Saturday, November 27, 2010

Debunking the "Rape Kit" Myth... Again



Earlier this month, Tina Fey was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor by her industry for mocking Governor Palin. During the taping of the show, Fey recycled a two year-old lie as part of her acceptance speech, saying that Governor Palin charged rape victims for evidence testing kits during her term as Wasilla Mayor. Fey's "joke" fell flat with the audience however. So much so that PBS edited out that part in her speech before it aired. After the word got out about what Fey had said, the left seems to have tried to give this falsehood new legs by repeating the charge all over the internet. It's just another in a long list of lies that the left and their media allies perpetuate against the governor. The story from the beginning was a fabrication designed to attack the governor's character and governing priorities.

According to Warner Todd Huston at Newsbusters, the first instance of this story showing up anywhere was on September 8th, 2008 on a left-wing blog called “Americablog.” Huston writes:

At least since September 8 the extreme left has been pushing a lie that Governor, then Mayor, Sarah Palin “charged rape victims for rape kits” performed upon them in the Alaskan town of Wasilla. The charge stems from a May 22, 2000 article in the local Wasilla paper, The Frontiersman, and has been spun from a comment made by the Wasilla Police Chief. This comment was somehow made into a Sarah Palin policy. Evidence of the incident, though, shows no involvement by Palin at all. Still, many Old Media outlets continue to illegitimately link this rape kit billing claim to Sarah Palin, even though the truth is easily discovered.

After Palin was picked to be VP, on September 8 a blog called Americablog found the old story and brought it up as evidence of "a rather nasty window into Sarah Palin." Americablog is run by a man named John Aravosis, a Democratic strategist, sometimes gay activist, and Washington D.C. lawyer who once worked for Alaska Senator Ted Stevens before he, Aravosis, formally switched to the Democratic Party.

Later that day The Daily Kos also picked it up and from here it began to morph even further adding false claims to the story. In one of those additions to the story, Kos blogger Steven R claimed that Palin hired Police Chief Fannon because he was in favor of charging rape victims for rape kits. Steven R said he was "Pro-Charging Rape Victims for their OWN TESTS!!!" (bold in original). I cannot find this claim anywhere prior to the meme being picked up by the Old Media echoing this Kos diarist.

According to the Uniform Crime Reports for Wasilla, up until 2000 only one rape had been reported to police in Wasilla. The Kos diarist tried to claim that one rape reported equaled one rape conviction, alleging that all the "other" rapes were not convicted. But the report clearly says that it was one rape reported not one rape convicted. The Daily Kos Diarist was trying to make it seem as if there were all sorts of rapes going on that weren't being reported and, presumably, all sorts of victims being charged for rape kits.

In any case, from here the Old Media began to pick up the charge that Palin had put in place or at least agreed with this policy of charging victims. On September 12, for instance, The L.A. Times repeated the charge

After the L.A. Times repeated the false accusation from the left-wing blogosphere, other mainstream media outlets jumped on board. USA Today ran a prominent story, as did CNN and on down the line.

There is no question that the Democrat party aided the media in disseminating this disinformation to the public. Former Alaska Governor, Tony Knowles, a Democrat and Obama campaign adviser, played a vital role for them at that time. The USA Today piece I just mentioned highlights that Mr. Knowles reached out to the media to help advance the lie. The article states:
Knowles told reporters, “There was one town in Alaska that was charging victims for this, and that was Wasilla, and the — the original police chief had been fired by Mayor Palin, and her replacement for that police chief was protesting it, and even when I signed the bill.”
Jim Geraghty wrote a good take-down on the "rape kit" myth where he addressed Knowles' comments and more in a 2008 article titled, "Wasilla Debunking Kit." He wrote:

Liberal bloggers have cited the story of Wasilla charging victims for rape kits as evidence that as mayor, Sarah Palin backed cruel and insensitive policies. But just about everything we know from initial accounts of this controversy is wrong.

When the practice came to light, the state passed a law banning it, and the minutes from the state-legislature committees reveal several missing details. Among them:


1.Wasilla was not mentioned in any of the hearings. In a conference call with reporters earlier this month, Tony Knowles (the man Palin beat in her governor’s race) claimed Wasilla was the lone town with the practice. This isn’t true, but he was far from alone in saying or implying this.

