Fox's Bob Beckel makes a lame rape apology

The co-host of "The Five" still doesn't understand that rapes happen on college campuses, too


Mary Elizabeth Williams
February 21, 2013 8:55PM (UTC)

Watching a bunch of Fox News commentators discuss rape is like watching Jonah Lehrer talk about journalistic ethics. It's vaguely amusing, but it's ultimately just going to make you angry and depressed. Such was the case earlier this week, on "The Five," when the network's token liberal-who-gives-liberals-a-bad-name Bob Beckel made the world's worst argument against concealed weapons — and then followed it up Thursday with a weak non-apology for a comment he made about rape.

It was a conversation about guns that sparked Beckel to travel the road of absurd logic. He started off well enough, addressing the "carry laws around a lot of states" and the issue of guns on college campuses. "If you do that," he said, "it seems to me the chances of people getting killed …" After his colleagues jumped into the fray on the subject of women and self-defense, Beckel lobbed back, "When was the last time you heard about a rape on campus?" His remark earned a hearty round of "WHAAAAAA?" from the panel, and pleas that campus rape is "rampant." Beckel took his mighty rhetorical shovel and dug himself in deeper. "Rampant?" he sniffed, incredulously. "Date rape, yeah, that's one thing," he said, "but are you going to take a gun out and shoot your date?"

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Beckel's remarks come just days after Democratic Colorado state Rep. Joe Salazar had to issue his own apology for some ill-phrased remarks on rape, guns and college students. During a debate over a bill that outlaws concealed weapons in university buildings, he said, "You don't know if you feel like you're going to be raped, or if you feel like someone's been following you around or if you feel like you're in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop ... pop a round at somebody." After a flurry of criticism and mockery, on Monday he explained, "We were having a public policy debate on whether or not guns make people safer on campus. I don't believe they do. That was the point I was trying to make. If anyone thinks I'm not sensitive to the dangers women face, they're wrong. I am a husband and father of two beautiful girls, and I've spent the last decade defending women's rights as a civil rights attorney." None of which, by the way, qualifies him to decide whether a woman merely "feels" like she's in imminent danger.

Beckel, meanwhile, is a man whose agility at putting his feet in his mouth is impressive even by Fox News standards. Just earlier this month, he groused that "after swimming, my eyes blew up and made me look Oriental." And last year, he referred to the patrons at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in Israel as "a bunch of diamond merchants we don’t know the names of."

That Beckel's assertion is a steaming pile of malarkey should be irrefutable. The only way a person could not hear about a rape on campus would be if a person was cut off from reality and all reliable news sources – which, when you think about, does fit the profile of the average Fox News viewer. A recent NYU study reveals that one in five college women are raped during their student years. Last fall, an Amherst student's accusations of a rape that she asserts was then systematically ignored by campus officials made national headlines, and sparked a wave of conversation about the rape culture on our campuses. Last week, a Loyola student was raped in the university parking garage. A woman was raped and robbed on the USC campus just this Tuesday. So yeah, we've heard of campus rape, Bob Beckel.

On Wednesday, Beckel sort of walked back on his remarks, saying, "It's a horrible, horrendous issue. Simply put, rape is rape. Whether it's date rape or it's somebody coming in off the campus trying to rape somebody else. I very strongly feel that way. I just want to straighten the record out on that. I simply was trying to make -- there was not a distinction to make here. It simply was that date rape is rape, and that is, by any other definition, rape is rape." I believe the technical term for what he said is "hooey."

Whether you believe that carrying concealed weapons around the campus is a hot idea or not, Beckel's comments – and his nonsensical follow-up – are equally pointless and offensive. He wasn't "trying to make a distinction." He asked, flat out, when any one of his co-hosts had heard of a campus rape, and followed up with the shrugged-off suggestion that women somehow can't or won't fight off a sexual assault from someone they know. It's a dopey, arrogant attitude. And in a debate over guns, it crassly made women the scapegoats.


Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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