Serious flaw in reporting sexual assault | Guest Column

By Philp W. Cook

Islanders may not give a hoot or howl about Hollywood scandals. The connection to our world is not that tenuous as it relates to a flaw in journalistic ethics: believing the source without sufficient skepticism. This is only one example, there are others.

In the March 9, 2016 edition of the Journal the headline was “Local filmmaker delves into the sexual assault epidemic.” The story spoke glowingly about the film “The Hunting Ground” by San Juan Islander producer Amy Ziering. The film is now in the news again and not in a flattering way.

Asked to comment on the exhaustive list of sexual harassment allegations made against producer Harvey Weinstein in a recent New York Times piece, and on Oct. 10 in the New Yorker, filmmaker Rob Reiner said, “How about this? Harvey Weinstein funded this movie “The Hunting Ground”?

Indeed, his company distributed “The Hunting Ground,” an activist documentary film about sexual assault on college campuses. Weinstein’s rank hypocrisy is obvious; calling attention to the problem of sexual misconduct while being a contributor to it.

But in the attempt to (correctly) paint Weinstein as a hypocrite and predator, let’s not forget an important fact: “The Hunting Ground” is a biased, deeply flawed work of scaremongering. Several of the sexual assaults that anchor the film are heavily disputed. Its central thesis — that college is a place where serial sexual predators are free to prey on women — is based on junk science. The film just isn’t an accurate portrayal of the phenomenon it’s trying to explain.

“Hunting Ground” producers Amy Ziering and Kirby Dick should repurpose a sequel documentary about a real boogeyman. Suggested title: “Harvey’s Hunting Ground.”

The San Juan Journal’s headline claimed the film proved that there is an “epidemic.” Really? There’s been a huge and rapid increase in sexual assaults on campus and elsewhere?

The Journal opinion editor even called for the film to be mandatory viewing for high school students. Maybe it should be, as a good example of what propaganda looks like.

Critics of this deeply flawed film were on record in numerous articles and even public statements by Harvard Law professors and many others at the time this paper did the story. The San Juan Journal failed to mention any of these trenchant criticisms at the time. This is perhaps the first time many readers will have heard about them. As the Yiddish proverb has it — half the truth is as good as the whole lie.

I think the reason the Journal reported on this film without looking skeptically at its claims is that the reporters and the filmmaker were on the same “wave-length” ideologically.

Editors and reporters at this newspaper should attempt to grow into better journalists. The first rule: The more this person or issue closely resembles my own views, is when I should be the most skeptical.

Cook is a San Juan Island resident and author of “Abused Men.” Read more at

(Portions of this article are from writer Robby Soave of and used by permission.)