Part of the blame goes to the controversy-launching article from the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, which declares, “While the Alaska State Troopers and most municipal police agencies have covered the cost of exams, which cost between $300 to $1,200 apiece, the Wasilla police department does charge the victims of sexual assault for the tests.”



It makes sense for a local paper to focus on the story’s local angle, but this falsely implies Wasilla was an outlier. In fact, at a Finance Committee hearing, Representative Gail Phillips (R., Homer) “read for the record, a statement from a woman in Juneau who had experienced the charges as indicated.” Compare Juneau (population 30,711 in 2000) to Wasilla (population 5,469).



The Democratic sponsor of the legislation, Eric Croft, told USA Today recently that “the law was aimed in part at Wasilla, where now-Gov. Sarah Palin was mayor.” Yet in six committee meetings, Wasilla was never mentioned, even when the discussion turned to the specific topic of where victims were being charged. (The Matanuska-Susitna Valley, the surrounding region — the most densely populated region of the state, and roughly the size of West Virginia — is mentioned in passing.) Croft testified at the hearing where Phillips read the Juneau woman’s statement, so he must have known that it was a problem well beyond Palin’s jurisdiction, even if he chose not to tell USA Today about it.



2. The deputy commissioner of Alaska’s Department of Public Safety told the State Affairs Committee that he has never found a police agency that has billed a victim. In light of Wasilla’s low number of rapes according to available FBI statistics (one to two per year, compared to Juneau’s 30-39), and the fact that the Wasilla Finance Department cannot find any record of charging a victim for a rape kit, it is entirely possible that no victim was ever charged.



[...]


3. Three times, witnesses told the committees that hospitals were responsible for passing the bill on to victims, not police agencies. If the bill went straight from the hospital to the victim, without ever being sent to the police department, this would explain why no confirming paperwork could be found in the Wasilla Finance Department. This information also fortifies Palin’s claim that she was never aware of the policy, as it is more plausible that a mayor would not be aware of a private hospitals’ billing policy than of the police department’s billing policy.

He concludes:

From the beginning, the story didn’t seem to add up. Nothing in Sarah Palin’s background suggested a callousness to rape victims; it seemed particularly unlikely that a female mayor would support such a bad policy. Palin spokeswoman Maria Comella told USA Today in an e-mail that the governor “does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.”



In recent days, some conservative bloggers have noted the strange coincidence of the same anti-Palin smears showing up on liberal blogs at the same time, suggesting some sort of coordination — and have wondered if it reflected the work of a p.r. firm connected to Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod. On Monday, a p.r. executive who has worked with Democratic campaigns in the past admitted he had created videos that included false charges against Palin, but claimed the Obama campaign had no official or unofficial role in the creation of the video.



Whomever they are, those who spread the lie that Wasilla alone had the rape-kit policy, and the Obama campaign itself, owe Palin an apology.
Also of note, Governor Palin’s local newspaper, the Frontiersman, did a “Q&A” with Governor Palin during the 2008 campaign where they addressed this contrived controversy. When asked about charging victims for test kits, the governor responded:
“The entire notion of making a victim of a crime pay for anything is crazy. I do not believe, nor have I ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test. As governor, I worked in a variety of ways to tackle the problem of sexual assault and rape, including making domestic violence a priority of my administration.”
You can draw a straight line from the left-wing blogs, to the Obama campaign, to the media as to how this distorted information grew legs to become a story during a heated presidential election. Unfortunately, I don’t think the McCain camp paid enough attention to it, nor did they launch any sort of counter defense to the accusation. They ignored it and allowed it to grow.

Sadly, providing the background information about how this myth was created and grew will do little to dissuade those on the left from repeating the lies that were embedded into their minds during the 2008 campaign. To this day, the left still cites this myth as if it where fact, regardless of what the truth is. All I can hope is when rational people follow the timeline and the facts, they will see that this was never anything more than a cheap political attack on a good public servant.

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