Education

Harvard Profs Denounce CNN’s Flawed Campus Rape Doc, Call It ‘Propaganda’

A group of Harvard Law School professors have published a stinging condemnation of the campus rape documentary “The Hunting Ground,” calling the documentary deeply flawed “propaganda” in advance of its scheduled showing next week on CNN.

The Hunting Ground, which pushes the idea that one in five college women are sexually assaulted, has received Oscar hype, but according to the 19 professors, the “purported documentary” seriously distorts facts about both campus sexual assault in general and one Harvard student in particular. The signatories are hardly a group of right-wing idealogues, and include figures such as vocally feminist judge Nancy Gertner and former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann, a former Clinton administration official.

The Hunting Ground chronicles the alleged epidemic of sexual assaults on campus, and centers its narrative around a few standout cases, told by the alleged victims themselves. One such case is that of then-Harvard Law School student Kamilah Willingham, who claims she was sexually assaulted by fellow Harvard student Brandon Winston after a night of drinking. The film portrays Winston as almost certainly guilty of a heinous crime, and suggests he was allowed to quickly return to campus by Harvard administrators who were callous about Willingham’s plight.

In fact, as the Harvard professors point out, the reality is more complicated.

“There have been extensive factual investigations and proceedings examining the facts of Mr. Winston’s case, at Harvard Law School, before the grand jury in connection with criminal charges brought against him, and before the jury in his criminal trial,” they write. “There was never any evidence that Mr. Winston used force, nor were there even any charges that he used force. No evidence whatsoever was introduced at trial that he was the one responsible for the inebriated state of the women who are portrayed in the film as his victims.”

The letter notes that a grand jury failed to even indict Winston on sexual assault charges (indicating there wasn’t even sufficient probable cause to prosecute him). In the end, he was convicted of a single minor, non-sexual charge, and was punished with less than a year of probation.

The professors letter denounces Winston’s treatment in the documentary. While CNN isn’t mentioned directly, their strong denunciation indirectly suggests CNN is about to drag an innocent man through the mud on national television.

“We believe that Brandon Winston was subjected to a long, harmful ordeal for no good reason,” they write. “Justice has been served in the end, but at enormous costs to this young man. We denounce this film as prolonging his ordeal with its unfair and misleading portrayal of the facts of his case. Mr. Winston was finally vindicated by the Law School and by the judicial proceedings, and allowed to continue his career at the Law School and beyond. Propaganda should not be allowed to erase this just outcome.”

The letter directly cites Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who wrote a detailed criticism of the film last summer. The Daily Caller News Foundation has also published an extended criticism of the film, which focuses on problems other than Willingham’s case.

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