Flashback: When Trivializing Rape Bothered the Media

The media that tried very, very hard not to notice Vice President Joe Biden trivializing rape in a cheap campaign speech at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this week certainly knows how to be outraged when a Republican does such a thing.  Remember Clayton Williams?

The name might not ring a bell, but the media certainly remembered him.  He was a candidate for governor of Texas who jokingly compared bad weather to rape.  Here’s how the New York Times reported the incident, in an article titled “Texas Candidate’s Comment About Rape Causes a Furor”:

The Republican gubernatorial nominee apologized today for an off-the-cuff remark suggesting that some victims of rape should ”relax and enjoy it.”

The candidate, Clayton Williams, had initially played down the remark as being a joke.

Women’s groups and political opponents of Mr. Williams strongly criticized the candidate for the comment.

It ”questions his ability to understand the kinds of problems faced by the people of Texas,” said Ann Richards, the State Treasurer and a runoff candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. ”Rape is a crime of violence.”

Mr. Williams made the remark on Saturday while preparing for a cattle roundup at his West Texas ranch. He compared the cold, foggy weather spoiling the event to a rape, telling ranch hands, campaign workers and reporters around a campfire, ”If it’s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it.”

Williams apologized immediately, but it didn’t do him much good.  “I feel just terrible about this,” he said.  “I had no intention in my heart to hurt anyone, especially those traumatized by rape.  Looking back, I realize it was insensitive and had no place at the campfire, or in any setting.” 

The head of the Texas Women’s Political Caucus, which had endorsed his opponent, tersely responded: “Rape is never a joke.”

Williams went on to lose his gubernatorial race, blowing a twenty-point lead in the polls.  He dropped out of public life, but resurfaced in the news when John McCain was running for President in 2008.  McCain scheduled a fundraiser at the sporadically wealthy Williams’ home, driving reporters and Democrats bananas. 

“Offensive, disgusting comments like these cannot be tolerated,” snarled the communications director of the Democratic National Committee, Karen Finnery, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.  “Senator McCain’s refusal to return the money Williams raised for him raises serious questions and shows the reality behind his rhetoric about running a new kind of campaign.”

“Clayton Williams’ totally inappropriate remarks about women are well-known,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “Planning to host a fundraiser at his house is just another example of how out of touch John McCain is when it comes to women’s issues.  This is a major misstep for the McCain campaign, who is having a hard time getting support from women.”

Reporters hammered the McCain campaign for daring to take money from Williams, forcing McCain to “scramble for damage control.”  McCain canceled the fundraiser at Williams’ house, and claimed he was unaware of the offensive remarks that touched off this firestorm.

Which is understandable, because Williams didn’t make them in a prepared public speech like Joe Biden.  He was telling an extremely tasteless joke.

In 1990.

That’s right – Williams’ insensitive jest, deemed so inexcusable by the media that they tried to take a piece out of John McCain for daring to associate with him, happened eighteen years before the 2008 McCain campaign.  Williams was running against Ann Richards for governor of Texas.  Cecile Richards of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund is the late Governor Richards’ daughter.

That’s the standard of outrage our media has to live up to, when it copes with the elected Vice President of the United States trivializing rape in prepared remarks delivered to an audience of college students, in a conscious effort to gin up public support for his re-election campaign.  I’m sure they’ll rise to the challenge.