Posts tagged Kate O’Beirne

Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon

You may recall that I complained a few weeks ago about Rebecca Traister’s interview with Kate O’Beirne in Salon which repeated a fabricated quote from Catharine MacKinnon as not only fact but indeed old news. (The alleged quote was all heterosexual intercourse is rape; MacKinnon never said this, and has explicitly denied believing it when asked. It’s a gross misunderstanding of her views, and in the one notorious occasion on which she was quoted as saying it, the quote was actually authored by critics trying to describe MacKinnon’s views, but misattributed to MacKinnon herself by an antifeminist columnist too lazy to pick up the book again to get his citations straight. O’Beirne, too lazy or too dishonest to even pick up the book, got it from the columnist. Traister, understandably, repeated O’Beirne’s assertion; for which I don’t blame her, since it’s not her job to follow every footnote before she interviews the author of the book. I do, however, blame Salon for not fact-checking their stories after they are submitted when specific authors are quoted. Particularly when any idiot with access to Google could have discovered the problem in the time it took to type the most obvious query into the search engine.)

A few weeks later, I noted that Salon still hadn’t issued a correction even though the nonexistence of the quote had been pointed out by two different commenters within hours of when the story was first posted, and even though the New York Times Book Review had recently issued a nearly identical correction in its print and online editions.

Well, credit where credit is due: Salon should have caught the error when vetting the interview, and failing that they should have posted a correction within hours when they were made aware of the problem. But Rebecca Traister did file a correction on the interview on 26 February 2003 (and says that she would have filed it sooner, but she was out of town). Here’s the correction:

In the Jan. 17 story My Lunch With an Antifeminist Pundit, Rebecca Traister questioned Women Who Make the World Worse author Kate O’Beirne about the citation in her book of a quotation attributed to Catharine MacKinnon, calling the quotation old news. Traister failed to point out that the statement was incorrectly cited. MacKinnon never said, or wrote, that In a patriarchal society all heterosexual intercourse is rape because women, as a group, are not strong enough to give consent. This line is a characterization of the views of MacKinnon and Andrew [sic] Dworkin from Professing Feminism: Education and Indoctrination in Women’s Studies, by Daphne Patai and Noretta Koertge. It was attributed to MacKinnon in a March 1999 piece by Cal Thomas, which is the source O’Beirne cites in her book. A clarifying note has been added to the story. Salon regrets the error. [Correction made 02/23/06]

And here’s the corrected copy from the interview:

R.T.: I was surprised that so much of your book was about Gloria Feldt, Ellie Smeal, Catharine MacKinnon. Only at the very end do you mention someone like Rebecca Walker.

K.O’B.: Are you asking about [why I didn’t discuss] twenty- or thirty-something feminism?

R.T.: Yes. The MacKinnon quote about how all heterosexual intercourse is rape is old news. [It is also incorrectly cited. MacKinnon never said or wrote it.] There has been a whole other wave of sex-positive feminism in part in response to ideas like that. …

Thanks to Rebecca Traister and Salon for doing the right thing.

Further reading

Misquotation in Media: Catharine MacKinnon never, ever, ever, ever said “All heterosexual intercourse is rape.” Ever. Ever.

This just in…

Quotations to that effect have been incorrectly attributed to both Dworkin or MacKinnon, who never said those words and denied that they believed it when asked. Interpretations of their extensive and nuanced work on intercourse, rape, patriarchy, consent, coercion, men, women, and sexual ethics (which you can find elaborated in detail in, among other places, Dworkin’s book Intercourse and Chapter 9 of MacKinnon’s Toward a Feminist Theory of the State) that claim to find the view written between the lines have repeatedly been made on the basis of selective quotation, wilful misreading, and downright gossip. These facts have been repeatedly pointed out, not least by the authors themselves, but also by a lot of other people, over and over again. And yet the charade goes on.

Today, Ann Bartow at Feminist Law Professors (2006-02-19) took notice of the New York Times Book Review’s uncritical publication of a fabricated quotation from Catharine MacKinnon, repeated by Kate O’Beirne in her anti-feminist tract, Women Who Make the World Worse, and reported as if the quotation were fact by Ana Marie Cox in her review of O’Beirne’s book. The book review, in spite of having itself published a letter by Dworkin and MacKinnon in 1995 on the topic, and in spite of printed treatments of this in the media in the pages of the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere throughout the print media over Cal Thomas’s misquotation of MacKinnon in March 1999, went ahead and published Cox’s review without so much as noting that it contained a plain error of fact that any idiot with access to Google could have discovered in the few seconds it took to type out the obvious search request. Three days later, Elizabeth Anderson (2006-01-18): Bashing Feminists pointed out the error. The Times just got around to publishing an Editor’s Note correcting the error on February 6, which went into print on February 12, nearly a month after the review was published.

Readers may remember that back in January, Salon also ran an interview with O’Beirne by Rebecca Traister back in January, where Traister casually reported the fabricated “quote” not only as fact, but in fact as old news. As it happens, two different people wrote them back within a day of when the story was published — Anonymous 2006-01-16 and Mike Connell 2006-01-17. I posted about it here at GT 2006-01-31: Memo to Rebecca Traister a couple of weeks later. As of 6:39pm on February 19, 2006, they have not even so much as published a correction. I just sent them a third letter about the topic; we’ll see whether this produces any effect or not.

