I Lost a Job for Calling Out the Company’s Rape Apology

Dan Soloman critiqued CultureMap’s victim-shaming of an underaged girl, and lost his job as a result.

As a straight white dude living a fairly middle-class existence, who is fortunate to have no firsthand experience with rape, it’s been pretty easy for me to live my life without giving it much thought. I spend almost no energy thinking about the safest route to take when walking home, or what might happen to my drink if I step away from it, or who I should or shouldn’t accept a ride home with.

I’m not bragging, though. It turns out that even a guy like me is susceptible to some of the side-effects of living in a culture that treats every reported rape as a cause to throw two trials in the court of public opinion: One in which there’s someone who may or may not be guilty of rape, and one in which there’s someone who may or may not be guilty of lying.

That’s how the story has shaken out in the case of Ryan Romo, an 18-year-old star baseball prospect from the ritzy Dallas neighborhood of Highland Park (where George W. and Laura Bush lived before W. farted into the Texas Governor’s Mansion and then the White House). Here’s what we know for sure: After a Ghostland Observatory concert in Dallas a few weeks ago, Romo gave a girl—younger than seventeen—a ride home from the show; two days later, she filed charges for sexual assault.

Here’s what else we know for sure: Shortly after those charges were filed, the Dallas edition of a Texas-based media site called CultureMap ran a story with the headline, “Is this Highland Park baseball star a rapist?” In the story, the author—CultureMap Dallas’ managing editor, Claire St. Amant—speculates that perhaps the girl in question is lying about what happened (“Kids are supposed to mess up. They lie. They cheat. They get caught. They grow up. But throw a sex act in the mix, and childish ways are all but left behind,” she writes).

The story doesn’t cite any details of the case that make questioning this girl’s story a logical progression, nor does it explain what motive she might have to lie except that “kids are supposed to.” It does end with the sentence, ““If it’s a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse and guilt, then no one suffers more than 18-year-old Ryan Romo.”

 

If that’s not the case, of course—and we have no reason to suspect that this girl is lying—then we know one person who suffers more than Ryan Romo, for sure. It’s the one who was raped in the back of an SUV by an older boy and who subsequently watched as grown-ups with legitimate jobs in the press decided to speculate wildly on whether or not she was a liar.

I paid close attention to the way the case of Ryan Romo and the girl who accused him of raping her was reported by CultureMap because I’ve been a regular columnist, on a freelance basis, to the outlet’s Austin and Houston editions since March 2011. I’ve worked with good people within the company during that time, and I’d never met or interacted with anyone at the Dallas edition. I was proud of the work I’d done—and until Claire St. Amant’s editorial ran, I had been happy to have my name associated with CultureMap.

But the downside of having your name associated with someone else’s is that your name is associated with the fucked up things that they do, too. And speculating about whether a teenager who has filed rape charges is a liar, when you have no facts in the case to report, is a textbook example of a fucked up thing to do.

I don’t give a whole lot of thought to whatever my “personal brand” as a writer is, but if I had to pinpoint it, “Guy with enough credibility to call out people who say or do fucked up things” would be a fair approximation of what I’m going for. At the time the post about Ryan Romo went live on CultureMap, my face was on the main page of the site, which meant that it’d be reasonable for people to associate me with that post –- unless I said something.

I keep a personal blog on Tumblr, and I posted a clarification explaining both that I had nothing to do with the post about Ryan Romo, and that I recognized it as a fucked-up thing.

When you’re a dude who identifies as a feminist, it’s really easy to be harsh when you’re picking on an easy target—to really lay into, like, Ben Roethlisberger or Chris Brown—and to quietly fall back on your privilege when things are a little closer to home. I didn’t want to be that sort of guy, so it was important to me to make my post very clear, and use the same language I’d have used if we were talking about Todd Akin. “I’m really disappointed in CultureMap’s choice to publish such offensive—and stupid!—bullshit,” I wrote. That way, people who knew me from my work with CultureMap would not have to wonder if I was secretly cool with treating people who say they’ve been raped as probable liars, as long as the person saying it also wrote me checks.

After about a week, though, I got an email from my editors at the Austin edition of CultureMap. The Dallas higher-ups had found the post on Tumblr. They asked me to meet them for coffee, at which point they explained to me that the company wanted me to take the post down.

