Photo: Courtesy of George Will.
Yesterday afternoon, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch announced that it will no longer be running George Will's syndicated Washington Post column. "The change has been under consideration for several months, but a column published June 5, in which Mr. Will suggested that sexual assault victims on college campuses enjoy a privileged status, made the decision easier," wrote editor Tony Messenger in a post announcing the change. "The column was offensive and inaccurate; we apologize for publishing it."
It may seem like a drop in the bucket, but a move like this represents a consequence that Will likely didn't expect when he wrote the column in question. In the piece, he attempted to deny the existence of a rape culture on campuses, arguing that when schools, "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges, victims proliferate." Will went on to blame overly "progressive" administrators and the "ambiguities of the hookup culture," claiming they lead to false accusations, not actual assaults. Perhaps more insidious, Will also used scare quotes around the terms "sexual assault" and "survivors" throughout the column — a cheap and lazy tactic that reveals his lack of respect and understanding of a very real crisis. Will's overall thesis: These people are just doing it for attention, so stop giving them what they want. Problem solved.
Readers and politicians immediately came out against Will after the column ran earlier this month. "Your thesis and statistics fly in the face of everything we know about this issue," wrote Sen. Richard Blumenthal in an open letter penned with three of his Democratic colleagues: Senators Dianne Feinstein, Tammy Baldwin, and Robert Casey. Like many others, they took Will to task for formulating a thesis about sexual assault on campus without actually speaking to a survivor. "The culture you described is so antiquated, so counterintuitive and so contrary to anything we heard that we hope you will make an effort to hear the stories survivors bravely shared with us... Your writing, which purports to be based on accurate facts and figures, has not only shown a fundamental disrespect to survivors, but also includes a harmful rhetoric that has made addressing this issue so difficult."
The Washington Post has neither commented on the controversy nor made any move to drop Will's column — as of yet. But, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (one of the largest, most widely distributed newspapers in the midwest) made no bones about the reasons behind its decision to do so. This may be just one step forward, but it's not a small one.