Read Before You Write: The Rush to Doubt Al Gore’s Accuser

I have to admit, when I first heard the news that Al Gore had been accused of sexual assault by a Portland-area massage therapist, I had to question the source, which at that time was an online National Enquirer article. As fine a publication as the National Enquirer is, I tend to take its “news” stories with a container of Morton’s salt. Then, as I browsed the blogosphere, I came across this post on The Sexist, which caused me to seek out the actual police report on the incident, which includes a lengthy transcription of the 54-year old alleged victim’s account of the assault.

Having read the actual transcript, it boggles my mind that anyone would dismiss this woman’s allegations out of hand. I’m not going to recount the transcript here, but the alleged victim’s description of the event is very detailed, very lucid, and very believable, if you’re not addicted to the Al Gore Kool-Aid. Apparently some women who call themselves feminists were swimming in the punch bowl, because the immediate reaction from many was to discredit the accuser based on trivial things like why she’s kept a pair of pants she wore the night of the assault that had “suspicious stains” on the front of them. Hello? Here’s a little Sex Ed for you: When men are aroused, they can emit a bit of fluid from their “love rod”. That fluid contains – guess what? – DNA! So if you’re a woman accusing an adored, very public figure of sexual assault, why wouldn’t you keep a pair of pants with possible evidence on them to back up your story? Get a clue, people. Hanna Rosin, the woman who wrote the above-referenced “why did she save the pants” article on Double X, had NOT read the police report before she decided to comment on the situation. After she did, she backed down, stating “[…] this very long and detailed statement paints a picture of Al Gore that is so disturbing and so completely at odds with everything we know about him that it’s hard to know what to think.” Really, people, do the legwork. I know everyone wants to be the first to write about this juicy story, but having to update your post after reviewing the evidence just makes you look silly.

Other media outlets haven’t been so gracious as to recant their skepticism and victim-blaming. Salon gives us “3 reasons to doubt the Al Gore sex assault story“. The author, Steve Kornacki, states as his third reason:

We have seen plenty of cases of baseless (if vivid) sexual allegations against celebrities before. Tucker Carlson was once accused of rape by a woman he’d never met, for instance. Something similar happened with magician David Copperfield last year, too. (Plenty of celebrities have been guilty of sex crimes, too, of course.)

So naturally since some baseless allegations have been made, we shouldn’t give the accuser the benefit of the doubt, especially since she has so much to gain from making these accusations, like having other women make fun of her for not washing the aforementioned pants for four years.

The alleged victim’s friend, Donna Burleigh, has spoken out about the truthfulness of her story, stating that her friend recounted the incident to her after it happened in 2006, without revealing the name of the “high profile” client until Gore made an appearance in Portland 2 years later. According to Burleigh, the incident left the alleged victim suffering from panic attacks, and her previous health problems were exacerbated. But, of course, she probably has a history of “hysteria”, reason 4 to doubt her story.

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the alleged victim was compensated for her story. This article, published online on June 24th, reports:

The editor of the National Enquirer said Thursday the tabloid didn’t pay the Portland massage therapist for its story. The statement rebuts reports that the paper paid $1 million for the story that it broke a day earlier online.

“We did not pay the therapist or any representative of hers,” Editor-in-Chief Tony Frost said. “In fact, she was unaware the story was being published.”

Yet in Howard Kurtz’ column in The Washington Post, he states:

The executive editor of the National Enquirer says the Oregon masseuse who made a sexual allegation against Al Gore asked the tabloid for $1 million but that the Enquirer did not pay her or anyone else in reporting the story.

Barry Levine said in an interview Thursday that the woman offered to sell her account through her lawyer but that “no money exchanged hands” and the paper conducted only a brief interview with her.

Regardless of whether or not the alleged victim asked for money, the immediate knee-jerk reactions of some reporters to circle the wagons and spread doubt about the allegations reflect the deeply ingrained sexism that comes to the fore whenever a beloved liberal icon like Gore is accused of misconduct. Even feminists jump on the victim-blaming bandwagon, sometimes in quite vicious ways, and in this case, without even reading the alleged victim’s account of the incident. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize and single-handedly bringing global warming to the attention of the world (yeah, right) doesn’t make you immune to the typical trappings of those in power — they want what they want, and will pursue it with impunity. Left-leaning media outlets and bloggers would do well to not be blinded by their idol-worshipping.