Like most writers, being told that I’m not allowed to say something is the quickest way to make me defend having said it, and I told them that I couldn’t take it down. They told me that the company was upset, and they wouldn’t be able to work with me if I didn’t. I reached out to Claire St. Amant directly to discuss what both of us had written, didn’t hear anything back, and wrote off my relationship with CultureMap.

♦◊♦

Obviously, I’m not a victim here (“No one suffers more than freelance writer Dan Solomon!”), but this whole experience was eye opening for me. CultureMap is a not-insignificant player in Texas media, and the idea that a company would let go of someone they’ve worked with for a long time for saying, “Speculating about whether a girl who files rape charges is a liar without reporting any information that leads to that conclusion is irresponsible!” while so steadfastly defending the article that does the speculating was a surprise.

All I’m losing is a little bit of work, but that’s mostly a function of the privileges that I enjoy as a dude who is rather unlikely to be raped. No one accuses me of being too emotionally invested in this case to see it properly; no one suspects that I identify too strongly with the girl who filed the charges against Romo; no one can call me anything over this that can ruin my life or make me hate myself.

The girl in Highland Park who accepted the ride home from Ryan Romo, though? She doesn’t have those privileges. I don’t have any idea what happened in the back of Romo’s SUV, but I also know that there are 96 comments on the CultureMap post, and a bunch of those people are pretty sure that they know: “The girl’s a complete liar,” one reads. “Her mother was probably livid at her for coming in so late at night and she claimed rape to get out of trouble.”

I don’t know if the person who posted that comment lives in Highland Park, but I do know that plenty of people who do live in the same community as Romo and the girl in question will have read that story on CultureMap. And when they do—when Romo’s friends, or people invested in defending him and his family (his father is the CEO of the Dallas-based restaurant chain Eatzi’s), or classmates of the girl who are inclined to treat her like a slut and a liar for whatever reason, read the unfounded, unsourced speculation on a seemingly-legitimate media outlet—they’ll feel completely validated in hurling accusations toward the girl every day. I honestly can’t imagine how unpleasant it’s been for her in the hallways the past few weeks.

Given that CultureMap and Claire St. Amant never had any reason to speculate that this was “a case of impulsive teenage decisions, remorse, and guilt” except that it was theoretically possible to do so, it’s pretty obvious that, of all the people who “no one suffers more than” as a result of her column, Ryan Romo isn’t even on the list.

And making the point that people with jobs like mine and St. Amant’s have no business speculating like that is well worth losing some steady work over.

 

By Dan Solomon

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com

 

Read more from our partners at xoJane:

I Love James Bond. Stick That in Your Martini and Shake It.

We Broke Up, But Kept Living Together: A Bad Idea Story

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 Photo: Flickr/Baddog_

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About xoJane

xoJane.com, Jane Pratt's lifestyle site for women, is not about changing yourself to fit any mold of what others think you should be. It is about celebrating who you are. Like Sassy and Jane before it, xoJane.com is written by a group of women (and some token males) with strong voices, identities and opinions, many in direct opposition to each other, who are living what they are writing about.

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    I guess you don’t have to be CBS/NBC/ABC to fuck up. I wonder how your late employer handled the Duke lax hoax. Does it go back that far?
    Point is, whether you have a dog in the fight–narrative satisfied by the Duke case–or you just like a little contrarian snark, or you’re a jock sniffer whose heroes can do no wrong–this case–it’s a really bad idea to speculate in advance of facts, especially if the supposed victim is so vulnerable.
    Let’s see…. NBC paid a considerable sum to Richard Jewell for fulfilling the libs’ wet dreams of a bomber, aka defamation of character. Perhaps your late employer has similarly deep pockets…?

  2. Ian MacIntyre says:

    Keep up the good work, chief.

  3. Mike Russo says:

    Keep fighting, this is horseshit. Put up a change.org petition. I’ll sign it. Obviously, both You (Dan) and this editor from Dallas have never been in that situation [having been raped], but, unlike you, she views it from a life of ignorant privilege like only an arrogant person that has had nothing bad ever happen to them could view it. Or, she has been raped before, and was conditioned to believe it was her fault, and thus all rape is the woman’s fault. Any situation where the choice is between arrogant, ignorant privilege and a form of brutal Stockholm’s Syndrome is no real choice at all.

