When we willfully look at reality through opaque glass, we purposefully distort the truth, defame the abused, and silence democracy.
What does it take to silence democracy? Not much. The recipe includes a little disregard for truth, a few omissions here and there, a lack of context, and a willful shielding of our eyes. Part I discussed how we prefer confirmations of what we already think we know rather than any information that might challenge our assumptions. Below we look at why this aspect of our nature is harmful to our communities and society.
A willful disregard for truth makes a mockery of real issues of public interest, public safety.
You would have to be living under a rock to not know about the Alabama senate race of Roy Moore, a Republican with touted beliefs so far out that he has alienated many of his own party members. Research Moore’s controversial stances for yourself to see how disturbing some of his ideas are. These alone are concerning, and well outside of the scope of mainstream conservative ideals. (And, really, Southerners are tired of defending the South from this junk. We’d thought we’d moved beyond Southern politicians who spewed the atrocious adages of our tainted pre-Civil Rights past.)
More troubling, Moore has had NINE women come forward alleging Moore groomed, pursued, and/or assaulted them. All but two were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. The fifth accuser, Beverly Nelson, came forward to corroborate the pattern of behaviors laid out by four prior women and to share her own experience of sexual assault at the hands of Moore.
Nelson is a registered Republican and Trump supporter. However, conservative-leaning media and others, including POTUS, are playing dirty to discredit and smear this woman who has everything to lose, and nothing to gain. This blew up yesterday, but in the aftermath, we would be fools not to stop and reflect on this repeated manipulative scheme. Sexual violence is not a political issue. It’s a public interest issue. It’s a social issue. It’s a religious issue. That it has been polarized and politicized is shameful.
Americans, hiding behind clouded lenses, have allowed this polarizing with a little help from social media and search engine algorithms. As we now know, during the 2016 election, duplicitous actors were silencing democracy. These democracy silencers manipulated the vulnerabilities of our echo chambers–our online “groups,” search preferences, habits, etc. For the sake of human dignity, we should all take a deep breath, step outside of our narrow-mindedness, and apply a little objectivity.
Silencing Democracy–Our Incredible Means of Measuring Credibility
Okay, let’s compare Moore’s credibility to Nelson’s.
Moore’s Side of the Scale–30+ Witnesses, 9 Alleged Victims, No Reasonable Defense
On Moore’s side of the line, we have 30+ witnesses alleging Moore’s history of inappropriate sexual behaviors (none of which were his multiple accusers), corroborating accounts of nine victims (so far) who detail similar patterns of behavior, Moore’s own on-the-record conflicting statements, and multiple signatures made to accusers flatly controverting Moore’s assertion he didn’t know “any” of them.
- The Washington Post, who first reported on the allegations, interviewed over 30 witnesses–OUTSIDE of the accusers–who corroborated the reports.
- In an interview with Sean Hannity, Moore said he could not remember whether he “dated” some of the girls: “I do not remember speaking to a civics class. I don’t remember that. I do not remember when we … I seem to know or remember knowing her parents … that they were friends. I can’t recall the specific dates because that’s been 40 years, but I remember her as a good girl. But neither of them have ever stated any inappropriate behavior. She didn’t say anything. They said about me…”
- When Moore was more pointedly asked whether he dated a nineteen-year-old when he was in his 30s, he said, “If I did, I did . . . .” (Things that make you go ‘hmm.’)
- Compare the above to what he later said at a DeKalb county rally: “These allegations are completely false, they’re malicious. Specifically, I do not know any of these women” (emphasis added).
- Consider that More has admitted (and subsequently denied) knowing and possibly dating the girls between the ages of seventeen and nineteen, and that he only flatly denies the accounts of the women fourteen and sixteen at the times of alleged incidents. Interestingly, those two accounts (which detail very similar patterns of behavior as those in the other acknowledged accounts) are the only two that would more certainly land him in legal trouble. (Wobble, baby, wobble, baby, wobble.)
- The list of nine women include these (with their ages at the time of the reported incident(s): Leigh Corfman (14); Wendy Miller (16); Debbie Wesson Gibson (17); Gloria Thacker Deason (18); Gena Richardson (18); Becky Gray (22); Beverly Nelson (16); Tina Johnson (28).
- The range of behaviors reported (again similar patterns reported by many unrelated, unknown persons) include these: providing alcohol to under-aged persons; pursuing “dates” with under-aged girls (to the point he was reportedly banned from the mall); forcibly kissing girls without consent; and attempted and completed sexual assault (including multiple allegations of groping and fondling).
