Internet Controversy alert: A recent column by syndicated commentator George Will proves that he is a misogynistic rape apologist. I’ll save you a Google search and just give you the Huffington Post’s archive for posts tagged “George Will.”

If you read the op-ed, or an article about the op-ed, and felt moved toward Internet Rage, then I have a couple of questions for you.

First question: How did you even hear about this “controversial” column?

Because I know you. You read Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Slate, the front page of Reddit, and whatever’s in your social feeds. If you think people think you’re smart, you might even read NPR. But you don’t read septuagenarian newspaper columnists in print newspapers that are aimed toward your parents’ demo, unless – oh, you saw it on Facebook or Twitter?

Okay, so you saw this because somebody presented it to you and told you it was offensive.

This isn’t a post about whether George Will is awesome or horrible, right or wrong, or whether he’s an old, tone-deaf commentator who’s out of touch with Gen Y (N.B. he is). I’m telling you that the reaction to Will’s column is totally out of proportion to the actual influence this or any one of his columns could ever have had.

On Tuesday, The Atlantic’s own token conservative Conor Friedersdorf devoted almost 3000 words towards explaining what should be clear to any person capable of critical thought: George Will almost certainly did not mean that victims of sexual assault literally “enjoy” and seek out a “coveted status” as assault survivors. Rather, overzealous progressive campus politics frequently throw away quite sensible things like due process and rights of the accused. (Yes, CNN contributor, I grant you that it’s easier to willfully misread Will and get on your own soapbox, instead).

Which leads me to my second question: Are progressives even pretending to respect other viewpoints anymore?

I get it. The phrase ideological diversity sounds like a codeword that betrays the true intentions of the person who utters them. We all know “states’ rights” = racist slavery proponent, and “family values” = gay sex is icky. If you’re the kind of person the media has trained to “think critically,”* then sure, “ideological diversity” sounds like a campaign to get more gay- and women-hate into the news media.

Fortunately, though, ideological diversity doesn’t have to mean an op-ed page that balances an essay about sexual assault with a piece that says, “actually, rape is awesome.”  It also doesn’t mean having one token-conservative-but-actually-moderate guy that allows your readers to believe they’re getting “both sides of the issue.”

Supporting diversity of opinion does mean allowing room for discussion about the merits of ideas and policy, the interpretation of a set of facts, the nuances of a media narrative, etc. In my experience, reasonable people, when pressed, generally don’t agree with statements like “it’s my business what strangers do behind closed doors” or “some people really deserve to get raped.”

Reasonable people can, however, disagree on issues such as:

  • Whether a law dictating that sexual partners obtain express consent from each other before any sexual contact occurs is workable in our legal system, or even a good idea.
  • Whether campus disciplinary procedures are more effective than the courts at adjudicating sexual assault cases while maintaining due process.
  • Whether “society” even has a duty to provide a college (or even primary) education to every citizen, what that education should include (and exclude), and whether a public institution is the optimal way to meet this goal.

It seems that progressives seem to have forgotten that in their collective rush to Get Outraged and Do Something.

Internet outrage has become the progressive counterpart to the Parents Television Council, infamous for sparking massive letter-writing campaigns against any act of violence, sex, or gayness depicted on television. Fortunately, people learned long ago not to take the PTC too seriously, and signs increasingly point to the Internet Outrage Machine becoming a parody of itself.

*Critical thinking: scanning columns for codewords or other evidence that the author isn’t sufficiently committed to the politics of the average left-of-center, college-credentialed, coastal-dwelling, white-collared organ donor.