Jezebel, Daily Beast Falsely Accuse Scott Walker of Lax Sexual Assault Policy

March 2, 2015 Updated: March 2, 2015

Multiple news websites corrected or retracted stories falsely accusing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of wanting to eliminate sexual assault reporting requirements in the state’s university system.

Jezebel reporter Natasha Vargas-Cooper first published the accusation Friday in a article with the headline “Scott Walker Wants Colleges to Stop Reporting Sexual Assaults,” stating that under the new state budget, universities would no longer be required to report the number of sexual assaults on campus to the government

Vargas-Cooper wrote that Walker was a “conservative werewolf” and that the proposal was an attempt to play his “conservative strong man card.” The error was later picked up by the Daily Beast and the Huffington Post.

“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,” Cooper wrote. “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.”

In fact, the University of Wisconsin (UW) system is still required by federal law to submit sexual assault reports to the federal government. University administrators, not Walker, had requested that the requirement to submit reports to the state government be waived because it was redundant.

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.
— Natasha Vargas-Cooper

Jezebel has since posted an update to the story noting the error, but the headline and original story remain in place. As of Monday, the story has been viewed more than 300,000 times.

The Daily Beast has issued a formal retraction of their story, and the headline now reads “Walker Unfairly Attacked on College Rape,” and the Huffington Post issued an update and a new headline. 

Scott Walker has long been an anathema to many on the left since he won a series of high-profile fiscal battles against Wisconsin’s labor unions, and the attack has only intensified since his emergence as a front-runner in the 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the requests were made as a part of reforms that would give UW regents more authority over the higher education system, and notes that funding for the welfare of sexual assault victims has increased under Walker’s watch as governor, according to the Capital Times.

“Throughout his time in office, Governor Walker has made protecting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault a top priority,” Patrick said.

The Jezebel reporter initially blamed Walker’s office for not making the intent of the change in the budget more clear.

“Find another thing to be outraged about sweet, sweet Walkerites,” Cooper tweeted Saturday. “I’m not gonna apologize for reporting what was in the budget. Because that was in the budget. Ask your government to apologize for bad optics.”

Later, after a wave of criticism by conservatives on Twitter, Cooper relented and apologized for not having called Walker’s office to ask about the reform, tweeting “I realize now that it would have been worth a follow up phone call to Walker’s office.”