Politics & Policy

Democratic Rapist Less Newsworthy Than Republican Gaffe On Facebook

If you haven’t heard about Donnie Ray Williams, blame media's fixation on Elizabeth Lauten

A high-ranking Democratic Senate staffer’s conviction on multiple counts related to drugging and sexually assaulting women has failed to set off a media firestorm, because TV and print news organizations are too busy pursuing a Republican House staffer’s ill-considered (and quickly deleted) Facebook post.

Donnie Ray Williams Jr., former staff director for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee, pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple charges including third-degree sexual abuse, two misdemeanor sex-abuse counts and one count of misdemeanor threats.  “Prosecutors say that on July 22, 2010, Williams invited a female congressional colleague to his Capitol Hill apartment and promised to introduce her to Senate employees,” the Washington Post reports. “At the house, prosecutors said, Williams spiked a drink with Ambien. The woman, according to court documents, fell into a ‘deep sleep,’ at which point Williams raped her. A month later, prosecutors said, Williams invited another woman to his home and gave her alcoholic beverages. They said he had sexual contact with her when she was too intoxicated to give her consent.”

You may have missed that story, but you almost certainly saw the story of Elizabeth Lauten’s Facebook post about the pardoning of the White House turkey.

I know Elizabeth Lauten. She’s a friendly woman who is always eager to help people, and a committed Christian. Unfortunately, she also made a poor decision when she attacked the Obama daughters in an improper post on her Facebook page.

Appropriately, Elizabeth has apologized for the comments and resigned her position as communications director for Representative Steve Fincher (R., Tenn.). To anyone with common sense, this should be the end of the media frenzy surrounding her comments, which were made over the slow Thanksgiving weekend.

Unfortunately, a number of media outlets have engaged in attacks on Lauten that are irrationally disproportionate to her offense.

All of the major networks covered Lautengate in their evening newscasts. This week, following Lauten’s resignation, two network news vans camped in front of her parents’ North Carolina home, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. The Washington Post assigned Terrence McCoy, a foreign correspondent, to dig through her columns from her college paper. Thanks to The Smoking Gun, the world knows she was arrested as a teenager on a minor shoplifting charge. She has been hounded and had countless people tell her to kill herself, receiving such comments as “Choke on ur thanksgiving leftovers u classless a-hole” and “you should put a gun in your mouth and kill yourself.”  Apparently posters Dolly Carrington and HeatFan904 missed the irony of calling her an Internet bully as they engaged in online hate speech.

This reminds me of the media firestorm over Slate’s caption mockery contest for a photo of then–presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s teenage daughters, who were watching him give a speech. The captions predictably turned grossly sexual and cannot be reprinted. 

Oh, wait — sorry. That firestorm never existed.

In sharp contrast to their targeting of Lauten over some dumb comments, none of the networks managed to find room to cover Williams’s sexual-assault guilty pleas, even though he violently assaulted women using a method that recalls Bill Cosby’s alleged sex offenses, which are very much in the news these days.

To their credit, the Post, the Huffington Post, Roll Call, and the Hill, among other outlets, did report on Williams. TV networks should follow their lead, but I doubt they will. And I certainly doubt that liberals who thought Lauten’s comments deserved hate will take much interest in the rapist Williams, a Democrat waging a personal War on Women.

— Greg Rohrbough, J.D., has been director of government relations for the Meredith Advocacy Group since 2006.

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