The president of Florida State University today blasted CNN for its planned airing Sunday of The Hunting Ground, a documentary about campus rape, calling it an “inaccurate and incomplete” picture of the way colleges nationwide are dealing with allegations of sexual assault.
The film by Oscar-nominated director Kirby Dick “contains major distortions and glaring omissions to support its simplistic narrative that colleges and universities are to blame for our national sexual assault crisis,” FSU President John Thrasher said in a statement.
Comparing the film to the now-discredited Rolling Stone article about an alleged rape of a University of Virginia student, Thrasher said that he and several other unnamed college presidents have declined CNN’s invitation to join a televised panel discussion to defend their schools and critique the film following its broadcast.
“Most, if not all” of the college presidents who were invited to sit on the panel, he said, “declined, seeing this gesture for the window dressing it was. We wanted no part in making CNN look like it was being fair while allowing the network to kick the can of journalistic integrity down the road.”
Five months ago, he said, “We approached CNN’s general counsel, along with the executive vice president for News Standards and Practices, to express our concerns about the factual, statistical and ethical defects in the film. We also questioned whether the filmmakers ever intended to follow journalistic conventions of accuracy, fairness and objectivity by providing strong evidence that should have forced the network to revise, if not rethink, its airing of the film without making substantial editing changes. Instead, CNN viewers will hear an incomplete and misleading description of the University’s thorough Title IX investigation, handed to an independent judge — a former state Supreme Court justice — who concluded there was not enough evidence to support the complainant’s allegations of sexual assault.”
Thrasher is particularly irate about the film’s presentation of allegations of sexual assault by its former star quarterback. “FSU plays a prominent part in the film in a one-sided segment accusing Tallahassee police and the University of ignoring sexual assault allegations against former quarterback Jameis Winston to protect the athletic program,” he said. “It is inexcusable for a network as respected as CNN to pretend that the film is a documentary rather than an advocacy piece. Yet with its co-production and airing of it, CNN is putting its imprimatur on a film that falls far short of the basic reporting standards we expect from a cable TV news outlet that calls itself ‘the most trusted name in news.’”
Insisting that his university “does not tolerate rape,” Thrasher said that “FSU’s policies in this area have been a model for other universities; nevertheless, we recently reviewed and improved them, made them easier to access on the web, bolstered bystander training, increased sexual responsibility training for incoming freshmen and hired a full-time Title IX officer to handle the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault complaints. You will not see or hear any of this in The Hunting Ground. And that is why I – and I believe the presidents of other universities portrayed in the film – have decided not to participate. It’s about the journalism, not the subject.”