimentary conclusions:
a. He has a remarkably low opinion of his own nation and culture…but then we knew that, didn’t we?
b. He believes what he is told without challenging it or examining an assertions’ origin, methodology and assumptions. Really? This guy is supposed to be brilliant. I would think such a jaw-dropping and frightening statistic would mandate some examination, but see a.
c. Why hasn’t this been a major focus of his administration? Isn’t the President alarmed about this? Why is the Attorney General running around the country holding the hands of parents of dead kids who attack police officers and fighting attempts to make voters prove who they are at the polls if women are being raped like The U.S. is the Congo? Why is the Presidentusing his time to make faces on videos to sell Obamacare? Isn’t this clearly a reason to make one of his “I will not rest” speeches, in this case not resting until the rape frequency in the Land of the Free is lower than that of a Columbia ghetto? He believes 20% of the women in the country under his stewardship being raped in their lifetimes doesn’t rate mentioning in his “if wishes were horses” State of the Union, and relegates this horrendous health and crime emergency to…the Grammys?
If Obama doesn’t know if the stat is true, but said it anyway, then he was irresponsible. He’s President of the United States; people believe him, even after the shattered pledge of transparency and “If you like your health care plan…” and the “red line” and all the rest. He can not fairly, honestly, ethically state that something is true when he doesn’t know whether it is true or not. That is a lie, then: not the statistic itself, but the implication that he believes it.
Or he knows the statement is false, and made it to deceive, because the ends justifies the means.
In the discussion following last week’s post about the persistence of the false narrative that Bush’s 2000 electoral vote victory was “stolen,” I briefly referenced the now mostly abandoned fake “1 in five” statistic on campus rape, the one that prompted the 2014 Unethical Quote of the Year from Senator Claire McCaskill when it was debunked. This prompted blog warrior Liberal Dan to re-state the President’s proposition, since he is one of those people who continue to believe the President despite all evidence to the contrary. “One in 5 women are raped,” he wrote, unequivocally, linking to a 2011 New York Times study.
I wish I had the time and space to muse about what it says about an intelligent American when a stat like that one, whether it is used by the Times, the President, or Lena Dunham, doesn’t set off his or her ethics alarms, Fake-Stat-O-Meter and bullshit buzzer. This is what happens, though, when the President makes a factual assertion. I knew the stat was crap; I just don’t have the time to prove it’s crap to people who want to believe it. I assumed someone would pretty quickly, and sure enough, the Washington Post’s hard-working, liberal-biased but diligently trying to compensate Fact-checker Glenn Kessler came through.
In his Washington Post column today, Kessler gives us the results of his research into Obama’s lazy/irresponsible/dishonest claim. His findings?
1. There is no consensus survey that backs up the President’s statement:
“Rape is widely believed to be an under-reported crime, because of the stigma involved and the self-doubt of victims who may blame themselves. So researchers, mainly on behalf of the federal government, have sought to reveal the actual rape statistics through confidential surveys. But there have been vast differences in the results, in part because there are two different kinds of surveys: criminal justice and public health. The criminal justice approach seeks to identify an event (such as an assault), determine when it occurred and learn as much about it as possible. The public health approach looks more at behaviors and seeks to stimulate memories, but it is less interested in legal definitions.”
2. What a researcher might call rape is not what the public envisions as rape:
“…the public health approach would not ask that question directly, believing that rape victims are reluctant to identify themselves (or may not even realize that the act in question was indeed a rape). The hope is that questions about behaviors will increase disclosure and capture various types of unwanted sexual penetration. But it also means the analysts — not the respondent — determine whether the situation merits the label of rape.”
Oh-oh. Despite the efforts of activists and feminists to define rape down into a category that includes words and stolen kisses, what the word “rape” conjures up in most people’s minds is a woman being forced by violence or threat of violence to engage in sex acts. If rape is simultaneously used to also mean “non-violent sexual intercourse with dubious, disputed or ambiguous consent by the woman,” that is misleading, deceptive and irresponsible all by itself.
3. The President’s statement was cherry-picked from just one of many studies—the one with the most alarming conclusion, naturally, and the one that Liberal Dan, being liberal, linked to. Surprise: the study’s results were estimated:
“The survey that formed the basis of Obama’s statement — the 2011 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — was a public-health study. It estimated that 1.9 million American women were raped in the preceding 12-month period. In fact, the survey said that more than 23 million women (19.3 percent) were raped during their lifetime. (The survey’s definition of rape included completed, attempted and “alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration.”)”
Let me list the ways in which the results of such a study is inherently untrustworthy, a.k.a. crappola:
- The survey didn’t actually question anything close to 1.9 million women, and covered 12 months, not lifetimes. Then it went on to estimate, from that, 23 million rapes. This was one of those studies that allow activists to say “It is estimated…” Yeah, I can estimate too. Where’s that hat with numbers in it?
