Several websites were forced to correct, and in one case retract, stories they published Friday which falsely accused Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of wanting to rollback sexual assault reporting requirements at state colleges and universities.
The left-leaning website Jezebel kicked off the latest attack on Walker, a Republican who is considering a 2016 presidential bid, with an article headlined “Scott Walker Wants Colleges To Stop Reporting Sexual Assaults.”
“Under Walker’s budget, universities would no longer have to report the number of sexual assaults that take place on a campus to the Department of Justice. Under Walker’s plan, university employees who witness a sexual assault would no longer have to report it,” Jezebel reporter Natasha Vargas-Cooper wrote on Friday.
“There are no policy recommendations in Walker’s budget how or what would replace these reporting mechanisms. The Governor simply instructs that they should be deleted,” Vargas-Cooper continued.
Vargas-Cooper gave a good indication of how she was approaching her subject, describing Walker as “a small-time guy who is having a big-time moment by playing the conservative werewolf.”
Walker has long been the target of leftist ire because of his success against Wisconsin’s public sector unions, but his recent ascent to the top of the potential 2016 GOP presidential pack has made him an even bigger target.
But Vargas-Cooper’s claim — which was picked up by The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and Raw Story — was inaccurate and devoid of context.
It ultimately led to a correction at Jezebel, a changed-up headline at HuffPo and a complete retraction at The Daily Beast.
What did Vargas-Cooper get wrong?
First, the University of Wisconsin’s 26-school system already reports sexual assault statistics to the U.S. Department of Education. The new proposal, part of a bill which will cut state spending on higher education by $300 million, removes the requirement that the UW system report sexual assaults to the state’s Department of Justice.
Vargas-Cooper appears to have been under the impression that the bill removed a requirement to report to the federal DOJ.
Second, the UW system, and not Walker, requested the change to the language of the bill asserting that current reporting requirements are “redundant,” given its reporting to the U.S. Department of Education.
UW requested relief from the redundant reporting requirement because Walker’s bill decouples the UW system from state control.
“State statute changes were required to give UW System full authority status and the UW System requested the deletion of provisions of duplicative reporting requirements as part of the move to the authority,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told The Daily Caller.
“In this case, UW System requested this report requirement be removed because there is already a federal reporting requirement related to sexual assault and harassment on campuses.”
Those federal reporting requirements are governed by the Clery Act and Title IX. A Wisconsin state law requires sexual assault statistics to be reported as well.
“The proposed state statutory changes regarding the reporting of sexual assault, which we did request given the budget’s proposal to create an autonomous UW System Authority, in no way lessen UW System’s and institutions’ commitment to student safety and support,” Alex Hummel, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin system, told TheDC in an email. “They allow us to focus on one quality, effective and accountable report which we currently provide to the federal government and share with students, families, legislators and others.”
Walker’s bill was also slammed by critics who claimed that it removes requirements for schools to inform new students of sexual assault statistics. But Hummel told told TheDC the campus crime reports are and will continue to be made “available on each UW System institution’s website, and on the UW-HELP website.”
Critics also claimed that the bill unfairly absolves schools of requiring employees to report sexual assaults brought to their attention to their dean of students.
But Patrick cited Marquette University as an example of how the system works in practice.
“If a Marquette employee [faculty or staff] receives a report of a student or employee being a victim of a crime, including sexual misconduct, that employee has a legal duty to promptly report the relevant details [e.g., name, date, location] to Marquette’s Department of Public Safety [DPS],” reads the school’s policy, according to Patrick.
Vargas-Cooper reluctantly issued an update to her article on Saturday.
“After Jezebel ran this item yesterday, a spokesman for the University of Wisconsin came forward — over two weeks after the budget was released — to clarify: the University requested that Gov. Walker delete the requirements because efforts were redundant with their compliance of the Clery Act. Scott Walker’s camp assures that he’s committed to protecting victims.”
She also issued numerous tweets rankling at the idea that she should further correct or retract her article.