  • http://ensmartened.blogspot.com/ Godless Heathen

    Count me among those who never was very impressed with Al Gore. I avoided forming an opinion because of this, but my natural inclination is to side with the victims of sexual assault.

    I can't read the transcript because it will trigger me (not usually, but right now it will). Usually I'd just be disturbed and angry at feminists rushing to doubt her story or victim blame her, but right now, that's pretty damn triggering too. She kept the pants, that means she's lying…or if she hadn't kept the pants that would mean she's lying. Victims of sexual assault can't win for trying, even with people who are supposed to be supporting them.

    Did she ask for money for her story? I would, too! What, victims can never be motivated by a desire to have a better life, they just have to open themselves up to public ridicule to get some nebulous sense of "justice"? That's buying right into the fallacy that there's only one true and correct way for a victim to act. Screw that!

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      What, victims can never be motivated by a desire to have a better life, they just have to open themselves up to public ridicule to get some nebulous sense of “justice”? That’s buying right into the fallacy that there’s only one true and correct way for a victim to act. Screw that!

      The stereotype is that these accusers are only out for money, which may be true in some cases but is no reason to immediately declare that the alleged victim is lying, especially when there are conflicting reports. And yeah, why do sexual assault victims have to be all selfless when coming out with their stories? If they're telling the truth, they SHOULD be compensating for lifting the wool from our collective eyes and showing us what this public figure is actually about.

  • http://kelly.hogaboom.org Kelly

    Well-written and I agree. I look forward to a day when we treat sexual assault and misconduct with the gravity it deserves instead of diving full-force into the typical slut-shaming, accusations of celebrity-whoring, gold-digging etc. tropes.

    As for Gore, I respect a lot the man has done and am disappointed to hear this. However it is more important the truth is discovered than I, or a hard-core Gore fan or left-winger, never once have to re-evaluate our opinions on someone. I'm not a Gore-worshipper or anything and I hope never to elevate a celebrity or public figure to a status where they aren't accountable to an investigation into assault or misconduct.

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      I am trying to be neutral on the situation because there is always the possibility that there is some untruthfulness going on, but I really wanted to speak out against the fact that feminists were making fun of her and totally discounting her story. The fact that a dude at Salon made a list of why she might be lying is less surprising but still offensive. Hopefully the truth will be revealed, but unfortunately in these situations it turns into he said-she said and in the case of a powerful white male accused perpetrator it's more often "he said", as is borne out by the immediate dismissal of her story by so many on the left.

  • http://www.icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com icedteaandlemoncake.

    it's appalling that feminists, even, are on the victim blaming game. that anyone is, really. people told me i didn't get raped because…wait for it…i'm fat and i could've fought him off so i must've wanted it.

    it saddens me that victim blaming is coming from all sides here. especially salon. i'm losing my respect for salon entirely. they recently did a piece about a 'study' that concluded that fat women don't have sex because men don't want them. *facepalm*

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      it’s appalling that feminists, even, are on the victim blaming game. that anyone is, really. people told me i didn’t get raped because…wait for it…i’m fat and i could’ve fought him off so i must’ve wanted it.

      Depending on the parties involved, people can do verbal gymnastics trying to explain away why a rape couldn't have happened. Unfortunately for us fat people, being fat is not an automatic barrier to being raped. I've experienced that shame that "well I couldn't have been raped because I'm fat and therefore undesirable" which is pounded into our heads by a society that devalues fat women's bodies. I'm sorry you had to deal with that.

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  • http://www.kjenblues.wordpress.com Kjen

    My first feelings and thoughts were disappointment as in "Oh, no Al Gore, don't be one of those guys."

    I can't characterize myself of being a fan of Gore, I know next to nothing about him – I just tend to associate him with "positive" things. Which the accusation definitely contradicts.

    I automatically gave credence to the accusation and felt my opinion of Gore flag somewhat. Then I had to remind myself that I don't know anything, that it might be her statement that could false and I should refrain from making any judgments yet.

    Unfortunately, reading up on her police report, I don't anything will come of it other than how it will play out in the media. I wish there was a better way to track down sexual assault crimes, so the criminal justice system would actually intervene and provide some sort of punishment.

    More often than not, it seems as if a sexual assault victim's only recourse is the damage done to the person's reputation as there is rarely any judicial ramifications due to "lack of proof."

