Keith Olbermann responds to #MooreandMe Twitter protest in the worst possible way

If you’ve been on Twitter in the last week, it’s probably been hard to miss the Twitter protest against Michael Moore for dismissing and mischaracterizing the rape accusations against Julian Assange—first in a post announcing he was posting bail for Assange and then on Keith Olbermann’s show.

Launched by Sady Doyle and Jaclyn Friedman last Wednesday and waged under the hashtag #mooreandme, the campaign has called for Moore (and Olbermann) to correct the misinformation they spread, offer an apology for minimizing rape allegations and smearing the accusers, and preferably donate $20,000 to an anti-sexual assault organization.

Almost a week later, there’s still no response from Moore (although he has written a letter to the entire government of Sweden) but the protest is still going strong, has attracted the inevitable anti-feminist trolls, and even caused Keith Olbermann to quit Twitter for 3 days “until this frenzy is stopped.”

But yesterday Olbermann was back with a response—claiming to sympathize with #mooreandme’s goals and referencing his previous “apology” (in which he demanded an apology in return), while completely ignoring the protest’s main point and condemning its “tactics.”

“I endorse, sympathize with, and empathize with, the rape consciousness goals of #mooreandme, and have already apologized accordingly. But I cannot defend and will not accept their tactics which mirror so many of the attitudes and threats they fight. I do not know of what Julian Assange is guilty, if anything, and neither does anybody else. But given the extraordinary efforts by Sweden to extradite him, to say he is benefiting from some form of rape apologism is not fact-based. It is also unfair to condemn as anti-feminist those who merely address the juxtaposition of this prosecution to the fact that Assange threatens the secret and nefarious activities of dozens of governments.”

As Tracy Clark-Flory and Amanda Marcotte both pointed out yesterday, that’s pretty much missing the point. That “juxtaposition” is not at all what the #mooreandme tweeters have been demanding Olbermann apologize for. Many, many feminist bloggers have made it abundantly clear that you can question the political motivations behind Interpol’s prosecution of Assange without engaging in rape apologism. And Olberman ignored the primary criticism against him: that he helped spread the myth that this is all just a matter of a broken condom during consensual sex–and has yet to offer a correction.

Given that he did not acknowledge any wrongdoing or address the real complaints against him, you’d think Olbermann wouldn’t have been surprised when #mooreandme tweeters kept at it. But when they did—with increasing frustration because really—really!—it should not be that difficult to admit you said something that was inaccurate, correct it, and offer an apology—Olbermann just slammed the door. Calling the whole thing a “stupidfest,” he proceeded to block countless prominent feminist writers (as well as not-so-prominent ones like, um, me) who continued to try to engage him, and took off at the end of the day tweeting: “OK, taking a break now. Feel free to continue flaming, just remember, nobody’s reading, and blocks are infinite.”

And here’s the thing: I can’t speak for anyone else, but, in my opinion, until then Olbermann hadn’t done anything totally unforgivable. Yes, he had helped perpetuate a dismissive media narrative around the Assange accusations that contributes to a dangerous rape culture. Which is something many folks have been guilty of. And yes, he had responded to being called out by getting pretty defensive. Which, again, is something many–even well-intentioned–people do when they are told they are wrong on the internet.

But the whole reason #mooreandme was hatched was because feminists believed that Moore and Olbermann would actually listen. Thought that once it was pointed out to them—in many an eloquent blog post and hundreds of 140-character tweets—why this is so important, they would get over themselves and get on board. From the very beginning, #mooreandme was about progressive feminists calling on their progressive brothers to stand with them against rape and rape apologism. Because that’s what progressives do. Because we’re supposed to be on the same team.

And it wasn’t until yesterday, when, in the midst of blocking countless feminist tweeters, Olbermann tweeted, “Feminism has no greater male supporter in tv news than me,” that I really started to believe that we may not be.

I’m easy when it comes to male feminist allies. They can fuck up a lot and I’ll still believe in them. Because we need them and because being an ally can be hard sometimes. Pretty much the only thing they can’t do is stop listening. So when a powerful liberal dude is claiming to support feminism while indiscriminately blocking tons of progressive feminists who disagree with him, treating them like “frenzied,” irrational crazies who aren’t even deserving of a public dialogue, and quite literally shutting out their voices?

Well, shit. I can’t think of anything that’s a bigger slap in the face to feminists who genuinely believed—or at least dared to hope—that we were valued players on the team.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Justine

    Obviously feminists and liberals should not be attacking the women involved in the Assange case, like unfortunately people like Naomi Wolf have done. And if Olbermann and Moore have done that as well they should apologize. People who do that should be called out. But I don’t see anyone who is following all of this who would disagree that the legal proceedings have at the very least been improper. This really IS a unique circumstance, the information war against Wikileaks has been unprecedented. I don’t think this is the same as liberals defending a Democratic politician facing rape accusations. Prominent and powerful people have been calling for the murder of the journalists involved in this case. Let’s not forget that either.

    • MKE

      Who’s forgetting that? This article does not in any way support the political actions against Assange. The point is, progressives shouldn’t be saying, “Rape is totally serious, BUT this is different! Look at how fishy it is!” Instead, the argument should be, “Rape is totally serious, AND so are these corrupt political motivations.”

  • MKE

    …a powerful liberal dude is claiming to support feminism while indiscriminately blocking tons of progressive feminists who disagree with him, treating them like “frenzied,” irrational crazies who aren’t even deserving of a public dialogue…

    This is one of the things I find most difficult during conversations with progressive men. Women’s lived experiences and feminist voices are shut down by calling them overreactions, irrational, too angry, too emotional. It’s so frustrating, especially in the moment. Does anyone have suggestions for good responses to this kind of shut-down in conversation?

    • Matthew T. Jameson

      I think your second sentence after the quotation has a lot of gravitas to it. If the men in question are truly progressive, it should be hard not to respond to what you are saying.

      Another paraphrase might be:

      “Don’t use the oldest trick in the patriarchal book to silence women’s voices.” I’d be moved by that!

  • nazza

    Responding to MKE,

    I make, have made, and will continue to make my own mistakes as a male ally. It’s a process of willful self-discovery and a need to listen. And without as much as a map of established precedent to follow, male allies often have to chart their own course.

    I think trying to find examples based in human experience that are similar is a successful strategy. In my case, I was not socialized as a woman and am not biologically female, so there’s a lot I probably will never understand. There’s so much to unpack and set aside, and once the obvious stuff is discarded, then comes the subconscious, internalized crap that has to be pointed out. One can be defensive at first, since it takes a thick skin to have someone explain male privilege and how statements made with good intentions nonetheless miss the mark.

    My ultimate advice is to look for progress over time as a means of success. I’ve come so far with the passage of time and know I will make additional progress. And furthermore, I’m not there yet. But being an ally is also an exercise in humility.