The Corner

Politics & Policy

Hillary Clinton’s Awkward New Hire

BuzzFeed is reporting that Hillary Clinton has hired Zerlina Maxwell to join her digital outreach team. I don’t know much about Maxwell. But Buzzfeed says this:

“Zerlina has been profiled in the New York Times as a top political Twitter voice to follow during the 2012 election season, and she was selected by TIME as one of the best Twitter feeds in 2014,” a Clinton aide said in email to BuzzFeed News.

But I did remember one thing about Maxwell. She wrote a piece in 2014 for the Washington Post with the following headline and subhead:

No matter what Jackie said, we should generally believe rape claims

Incredulity hurts victims more than it hurts wrongly-accused perps.

“Jackie” was the student at the University of Virginia who made up her story about being brutally gang raped at a fraternity (I was one of the first writers to write skeptically about her bogus story). Here’s the heart of Maxwell’s piece (emphasis mine):

Now the narrative appears to be falling apart: Her rapist [sic] wasn’t in the frat that she says he was a member of; the house held no party on the night of the assault; and other details are wobbly. Many people (not least U-Va. administrators) will be tempted to see this as a reminder that officials, reporters and the general public should hear both sides of the story and collect all the evidence before coming to a conclusion in rape cases. This is what we mean in America when we say someone is “innocent until proven guilty.” After all, look what happened to the Duke lacrosse players.

In important ways, this is wrong. We should believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, U-Va. should have taken her word for it during the period while they endeavored to prove or disprove the accusation. This is not a legal argument about what standards we should use in the courts; it’s a moral one, about what happens outside the legal system.

The accused would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might defriend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching his shows, consuming his books or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. But false accusations are exceedingly rare, and errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.

I cannot wait for Mrs. Clinton to be asked whether she agrees with her own new key hire about this standard. After all, her husband has a lot in common with Bill Cosby, and I don’t mean his sweaters.

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