    (Edit: It’s one thing to say that someone doesn’t know how it feels to be raped and then shamed for it but there is no reason to wish that someone be raped. NONE. – GMP Moderator)

  4. The Wet One says:

    Good luck and Godspeed!

    That’s a fine action on your part. I salute you.

  5. Commendable action on your part both in staying true to your word and in standing up for this girl. It’s nice to see people who aren’t afraid to back up their compassion and understanding for others.

  6. And this is why we shouldn’t report who they are in sexual assault cases until proven guilty, until then it’s a he-said she said situation and neither deserve to be put in a trial by media. It’s clear people have already made up their minds and are willing to throw him in jail but I think it’s best to save that hatred till after the incident is proven in a court of law. Do people consider that a rape apology? If so then KMA because innocent until proven guilty should be the norm. If he’s guilty, then report on it. The Duke case was a perfect example of tarnishing men’s reputation over allegations alone. I really wish media would STFU on such cases and let the courts handle it.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Should that be true of all crimes?

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Possibly. But, like child molestation, a rape accusation doesn’t go away with a “not guilty” verdict. Especially when it’s a he-said, she-said case. See William French Smith, generally seen as a rapist although acquitted.
        Other crimes…habeas corpus means you have to have a body to prosecute for murder, a thief not in possession of stolen items is not much of a case, a victim of an assault without injuries…., no witnesses….
        See the Duke lax rape hoax. Even though two of them could prove they were elsewhere at the time, they got the full ration of lib/feminist condemnation. Usually doesn’t happen wrt other crimes unless it’s a big-dollar financial scheme which is too complicated to follow and whose accuseds get the greedy bankster treatment from the prosecution instead.
        So maybe not for all crimes.

        • Exactly, in fact much of the feminist backlash to me seemed odd and seemed to go against any notion of believing in human rights. These guys weren’t even convicted yet suffered trial by media and bigname feminists like Amanda Marcotte put the hate on pretty bad.

          You can believe n support the victim without having to believe the accused are guilty, you can believe the victim was raped, you can believe someone raped them but it may or may not be the accused. But even so some degree of skeptical behaviour needs to be at play to ensure the accused gets a fair trial, chances of the victim lying may be slim but a slim chance isn’t worth jailing the innocent over. All people that accuse another of a crime must be ready to accept that we as a society have a duty to be skeptical of their story AND the story of the accused in order to find out the truth and to apply justice. Automatically believing everything the victim or the accused says is a bad idea.

      • Depends if those crimes have a significant effect on reputation. No one tends to give a damn if you steal 100bucks from the till, it’s annoying but if you rape someone there are many who will instantly dismiss you as a human. If you are accused of rape, there are PLENTY who will think you’re guilty straight away, the Duke Lacrosse scandal was a clear cut case of that prejudice at play for those men who weren’t given the benefit of the doubt. A lot of people didn’t think ok, maybe they’re innocent, maybe they’re guilty and we’ll leave it up to the courts to decide..no, People like Amanda Marcotte instantly went in for the kill. Ever seen that with other crimes like theft where it has the potential to fuck your life up?

        Someone accused of stealing may be trusted less n have to pay restitution but they won’t have parents pulling kids out of school if they teach there…

      • Possibly but there seems to be an exception made when it comes to rape.

        And what makes it an exception are the “believe the victim” crowd. This subset of people have it baked into their minds that if someone says they were raped then it MUST be true, acquittals, evidence to the otherwise, and proof of false accusation be damned.

        Even after Crystal Mangum’s story was shot full of holes by not just the accused but by a woman that was a friend of Mangum there was still a call from blood. This is not an isolated incident either. When it comes to rape people want it to be taken as a special exception for the sake of getting more convictions but when there is no conviction they suddenly want to treat it like “any other crime”. Oh, there’s evidence that that accuser is actually lying? All of a sudden they want to give the possible false accuser a presumption of innocence and benefit of the doubt that they previously had no problem denying the accused.

        Or better yet I’ve seen some (and I think this came up in a post here once) that actually think false rape accusers should not simply not be punished. And not because doing so may cause the victims of false accusers to languish in prison but because “it may scare other victims from coming forward”. Well if they wanted to treat it like any other crime then let’s treat it like insurance fraud. Does this mean that people that make false insurance claims shouldn’t be punished because it will scare people who actually need to claim their insurance from coming forward?