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      More often than not, it seems as if a sexual assault victim’s only recourse is the damage done to the person’s reputation as there is rarely any judicial ramifications due to “lack of proof.”

      And unfortunately even due to that "lack of proof" reputations can be ruined by baseless charges, just like lives can be ruined because truthful charges were not taken seriously. It's really difficult to navigate these situations.

  • http://snarkysmachine.org Snarky's Machin

    Definitely a lot of victim blaming going on. However, I'm also not liking the concept that anyone who approaches the story with anything other, "He did it. Case Closed" is also a bit stressful and triggering. Well for starters, we do live a culture that used to routinely lynch black males for merely being accused of raping white women, so the notion that sexual assault is not taken seriously is patently FALSE, unless lynching isn't considered serious in your book.

    That said, the media does tend to get selective with its choice of sexual assault cases to track and that tends to have its own share of problematic selectivity.

    While folks who are abused certainly should be believed without demands for proof, there should also be a shred of acknowledgment of the way in which, stories have revealed folks haven't always been as truthful as their claims suggested and the consequences for both the accused (in those cases) and subsequent folks who will have their claims of abuse treated the way we're seeing such claims treated right now.

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      I definitely don't think accusing someone of sexual assault should be an either-or proposition (either he/she is completely guilty or he/she is completely making this shit up). But in this case it seemed no one was even giving credence to the idea that Gore could be capable of doing something like that. All I'm saying is that the narrative is believable given Gore is a politician, and politicians are prone to this kind of behavior in numbers quite disproportionate to the number of politicians there are. I don't know if she's telling the truth or not, but it's just hypocritical to me that these left-leaning journalists are quick to defend an icon but when a Republican steps in it they're all over it like brown on rice. Not that I don't giggle with glee when some anti-gay conservative gets caught being gay.

      It's definitely true, the history of black men being accused of sexual assault and convicted sans trial or evidence serves to reveal the notion that sexual assault is never taken seriously as false. And there is a history of false sexual assault claims that ruin lives, black or white. It's a fine line to tread, believing the victim is important but it's equally important not to immediately convict the accused because of charges that may be completely baseless. That may be true in this case. But in the rush to get opinions on the story out, people didn't even take the time to read the transcript to know what they were arguing against. That's my main problem with this situation, that people were running their mouths with little to no information from either side. And they were quick to blame it all on her.

      Of course, I can think of an example of someone we know who immediately convicted Gore of being a horrible person citing National Enquirer as their only source.

    • http://ensmartened.blogspot.com/ Godless Heathen

      I think there's a middle ground between immediately jumping to "he did it, case closed" and the type of mental and verbal gymnastics that people engage in to dismiss a woman's complaints. What's triggering really isn't a healthy amount of skepticism so much as what appears to be a complete lack of empathy on the part of people who claim to know better when it comes to sexual assault.

      I can deal with "maybe he did, maybe he didn't, it's too ambiguous for me", but when it starts getting into "why did she do this, why didn't she do that" I start to feel unsafe. We can't account for everyone's level of comfort with regards to being triggered by discussions of sexual assault, obviously. I just think, if we find ourselves unable to empathize with the victim, we should choose carefully how we're going to express that.

  • Jerome

    Someone I know posted a video to their Facebook wall of some kind of CGI reenactment of this situation (I won't post the link here due to the triggering content). I was really offended, and said so. I'm not claiming to know anything about Gore's guilt or innocence, but I sure as hell was pissed off by the way the video trivializes/makes fun of rape culture and sexual assault survivors and found the whole thing rather triggering. At this point it's hard to have an opinion one way or the other; I just wish the discourse in the MSM were more fair-minded rather than jumping on Gore on the right and jumping on the (alleged) survivor on the left (which I agree is especially infuriating coming from feminists). He's one of my liberal icons too but that doesn't mean I think he's perfect and we need to be able to talk about the situation openly. At least we have social justice blogs like this one to help unpack it.

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      Someone I know posted a video to their Facebook wall of some kind of CGI reenactment of this situation (I won't post the link here due to the triggering content). I was really offended, and said so. I'm not claiming to know anything about Gore's guilt or innocence, but I sure as hell was pissed off by the way the video trivializes/makes fun of rape culture and sexual assault survivors and found the whole thing rather triggering.

      Ugh, that's awful. All kinds of cretins come out of the woodwork when this type of thing happens.