Stephen Michaud, the interviewer who got Ted Bundy to confess, did so by asking him to describe his crimes in the third person, as if the serial killer were a crime scene investigator. But because Bundy had done the things he was describing, the veil eventually fell away, leaving Bundy nakedly describing his own actions, unencumbered by hypotheticals. In her interview with Harvey Weinstein’s attorney Donna Rotunno for The Daily, Megan Twohey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who helped break the Weinstein story, employs much the same technique, allowing Rotunno to speak in hypotheticals until she’s all but said that even if Weinstein sexually assaulted women in hotel rooms, the women are equally to blame.
Defenders of men accused of sexual assault generally stick to the same argument—that “real” victims exist, but this particular man is one of the unfortunate few falsely implicated. It’s a way of planting doubt in an individual case without seeming dismissive of rape in general. But over the course of her interview with Twohey, Rotunno slowly reveals that she doesn’t seem to believe sexual assault exists unless perpetrated by someone who jumps out of the bushes in dark alley. Her disbelief becomes more frightening as the veil slowly comes off, moving Rotunno’s speech from hypotheticals to first-person statements that more plainly reveal what seem to be her opinions. Rotunno begins to sound as if she would blame victims for their own alleged assaults even if she weren’t being paid to do so.
Most of The Daily’s interview consists of the standard victim-blaming as Rotunno spews demonstrably untrue, yet predictable statements about the criminal justice system favoring victims and police officers automatically believing rape allegations as gospel. But halfway through these rote ideas, a rhetorical shift occurs: Rotunno begins speaking about women in the second person, putting Twohey, and by proxy, the listener in the position of someone who has entered a hotel room where they will be alone with a man:
“Women cannot be equal if women don’t start taking on equal risk,” Rotunno says, presumably equating “risk” with a shared responsibility for sexual assault. “When you’re put in circumstances that are questionable or negative or you don’t want to be in or you think this is the only way that I’m going to get the job, we know that that’s ridiculous. We know that if women stand up and say ‘I’m not going to take this; I’m not going to do this, you have other options.’”
The shift to the collective first person, “We” does not mean “women,” instead the pronoun seems to encompass reasonable people—people unlike Twohey and any listeners of her interview—who know better than to go into hotel rooms with men, a group with which Rotunno aligns herself. Twohey presses on this rhetorical trick, asking Rutunno to clarify exactly who she means when she says “You,” all women who go into hotel rooms alone with a man or the Weinstein accusers specifically.
But Rotunno doesn’t directly answer the question. She moves into the specifics of the case while keeping the pronoun: “If you are asked to go to an event for the Oscars and then you are asked to go out for drinks after the Oscars and then you are asked at midnight to come up and see a script, at some point, the radar has to go off,” she told Twohey.
By turning the listener into “you,” she’s not asking them to empathize with the victims, she’s actually asking them to know better; to admit that the victim’s situation was the result of poor judgment, and thus avoidable, thereby making any sexual assault that did occur in a hotel room at least partially the victim’s fault. Then at the end of the interview, “you” and “we” fall away, leaving Rotunno to finally use the first person “I,” taking full ownership of her opinions when Twohey asks if Rotunno has ever been sexually assaulted:
“I have not,” she says, and then after a pause continues, “Because I would never put myself in that position.” Twohey, a bit taken aback, asks her if she means that she has never been sexually assaulted because she never allowed herself to be sexually assaulted. “No, I have always made choices from college-age on where I never drank too much; I never went home with someone I didn’t know; I never put myself in any vulnerable circumstance,” Rotunno replies.
Twohey sounds stunned as Rotunno begins to delineate between these “real victims,” women who have been pulled into alleyways and sexually assaulted, from women in situations like the ones women allegedly found themselves in with Weinstein, alone with a man, assuming that he would not sexually assault them, a group Rotunno, once again, uses language to distance herself from:
“You make a choice to go into their home at the end of the night what do you think could potentially happen if you’re not prepared. I think we’re kidding ourselves, and then to leave and say I had no idea that this person would maybe try to be sexual with me or have a sexual advance I think is naive.” When Twohey pushes back on this logic, Rotunno reiterates that the blame for sexual assault at the hands of an acquaintance should be split down the middle.“I think it should rest equally,” she tells Twohey. “I think absolutely that women should take on equal risk that men are taking on.”
The “risk,” as framed by Twohey’s question is sexual assault, which Rutunno doesn’t seem to believe is a crime, or at least becomes a crime in which the victim is complicit, if “you” happen to be voluntarily alone with a man.
Defense attorneys use victim-blaming statements all the time; they question what the victim was wearing at the time of the assault, or how much they had to drink, or their sexual history. But generally, these defenses are cushioned with statements that assure the listener that, of course, some women are legitimately sexually assaulted, just not this particular woman. Rotunno’s verbal tic suggests something more chilling—that she doesn’t actually believe most women at all.