Who Do You Believe?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 15.678% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Early yesterday, I read a horrifying link someone posted on Twitter about Daniel Tosh making a rather horrible rape joke.  I read the incident, which boiled down to “This woman who I don’t know at all said that Daniel Tosh did something truly horrible.”  And I went, “Well, Daniel Tosh is a douche, and this certainly sounds like something he might do… but in the end, I have zero idea who this woman is and I’m not entirely sure I want to spread this around as though it were factually reported.”
So I didn’t Tweet it.  I would have if I’d known this person, or someone I trusted knew her… but I didn’t feel comfortable disseminating information to thousands of people without more than “one woman was really upset.”
Yet thousands of people did feel comfortable passing that along.  And so it blew up into a huge PR fiasco for Mr. Tosh, who half-heartedly apologized in that haphazard way that comedians do (“I’m sorry if I offended you, but I’m here to talk about uncomfortable things!”).
But I still don’t know what happened.
There’s no video, like the Michael Richards stupidity of a few years ago – just this one person who is very, very upset.  And the club owner, who was also there, claims that things happened differently.  And okay, the club owner sounds a tad douchey himself (“If you’re offended, why would you take a couple tickets to come back to the club again?” – well, probably because you weren’t willing to offer cash refunds, dude, and they felt you giving them something in recompense is better than nothing).
But as far as the actual joke itself, I have yet to see hard facts on the ground about what exactly what was said.  No video, just two people batting interpretations back and forth.  And that’s troubling to me.
On the one hand, this issue raises some very valid conversations about rape and comedy: is someone objecting to objectionable material a dumb heckler, or a woman taking a bold and necessary stand?  How do rape jokes make it easier for rapists to justify their actions?  (Because, y’know, they kinda do.)  What sorts of subjects are okay to make fun of?  When does responding to a heckler become an act of oppression?
All good questions.  I’m glad to see them raised.  These furor-storms are useful for raising awareness of tricky issues.
But perhaps I’m unusual in that I also want to know that the incident that triggered it was reported accurately.
Sure, it sounds like something Tosh would have said, because based on past actions, Tosh is a creep.  I have zero doubt he made a rape joke that wasn’t funny at all.  But was he actually encouraging the rape of the woman in the audience by saying it’d be high-sterical if five audience members gang-raped her right now?
I dunno.  Conservatives I know pass on links about things that sound good to them, and they don’t fact-check either, and they phrase them as though this totally happened.  And then, when it turns out things didn’t quite happen in that way, they shrug and say, “Well, this is the sort of thing that does happen all the time, so the truth doesn’t matter.”  And I think it does.  I think when someone who isn’t on your side finds out that you’re just sort of hand-waving the facts at the center of things, it calls all the rest of your argument into doubt. It makes it easier for those who don’t want to think about ugly truths to go, “Well, that never happened, so nothing like it ever happened.”
And had the majority of Tweets started with, “This is what someone claims,” then I’d be cool.  But most of it is, “This one stranger’s word is enough to build a whole case on!”  And I’m cynical that even if I hear something that totally sounds like something someone I absolutely despise would do, I wait for at least a secondary confirmation.
(And maybe her version of events was confirmed – I’m not following all the links.  But if so, the confirmation certainly hasn’t circulated to the extent that the original version has.  At this point, given the two data points, I’m far more willing to take her word over the comedy club owner, who goes the old route of “Hey, if 300 people are applauding, can it be bad?” and then I bite my tongue to avoid invoking Godwin’s Law.)
Maybe that lack of verifiability is a good thing.  Because hell, if the only time a link got circulated was if the Tweeter knew the originator (or knew someone who knew someone who did), then most outrageous stories would get zero traction at all.  And as I will stress, again, it’s good to have these kinds of difficult conversations.  If someone’s acted like a douche on the level that Tosh supposedly has, then he should be called out, and should have to deal with some debate as to his actions.  As should any public figure.
Yet I kind of wish we also took a second to put some disclaimer in.  Not “This is what happened,” but “If true, this is terrible.”  Though I suppose that distinction’s a little too long for a Tweet.

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