- Estimates, or models that are used to get estimates, are completely controlled by the biases and intentions of the estimators, the researchers. What were they? Let’s estimate…
- Attempted rape is not rape, nor is attempted rape a useful category without strict definitions. Is a man pressing his affections one more time after a woman who appeared to be attracted to him and sexually aroused said “No!” an attempted rape? My guess is that many women and researchers would say that it is: if it takes a second “no” to stop an unwanted sexual approach, it would be an “attempted rape.” Right.
- “Alcohol- or drug-facilitated penetration,” assuming we aren’t talking lubricants, means that the woman was too smashed or stoned to give meaningful consent, or perhaps that drugs or alcohol loosened her inhibitions or obliterated her judgment. Is this considered rape now, even if the male is similarly incapacitated? I know there are those who are campaigning for such a redefinition, but no legitimate study should use rape in a way that has yet to be accepted by the culture, or the law.
- Later in the article, Kessler reveals that the CDC study was based on interviews with more than 14,000 people, with a response rate of 33 percent….less than 5,000 people, from which the study extrapolated what would happen to 23 million women. Res ipsa loquitur.
4. Other equally serious studies came to completely different conclusions:
“But the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), run by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, estimated that there were about 174,000 victims of rapes and sexual assaults in 2012 (and nearly 350,000 total rapes). In other words, Obama cited a government study that came up with a number of females raped or sexually assaulted that was at least five times higher than another government survey. It was also twice as high as the prevalence number for rapes estimated by the 1989-1990 National Women’s Study and 30 percent greater than yet another survey, the 1995 National Violence Against Women Study.”
So why did Dan and the President choose the study they did to assert a fact that isn’t one? The same reason civil rights advocates and protesters look at contradictory and inconclusive evidence and conclude that Mike Brown was executed by a police officer in cold blood because he was black: that’s what they want to believe. Yes, I agree: it’s strange and sad that anyone wants to believe that the women of the United States are being hunted by so many rapists during their lifetime. That’s what political expediency will do to your values.
4. The study that produced the “1 in 5” included questions like this:
“Sometimes sex happens when a person is unable to consent to it or stop it from happening because they were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out from alcohol, drugs, or medications. This can include times when they voluntarily consumed alcohol or drugs or they were given drugs or alcohol without their knowledge or consent. Please remember that even if someone uses alcohol or drugs, what happens to them is not their fault. When you were drunk, high, drugged, or passed out and unable to consent, how many people have ever … [series of statements describing various sex acts]”
Sorry. This is a smoking gun: all by itself, it proves the survey is slanted, incompetent, and dishonest. The series of conditions, bundled as one, range from not necessarily suggesting rape (drunk, high), to suggesting that you had an interview with Bill Cosby (drugged), to per se rape (passed out). The researchers think, or want the world to think, that these are all equally damning states for a women who ends up having sexual intercourse—damning for the male, that is. Having sex with a woman who is voluntarily drunk to the point of dreamy acquiescence is the same as raping one who is given knock-out drops? The CDC researchers are welcome to their ideologically motivated assumptions, but we are also welcome to say, “Well, that explains the CDC Ebola website page.”
“Another drawback of the survey — one that it acknowledges as a limitation — is that the questions pertaining to the 12-month period were not bounded by any particular event (such as “from Christmas of this year to Christmas of last year”). That runs the risk of people including incidents that actually took place outside the 12-month period.”
Ya think? What would a survey like this submitted by a student in a graduate research methodoogy course get, do you think? D or F?
Kessler usually tries to bend over backwards not to be too hard on Obama (all the more impressive that the President has received his worst dishonesty rating so often), and gives him just one “Pinocchio” out of a possible four. Maybe his reasoning is similar to mine: the statement was not necessarily a lie. Kessler says that stating the bad stat as a fact when it is just the result of one study was misleading, but excuses this by saying that “he was speaking in a public service announcement, where footnotes and caveats are generally not used.” Yes, and in ethical public service announcements misleading statistics are also “generally not used.”
Then Kessler goes off the ethics rails himself:
“…by citing as fact the results of a survey that may be overstated, the president runs the risk of undermining support for his efforts to call attention to sexual violence.There’s no such thing as a perfect survey, with completely accurate results — especially when the conclusions are determined by the interpretations of analysts…”
1. “MAY”? Overstated” ? “Overstated,” as Kessler himself just proved, is just part of the problem with the CDC study. It’s untrustworthy, which means it shouldn’t be cited at all, especially in a public service announcement, and especially by the President.
2. Kessler is saying that the problem with citing a false stat is that may undermine Obama’s credibility, harming his effectiveness. Yup, lying sure works better when you don’t get caught. The problem with citing a false stat is that it’s false and misleads the public.
3. “No survey’s perfect.” Wow, a text book Rationalizations List #19: The Perfection Diversion: “Nobody’s Perfect!” or “Everybody makes mistakes!” The problem with citing a lousy, misleading, slanted, incompetent, untrustworthy survey, Glenn, isn’t that it isn’t perfect, but that it’s lousy, misleading, slanted, incompetent, untrustworthy.