- After Moore said he knew none of the women, several produced evidence of his signatures on postcards, yearbooks, etc. that Moore had signed to them.
Whew. That’s a lot.
Nelson’s Side of the Scale–1 Date & Place “Annotation”Beneath Moore’s Signature in Nelson’s Yearbook (NOT a Forgery)
Oh, for Nelson’s side of the line?
Exhibit A: During an interview with ABC News, the reporter asked Nelson if she added “notes” below Moore’s inscription in her yearbook, and she said, yes, she had added the date and the place below his words to her.
Silencing Democracy by Defaming Victims
Well, obviously, Moore’s proven himself more credible than Nelson there. If this “adding” of date and time is evidence of forgery, well then, shucks, every grandmother in the South who receives Christmas cards is, too. I mean, how dare Grandma say she received a Christmas card signed by Uncle Joe after she wrote the date in the corner and filed it in her picture album!
And how dare any of those teenage girls say their friends signed those corner notes in their yearbooks after doodling hearts and BFF beneath it (my own little added note was always, “Smile, God loves you!”). Outrageous little liars.
If an annotation is a “forgery,” then, I guess I forged To Kill a Mockingbird (sorry, Harper Lee). Someone should really share that annotations equal forgeries because I’m sure all the high school English teachers out there would like to avoid all the persecution and media attention that’s about to descend on them.
The absurdity only makes the line brighter between credible and incredible. Side-by-side on the scales of justice, it’s clear, Moore loses the credibility argument. Why, then, is the public so ready to buy the incredible? (Read Part I.)
This absurd weighing of credibility may, in part, explain how the word defamation is tossed around and misused. Defamation is the use of a false statement that is published to a third party as purported fact, such that (critical to making a claim) it causes damages to the person who is the subject of the statement.
First, truth is NOT defamation. Truth is an absolute defense to defamation. Second, an opinion is NOT defamation. Third, media have special privileges under defamation law.
Fourth, sexual abuse survivors may have their OWN defamation claims–PER SE claims. Per quod defamation requires a plaintiff to PROVE damages. But PER SE defamation is “on its face” harmful. Plaintiffs need not prove damages where others make false statements (1) that a person was involved in criminal activity; (2) that a person has a “loathsome,” contagious, or communicable disease; (3) indicates that a person was unchaste or sexually promiscuous; (4) indicates the person acted in a manner at odds with the proper conduct of his business.
As for the media, they know how to stretch a headline to the line of falsehood. The media are afforded leniency with defamation so that they may report issues of public interest. However, they too often manipulate this relaxed standard. Often, a media outlet can print an injurious lie (e.g., calling an “annotation” a “forgery”), so long as it quickly retracts, reprints, and adds a little correction at the bottom of the publication. In the slight time between printed lie and corrected publication, we, Americans, have been hoodwinked.
Caught in the crosshairs are victims of abuse. Were an individual, private figure to make false statements to a third party that imputed a woman’s sexual chastity, that private figure could find himself or herself facing a defamation per se suit (i.e., special damages are presumed and do not have to be proven due to the nature of the alleged falsehood). But where public media defendants make such comments, the injured party must make an additional showing of actual malice–a high burden to meet. Thus, injured parties receive little justice, and the offending media source gets away with silencing of democracy.
Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
Consider the purpose of Nelson’s production of the yearbook signature. Was it to show some condemning message? Was it to offer a picture of a man’s groping hand? No. It was merely used in defense of Moore’s claim that he’d never met Nelson.
What proof did Moore provide to show he hadn’t met Nelson? That’s right. NONE.
Consider what you would do to quickly put this to rest if you were in his position. I’d offer up as many samples of my signature from the time period I could find–old Social Security cards, driver’s license signatures, tax filings, etc. I’d hire a handwriting specialist. I’d produce materials and witnesses to prove my alibi showing why I couldn’t have been in place X at time X with person X.
That Moore’s done nothing but give a shaky recollection of details speaks volumes. If his memory is that bad he certainly shouldn’t serve in the Senate.
But the democracy derailing “news” headlines in your echo chambers sold you a fake forgery story. Their lies about one piece of one account underhandedly sought to discredit all nine accounts. The Bannon-backed alt-right quickly pounced on Nelson, making it sound as if the “truth” was out and Nelson had written the entire thing herself. They later dialed back to Nelson’s adding “notes” below the inscription.
