The XX Factor

Military Rape Hearings Bring Out the Best in Right-Wing Radio

College chick at a dorm.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The great thing about right-wing radio is that it makes Republican politicians look sane by comparison. Take last week’s Senate hearings on rape in the military. Republican senators may have used the occasion to insinuate that boy hormones or porn were the problem, but right-wing radio host Michael Savage and his guest, the former congressman Allen West, knew they could do better. Media Matters captured the audio:  

The nastiness starts immediately, with Savage saying about Kirsten Gillibrand, “This is a U.S. senator. It sounds like a college chick at a dorm.” Things immediately went downhill from there, with Savage and West floating a weird conspiracy theory suggesting that Gillibrand and her supporters had ulterior motivations for wanting to take rape prosecution out of the military chain of command. Gillibrand’s actual reason for pushing this is to make punishments for sexual assault more uniform, to make it easier for victims to come forward, and to make it harder for commanders to protect rapists. But Savage and West suggested Gillibrand is up to something far more sinister:

SAVAGE: But listen, I got very upset today as a nonmilitary man. When I watch these Khmer Rouge feminists try to take over the military, this looked liked an attempted coup to me, Col. West.

WEST: Nah, you’re absolutely right, and that’s a big concern that I have because when you start to get—you know, I understand civilian oversight of the military. We all understand that as all officers who served in uniform. But when you start to have this interjection of, you know, political, you know, will against, you know, the military, good order and discipline, where you start to try to usurp the commanders’ authority and I guess replace it with some type of political, legal officers, and things of that nature. Then the next thing you know, it goes from just dealing with this, you know, sexual assault thing to, you know, making decisions on the battlefield. 

Setting aside the question of whether prosecuting rape is a “political” issue instead of a criminal one, how is this the slippery slope that West describes? How exactly does shifting the responsibility for prosecuting rape from a service member’s immediate boss to a prosecutor mean stripping a commanding officer of the ability to make battlefield decisions? “Sorry, guys, last week I would have been able to give you orders about where we’re going and what our mission is and when to shoot, but since someone else is now handling rape complaints, I cannot ever give an order again on any matter. Here is your new boss, Gloria Steinem.”

Don’t ponder this too long, because Savage and West are already off on another paranoid rant about what Gillibrand and other feminists are really talking about when they talk about rape.

SAVAGE: When I saw military chiefs grilled on sexual assault, when I know most of the sexual assault cases are invented, I know it for a fact. You know it, and I know it. You can change the definition of anything to turn it into something it isn’t. And when you start saying that asking a woman out on a date and her saying, “Oh I didn’t want to go on a date with him, I felt threatened, I felt uncomfortable.” They’re now calling that sexual assault …

What are women going to do in the Navy SEALs or the U.S. Marines in an advanced base and an outpost. If a guy leans over and says, “Can I have a smoke on your cigarette?” while he’s sitting there with a machine gun, what, are they going to call that a sexual assault?

Savage said this, even though the very quote he used from Gillibrand—the one where he dismissed what she had to say because of the pitch of her voice—was, “not every commander can distinguish between a slap on the ass and a rape.” The point being, there is a difference, according to that Khmer Rouge feminist, Kirsten Gillibrand. Which is the opposite of claiming that being asked out on a date or having a cigarette bummed from you is tantamount to a sexual assault. Meaning Savage, in his attacks on Gillibrand’s advocacy on this issue, ended up proving her point for her.