Saturday, July 03, 2010

Massaging the message (by Suzie)

Next time I see my “licensed massage therapist,” I’m going to grab her and pull her hand down to my genitals. OK, maybe not. But I will ask my friend who is a licensed massage therapist – no quote marks needed because that’s an actual job title – what she thinks of the coverage of Al Gore and the therapist he hired.

After Echidne wrote about the allegations last week, I’ve followed the media coverage with much frustration. I don’t know if Molly Hagerty, a k a the red-haired masseuse, is telling the truth, but I do know the coverage will hurt many women.

Media Matters for America strikes at several issues – inadvertently. Joe Strupp wrote about “a massage therapist who contends Gore attempted sexual misconduct in 2006 in a Portland, Ore., hotel.” Actually, she contends that he sexually assaulted her, not that he “attempted” it. In Oregon, “sexual assault” covers “unwanted sexual contact.”

Others also use “attempted” or “alleged” inappropriately, and that serves to cast doubt on Hagerty. One headline reads: “Al Gore: Southern Gentleman or Alleged Attempted Rapist?” This is no more correct than a headline that asked: “Alleged Southern Gentleman or Attempted Rapist?”

A Salon summary: “A Portland paper did everything possible -- even posting Craigslist ads -- to verify the charges. And it couldn't” Everything possible? Really? Once again, the headline shows bias. The article talks about how Hagerty waffled on going to the police and wanted control over the story, excluding some details. Journalists hate this; they want to decide what to report and what not to report. Women’s eNews has more.

It reminds me of a friend abused by a very popular priest. She feared her professional reputation would be hurt if she went public, and that her parents would be devastated. She also found it difficult to keep thinking about what happened. A few years later, she made a complaint to a church court, who found the priest guilty and slapped him on the wrist while treating her like a nutty slut. Both newspapers in town know about this, but have chosen not to run a story unless she cooperates fully and gives up any control over what may be written. Sadly, she gave up.
Hagerty has a history of making accusations of unwanted sexual advances. In 1998, according to court records, she sought a restraining order against an ex-boyfriend who she said had assaulted her in a park two years earlier and had since spoken to her "in a menacing tone." The request was denied.
This comes from Politico, and the slant is that she makes up unfounded statements about sexual assault. Another possible idea: Authorities weren’t sensitive or didn’t listern or whatever in 1998. So, why should she trust them in 2006?

It is so common for a man to grope a woman that some people don’t think it merits a criminal complaint, or they think it won’t be taken seriously. From MomLogic, who defends Gore:
When some men get an erection, all the blood from their brains apparently drains out to puff up their appendages; thus, they make poor decisions when they are aroused.
Two separate comments on an Oregonian article:
Once again, another little worm that comes out of the wood work 4 years after the incident with dollar signs in their eyes. … Get over it lady! You got groped! You did not get raped or suffer bodily damage.

If every woman filed charges everytime a man touched her in a way she found icky the courts wouldn't have to try anything else. It wasn't rape. If it happened it was icky touching.
In a letter published in the Oregonian, Elton L. Stewart writes: “… his behavior may have been abhorrent, bad … [he continues with a long list of similar words], but I don't really see anything criminal about it.”

Strupp quotes only men in his Media Matters post, including one ethicist who says: “It is more gossip than anything that is relevant. It doesn't survive the media test of relevance and usefulness." This case is not the same as two celebrities having an affair. The story is relevant because harassment and assault restrict many women’s lives, everything from the jobs we choose to whether we open our windows at night to catch a breeze.

For many, there’s still a feeling that what happens in private should stay private. This has hurt many women who have been raped or abused in other ways in private.

Many respected media will not print allegations unless the complainant gives a report to police or files civil charges. Some years ago, a woman accused a prominent man of rape, he said the sex was consensual, but no charges were filed because it was her word against his. Reporters found out later but our bosses shut down any investigation and forbade a story, saying this was an unsubstantiated accusation in the past, and there was no reason to bring it up. Maybe the man threatened to sue, just as Gore has signaled by calling Hagerty’s claims “defamatory.”

The National Enquirer, which plays by its own rules, broke the Hagerty story. Then it became a story about a story, with much of the coverage in blogs and other opinion writing, gossip sites and political sites. When the Portland police reopened the case, the story jumped “from the fringe to the mainstream,” as Politico notes.

Before the case was reopened, Strupp quoted others who thought the story had gotten too much coverage, “claiming the facts do not indicate any concrete evidence of a crime.” That’s why so few cases of sexual assault get prosecuted. When they occur in private, what sort of concrete evidence would be needed? A videotape? An email from the offender confessing guilt? Four male witnesses?

I get a kick out of media that complain about too much coverage while adding to it. Another example comes from True/Slant.

An instructor is quoted in the Media Matters post, saying the Gore story has a “she said-he said” element. That phrase has the connotation of a situation in which two people have different viewpoints, and no truth can be found. But some people take it further to mean that there is no truth. Thus, one person will claim Obama was born in Kenya, and another will say he was born in the U.S., as if each has his “own truth,” a term I’ve come to loathe.

If Hagerty has lied, it may make some men wonder if they can trust massage therapists, the majority of whom are women. But I don’t predict a huge decline in business. What hurts more are all the writers and readers who equate “massage therapist” with “prostitute.” That’s already a big problem for therapists, as the Daily Beast notes. Some people do not know, or choose to disregard, that sex workers in “massage parlors” differ from therapists who have passed extensive training to get a massage license or certificate.

Hagerty has a few rape myths working against her: One is the idea that any woman who goes to a hotel at night and charges a man to touch his naked body must be a prostitute. Myth No. 2: Sex workers can’t be assaulted.

If I won the lottery, I would love to have a long massage at night to help me sleep. I’m sure this is true of many people who have insomnia. But many therapists who are good and experienced don’t want to work outside their home or office, and they don’t want to work at night. That’s why a client has to pay more. Hagerty explains the business.

For many writers, Hagerty doesn’t matter. It’s all about the important man. Some critics think that, if Gore lied about this case, he has lied about global warming. Some supporters think these accusations are motivated entirely by politics.

I still wonder about the transfer of assets before the Gores announced they were divorcing. Meanwhile, Hagerty is getting trashed in liberal Portland. The Oregonian reported: “A minivan in the parking lot, identified by neighbors as owned by Hagerty, had been egged and smeared with viscous white substance.” Eeew.

I voted for Gore, as did Hagerty, and I might vote for him again if my other choice was George W. As you might expect, conservatives are already accusing feminists of not championing Hagerty. Jeannie DeAngelis writes: "On the left, 'liberal' coupled with the word 'male' connotes unquestioning support for the feminist agenda." To whom??? Certainly not to feminists.

For more, read the excellent piece from HelloLadies in the current Carnival Against Sexual Violence at Abyss2Hope. Marcella Chester also has written on this. But I want to close with Steve Duin of the Oregonian:
I think we all know this much is true: Fading politicians, like most guys, will sacrifice status and dignity for the cheapest no-tell sex. And there's rarely a happy ending for the women who call them on it.