        If they want false accusations of rape to be treated like false accusations of any other crime then they are going to have to come to terms with rape being treated like any other crime but that ain’t happening anytime soon.

      • Mr Supertypo says:

        Other crimes have different dynamics, but rape or terrorism or pedo’s, uintil the investigation confirms the crime, both the accused and the accuser should remain secret, for their own sake.

  7. Surprised DA did not respond to piece, as breach of privacy for crime victim. NIMBYS should be banned as journalists. Have you heard of Amherst Suicide case? Young man raped by another male? Admin blew him off, and he ended his life. Will this media, and writer be liable if this victim does same?

  8. Witch hunts illegal in Texas?

  9. You’re wrong. There absolutely IS a reason to doubt the accuser. It’s called the “presumption of innocence.” Whenever a serious crime like this is alleged on a “he said she said” basis, the presumption of innocence REQUIRES that the lens of skepticism focus FIRST on the accuser’s story, not on the accused’s denial. THat should is rightfully where the focus of public attention should be too. Otherwise you wind up with lynch mob mentality and incidents like the Duke lacrosse debacle.

    I note that while you state that the accuser is “less than 17 years old” you fail to specify her age. 16? Cases takes on a different flavor then, doesn’t it?

  10. I have a hunch there’s more to this story….how much does Eatzi’s advertise on CultureMap? Is there any further relationship between Claire St. Amant and Romo’s Father? Was St. Amant at some time in her past falsely accused of rape? Or perhaps a son or brother? People aren’t generally so wildly impulsively speculative. There’s usually some deeply personal motivation behind such speculation.

  11. Until evidence is shown i’m skeptical of any accusation of a crime.
    No one should be found guilty of a crime based simply on a accusation, weather it’s by the courts or the public.

  12. Dan, independent of the she said/he said, you stood up for what you believed in and that’s the message I take from this piece. And that is commendable.

  13. I’ve been over this piece half a dozen times and read the associated sources to look at different angles – and I’m sorry but I just can’t go with The They Were Victim Blaming and I stood against them Hero Motife! .. and the I lost a job claim is crass!

    I get bemused as well with the way that some USA residents keep on shifting the goal posts in what would appear to be a hope that some would miss the issue.

    1st its Freedom of Speech and Freedom Of the Press – protect by any and all means

    then Suddenly it’s You can’t say that because we object! It’s that good old Double standard yet again! Nimby – NOT in My Blogging Yard and I will demand my first amendment rights to Blog and be damned as I damn you!

    Then you have that whole legal issue over something called Presumption of Innocence. So I do worry that with the whole rape is the only crime meme running riot across US centric net sources that eventually it will end up that a Journalist writing “There is a Rape Case and Presumption Of Innocence Applies” – well they will be screamed at and called apologist and rape loving scum becasue some have just decided that law and even social basics no longer apply when they hear the R ward. It’s almost Pavlovian, and I aint talking Meringue .

    I am bemused by the Gross and I mean Massive Anglophone Language Bias that exists around this rape meme – it either means that there is English Language Driver on the net and there is a bias and even error which is within only English Language Users – else those who are so convinced of their rectitude are so lazy they can’t be bother translating anything ( even with goggle translate ) to get the message out globally!

    It is even odder how in the US centric anglophone area the aggression and even abuse aimed at anyone accused of any form of sexual offence has escalated to an almost Wagnerian level. Mention a hidden little known rape case from a Backwater up a Bayou in the Boondocks and all hell break loose on a scale that exceeds reaction to Usama Bin Ladin and 9/11 – it’s that extreme.

    It’s not joke – if you raise the issue of Usama possibly being innocent and framed you get a less abusive and violent reaction than mentioning that in unknown and un reported rape cases it is possible that the accused is innocent – and you don’t even have to mention that it has been known for false accusations to be made! Pavlovian indeed.

    My betting is that some peeps have simply gone bonkers for rape and have forgotten how to be rational. It will probably get addressed when it has stopped being high fashion and media fashion. In the mean time it;s bizzare to see people doing anything buy any means to get on the band wagon and be seen as trendy. It’s unsettling and quite worrying for the future.

    But I do have to wonder why it’s such a US centric Anglophone issue when South Africa which is an English Speaking Country is recognised by the UN – Interpol and even the US Government as the Rape Capital Of The World. Sorry but if people were so worried and concerned, why is it NIMBY and not real?

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