Shooting the Messenger

The other day over on FOX, one of their talking heads complained about the military not preparing realistically for putting women in combat - namely, not predicting a huge increase in sexual abuse.  She went on to emphasize the absurdity of a growing sector in the armed forces dedicated to dealing with these crimes.  Her implication, of course, was that sending women into combat was a bad idea, an argument at least speculatively supported by the cited data.

Or at least, that's how I would have summarized what Liz Trotta said.  Here's the text over at Media Matters.  To MM's credit, it's presented with little comment - though no doubt they expect their (what I believe to be a fairly liberal) reader base to draw certain conclusions about Trotta's reliability, not to say stability and sanity.  Still, a decent piece of reporting in the grand tradition of "X said Y".

The hatchet work happened elsewhere, for instance on Think Progress, whose headline misquoted  and misinterpreted Trotta's opinion: "FOX Pundit Says Women In The Military Should 'Expect' To be Raped".  Except for the word "expect", that's made up out of whole cloth: the transcript clearly indicates Trotta was addressing not soldiers but their commanders - one is tempted in this case to say managers, or mismanagers.  Not only that, but because Trotta used the phrase "women... being raped too much," the column says we can assume she thinks some rape is acceptable.  Instead of assuming, oh, I don't know, that we don't always have perfect control over conveying the exact desired connotation and obviously rape is bad and we all know it.

It's true, of course, that Trotta presents her case in a very "right wing" manner: complaints about undue "feminist" influence, gripes about bureaucracy, a little mindless patter about the military.  But this reaction - and from what I've seen TP's is the one echoed by most on the left - is not a rational one.

Let's assume for the sake of argument that Trotta was actually dead wrong on everything she said.  She quoted some statistics - but we all know what they say about damned lies.  She seems to have a logical hypothesis: putting people together in high-stress situations will likely increase crimes, and putting men and women together will especially increase sexual ones.  But suppose the data doesn't support that conclusion.

Prove it.  Don't sully the character of someone just because they disagree with you.  Don't take the least favorable interpretation possible just to try to hide any point they might have.

And if she did have a point?  Which, as I mentioned above, it seems she might - then you not only look childish, you put yourself further in the wrong by refusing to examine your own views.  If Trotta is right - if we can directly connect the incidents of women in combat with a rise in crime, than you're being criminally ignorant yourself by waving it off with mendacities about the reporter who brought the news.  Isn't the goal, after all, of anyone reputable in a position of authority to protect these women, like all other citizens?

Sure, it might demand actions that conflict with your own theories, your own expectations.  (Maybe - the horror! - putting women in the military indiscriminately is a bad idea.)  But in that case, isn't the correct thing to do to revise your estimates?  To alter your preconceptions, as much as you can, to fit reality?

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