Update (2006-03-01): Rebecca Traister filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details.

Why does this continue to happen? I’m not worried so much about Rebecca Traister or Ana Marie Cox — the lie is widespread, the challenges to it are evidently not widely known (in spite of being repeatedly made in public forums), and their primary job was to discuss O’Beirne’s book, not to fact-check every claim and citation made in it. Or even about O’Beirne herself — like most professional antifeminists, she makes her living on dishonest hatchet pieces, and while that needs to be exposed, it’s not much of a surprise. What I do want to know, though, is why professional publications that claim a reputation for accuracy and honesty so easily allow blatant, known falsehoods like these into print. Who fact-checked these articles? Who let them through without even minimal research on the quotations in it, and why has it taken a month to get even one correction?

Anderson puts it this way:

Here’s a measure of how much a group is despised: how much malicious absurdity can one ascribe to its members and still be taken as a credible source on what they say and do? With respect to feminists, the answer is quite a lot. Christina Hoff Sommers, former philosopher and professional feminist basher, has been widely and credulously cited for her critique of the American Association of University Women’s report, How Schools Shortchange Girls, although my fact-checking finds her critique riddled with errors, inconsistencies, and misleading claims. Many academic critics of feminist philosophers are just as bad, often to the point of ascribing claims to feminists that are exactly the opposite of what they say. Feminists, it seems, are not entitled to a minimally charitable or even literate reading of what they say.

Andrea Dworkin wrote something similar in the editorial notes of Letters from a War Zone, on her essay Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea (p. 110):

… One problem is that this piece, like others in this book, has no cultural presence: no one hs to know about it or take it into account to appear less than ignorant; no one will be held accountable for ignoring it. Usually critics and political adversaries have to reckon with the published work of male authors whom they wish to malign. No such rules protect girls. One pro-pornography “feminist” published an article in which she claimed I was anti-abortion, this in the face of decades of work for abortion rights and membership in many pro-choice groups. No one even checked her allegation; the periodical would not publish a retraction. One’s published work counts as nothing, and so do years of one’s political life.

Whether or not you agree with Catharine MacKinnon’s or Andrea Dworkin’s views, and whether or not you are even interested in discussing them or finding out precisely what they are, you do have a responsibility to make sure that articles published under your authority and with the imprimatur of your reputation don’t repeat exposed fabrications about them or about what they said. The pages of the Grey Lady or even of Salon shouldn’t read like the Horror File page of a Men’s Rights bully-boy. Professional journalists are paid to do a lot better than that, and it’s long past time that we hold them accountable for it.

You can write a public letter to the editor of Salon in response to Traister’s interview, or write privately, to let them know that they are printing documented falsehoods and that you expect better of them.

Update (2006-03-01): There’s no more need to write letters for a correction. Rebecca Traister filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details. If you’ve got an itch to write Salon, you can always write them a letter thanking them for doing the right thing and urging them to fact-check specific quotations from named authors more carefully in the future.

Further reading:

Memo to Rebecca Traister

There’s lots to say about Rebecca Traister’s recent unsuccessful attempt at a conversation with anti-feminist lawyer Kate O’Beirne, but Hopelessly Midwestern already covered it better than I could. I add only a reminder, and a kind of memo to Rebecca Traister, re: Catharine MacKinnon.

Here’s Traister trying to distance the feminist views she likes from the ones she thinks that O’Beirne unfairly dwells on:

R.T.: I was surprised that so much of your book was about Gloria Feldt, Ellie Smeal, Catharine MacKinnon. Only at the very end do you mention someone like Rebecca Walker.

K.O’B.: Are you asking about [why I didn’t discuss] twenty- or thirty-something feminism?

R.T.: Yes. The MacKinnon quote about how all heterosexual intercourse is rape is old news. There has been a whole other wave of sex-positive feminism in part in response to ideas like that. …

— Rebecca Traister (2006-01-17): My lunch with an antifeminist pundit

The quote described here as old news does not exist. Catharine MacKinnon never said this. (As O’Beirne might put it: never, ever, ever, ever, said it. Ever. Ever.) Not surprisingly: she doesn’t believe it. It is a gross misinterpretation of her views on sex, rape, patriarchy, consent, and coercion (which are spelled out in detail in, for example, chapter 9 of Toward a Feminist Theory of the State), and the one notorious example in which she was quoted as saying this, the quote was actually authored by critics trying to describe MacKinnon’s views, but misattributed to MacKinnon herself by an antifeminist columnist too lazy to pick up the book again to get his citations straight. (See also comments at Blind Mind’s Eye, for related issues.)

And no, in case you were wondering, Andrea Dworkin didn’t say it either.

I’m just sayin’.

Update (2006-03-01): Rebecca Traister has filed a correction on the interview as of 23 February 2006. See GT 2006-03-01: Do the Right Thing: Salon issues correction on misquotation of Catharine MacKinnon for details.