On December 7, Naomi Wolf posted a now infamous op-ed at the Huffington Post entitled “Julian Assange Captured By World’s Dating Police.” In it, she said that Assange stood “accused of having consensual sex with two women,” and that “both alleged victims are … upset that he began dating a second woman while still being in a relationship with the first.”
Even at the time she wrote it, the Huffington Post op-ed was a gross misrepresentation not just of the facts on record, but also of the sources upon which she herself relied. Of her two central claims — that Assange stood accused of mere “consensual sex” and that his accusers were motivated by jealousy — one was contradicted by her sources, and the other was a matter of her spinning editorial speculation as fact. But don’t take my word for it…
Wolf’s supposed source for her two claims was an article in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. That article, though, claimed no particular insight into the accusers’ motives:
“How must Sarah have felt to discover that the man she’d taken to her bed three days before had already taken up with another woman? Furious? Jealous? Out for revenge? Perhaps she merely felt aggrieved for a fellow woman in distress.”
Just as problematic, though Wolf asserted that her account drew on “the alleged victims’ complaints to the media,” the Daily Mail article she cited included no such sourcing. As it turns out another Daily Mail article Wolf mined for anonymous gossip did include such a statement, but that statement contradicted Wolf’s claim that the sex was consensual:
“One of the women claimed in a Swedish newspaper: ‘The responsibility for what happened to me and the other girl lies with a man who has a twisted attitude to women and a problem taking no for an answer.'”
That quote appeared nowhere in Wolf’s piece, and she has never, to my knowledge, publicly acknowledged its existence.
It gets worse.
Less than two weeks later, Wolf’s account was again contradicted by a lengthy account of the incident, based on leaked police reports, that appeared in The Guardian. This account further undermined Wolf’s central claims and cast serious doubt on other charges she’d lodged.
So much doubt, in fact, that Wolf herself now admits that the Huffington Post op-ed was inaccurate. Here’s how she described it in an interview on BBC Radio on Friday:
“When I wrote the first post, the police report hadn’t been reported yet. So it was based on early and not sound reports. So it was probably premature on my part.”
That was five days ago. The Guardian article appeared twenty-seven days ago. The op-ed was published ten days before that.
And yet the op-ed is still up on the Huffington Post site in its original form. No retraction, no correction, no nothing.
Wolf’s analysis of the Assange sexual assault case, and the policy proposals she’s made in its wake, have of course been criticized by many feminists. But this post isn’t about those criticisms. This is about something else.
This is about a self-professed feminist and anti-rape activist making inaccurate and derogatory statements about alleged sexual assault survivors, admitting it, and then refusing to correct the error where it originally appeared.
Think about that for a minute. Wolf acknowledges that her op-ed slamming Assange’s accusers was “based on early and not-sound reports.” She admits that she posted it prematurely. She admits that she got the story — a story which cast allegations of sexual assault in a negative, trivializing, and unfair light — wrong.
But nearly four weeks later, she’s done nothing to rectify her error.
January 18 Update | Still no retraction.
February 7 Update | Wolf has posted a “correction” that compounds the errors of the original piece in a shockingly flagrant way. I’m flabbergasted.
December 2 Update | It’s a year since Wolf’s original post went up, and ten months since her disingenuous “correction.” Neither has been withdrawn or amended.