Because of the recent controversy surrounding the blog post entitled “Censorship, Environmentalism and Steubenville” by University of Rochester economics professor Steve Landsburg, many organizations and individuals have taken a stand against what is believed to be the promotion of rape. His blog post posed three questions, the last stated: “Let’s suppose that you, or I, or someone we love … is raped while unconscious in a way that causes no direct physical harm … Despite the lack of physical damage, we are shocked, appalled and horrified at the thought of being treated in this way, and suffer deep trauma as a result. Ought the law discourage such acts of rape? Should they be illegal?” Landsburg goes on to ask how this is different from the first two questions which asked if the psychic harm that someone may hypothetically endure from the thought of others viewing pornography or harming the environment is cause for legal action, either through regulation or taxes. He also compared the situation to a neighbor turning on a porch light, causing “trillions of photons [to] penetrate my body” and stating that “even if those trillions of tiny penetrations caused me deep psychic distress, the law would continue to ignore them”. Many people thought that his point was to promote non-physically damaging rape. However, in a recent addition to his blog post Landsburg clarified that he was only posing the question to encourage discussion about what should and should not be considered when making public policy. He stated that when “looking for a rule about what should be legal,” a logical conclusion would be that “you can do anything you want as long as you’re not causing anybody direct physical harm” and pointed out that that would allow for the rape of an unconscious victim, thus rendering this school of thought invalid. “It was a post about where to draw lines between purely psychic harm that should receive policy weight and purely psychic harm that shouldn’t,” the professor stated in a follow-up blog post on April 3.
“In response to Landsburg’s horrifying comments and the University’s lack of meaningful action, WORD [Women Organized to Resist and Defend] issued a Call to Action … demanding that he be fired” stated a press release issued April 3. Additionally, according to the Huffington Post, an online student petition to censure the professor had over 500 signatures by April 4. These movements were highlighted by both the Huffington Post and Gawker in recent articles that show bias against the professor and his controversial statements.
In my opinion, Landsburg’s presentation of the question of public policy was sophomoric. By comparing the very real trauma of the Steubenville rape victim to the fictitious trauma sustained by pornography antagonist “Farnsworth McCrankypants” and environmentalist “Granola McMustardseed,” he belittled the deep psychic harm that rape causes. I also find it hard to believe that someone who defended Rush Limbaugh’s assessment of Sandra Fluke as a “slut” is truly an advocate for laws that protect women. However, the political correctness and morality of his statements should be judged by each individual, not by the source of information.
As the leader of a news organization it is not only my goal but also my responsibility to promote free speech and meaningful conversation. This responsibility extends past college magazines to professional publications — such as the Huffington Post and Gawker — and in this instance, has not been upheld. Reading the title of an article published on Gawker: “Rochester Professor Wonders Why Rapists Shouldn’t Be Allowed to ‘Reap the Benefits’ of Passed Out Girls,” one would assume that Landsburg is encouraging the rape of an unconscious victim. Though the title is technically accurate, it creates bias against the professor’s question of public policy and the blog’s creation of important discussion. Any reputable news source would take many precautions to state the facts and to let the readers make their own opinions. Because these precautions are lacking, it is up to the individuals to seek out primary sources and form their own beliefs on the subject at hand while ignoring the bias inserted by some news organizations.