Breitbart “cried wolf,” Fox News took the bait, Moore retweeted the Breitbart falsehood, and POTUS had to escalate the drama (who, let’s not forget, has 13 accusers and a pending lawsuit against him for defamation–we could publish a book detailing his credibility issues).
Due process is a one-way street with two-way traffic.
Amid all the drama, one has to wonder, where are the cries for more deliberate due process now? It’s no surprise abusers wouldn’t care to afford victims proper due process. Still, for the other waffling Republicans, should a victim accused of defamation not be afforded with due process? Deliberation? Fair and objective weighing of all evidence in the light of the entire record? Yeah, read here how abusers and their supporters are now using the word “defamation” to threaten the brave sexual violence victims who speak. This one-way due process is becoming a sad legal, political, and social strategy employed to shut witnesses, cover up crimes, and continue patterns of abuse.
Heads up–the rest of us are watching (Reasonable Republicans, Independents, and Democrats standing together), and we see your hypocrisy showing. More importantly, God is watching.
Because anyone who trades victims of sexual violence for money, status, votes, political agendas, or institutional reputation is surely going to Hell.
Mm-hmm. Maybe some so-called Christians would do better by reading your Bibles instead of thumping them. Because you could attend church every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday, and Friday, but your church attendance isn’t going to overcome the fact you met the devil on a dark, dusty crossroad and signed over your soul to the background of victims’ cries. (Cue the Charlie Daniels fiddle.)
Conservative Christians could hardly deny the Bible’s position on this in Matthew 18: 6-10 (Jesus speaks pretty explicitly on the matter). And Republicans were rightly distressed twenty years ago when Paula Jones offered allegations against former President Clinton. Somehow, though, the election of Donald Trump has caused this to become a polarizing, political issue. Some Republicans and Democrats have suddenly developed amnesia and forgotten the 1990s. Some Christians have suddenly forgotten key conversations of Jesus Christ–the MVP of their entire religion.
If there is any issue about which Republicans and Democrats should be united, it should be this, the wrongful nature of sexual violence perpetrated against teenage women (those most likely to be victimized, according to RAINN).
Sadly, many Moore supporters (many who call themselves Christians) are being Machiavellian. By picking party at any cost, even if it costs them their very souls, they are silencing democracy and distorting truth with excuses like these:
Sandra Cummins, 53, an accounting consultant from Fairhope, Ala., said she was likely to vote for the party over the person.
“The allegations are disturbing,” Ms. Cummins said, “but until there’s more concrete evidence, I would err on the side of the Republican, strictly for tax reform.”
A retired coal miner who frequents what the cashier called the “liars’ table” put it to me in the familiar Winston County way. “The women,” he said of Mr. Moore’s accusers, were lying to make him look like a sexual predator. “Groping,” he added, “used to be all right anyway.”
“Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager, and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus.”
The Irony–When Silencing Democracy Backfires
The irony is Breitbart’s jumping on the Nelson “notes” so quickly actually affirms Nelson’s credibility. This shows that if Breitbart had anything substantial in the way of disproving any of these women’s claims, it would have produced it by now. Newsflash–it doesn’t. After all, Breitbart is Bannon’s baby, the weapon he’s vowed to use in a “war” to further his own political agenda. The preponderance of evidence (the standard for civil matters) favors Moore’s accusers.
Fox News had to retract and publish a correction. But be prepared for more “alternative facts” and trumped up “nothing burgers” to increase in circulation through Tuesday. This is the sad new norm–political infiltration into American journalism has reduced it to little more than cheap click bait.
At least Facebook’s new filter reportedly flagged Breitbart’s yellow journalism as “fake news.” Still, if we hope to hold on to our salvation, a little national peace, and shreds of our personal dignity, perhaps we should heed this quote: “Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”
America, we should know better than to allow our politicians to make a mockery of real public (not political) issues and real personal (not political) victims. This mockery makes it politically and socially acceptable to silence abuse. When we buy the cheap lies they sell, we contribute to silencing democracy by shutting up victims and giving licenses to abusers. Politicians may win their temporal political runs at the expense of victims’ voices, but in the end, it’s our nation, our states, our communities, our children, and our own souls who lose.
And for the record, survivors of assault who’ve been accused of defamation because they broke their silence. You’ve already endured attacks to your physical person. You do NOT have to abide attacks to your character. You can fight back against defamatory harassment levied against you to “shut you up” because such coercion is not only unethical, unholy, and ungodly but also unlawful. A good attorney can help you fight.