It’s called The B.S. Report. But ESPN’s Bill Simmons never bothered to call B.S., or even ask a challenging question, during his hour-plus interview with Girls star and Not That Kind of Girl author Lena Dunham.
Simmons instead volunteered that criticism of Dunham’s book “veered into a smear campaign.” The Grantland founder declared, “I read the book and thought, ‘She’s just being super candid.’”
Others thought the opposite. In painting a Rashomon picture of a possible sexual assault she endured at college, Dunham’s book describes her assailant in terms that left no such ambiguity. Despite a classmate’s attorney contacting Random House in early October, the New York publisher waited until December to clear him. “Dunham says it’s just a coincidence that her fictional prominent Oberlin Republican rapist named Barry who worked at a campus library matches an actual prominent Oberlin Republican named Barry who worked at a campus library,” John Nolte marveled at Breitbart.
“There was an unfortunate coincidence in my book in which the name in one of the guys, the pseudonym I used, matched the name of someone else who had also attended my college,” Dunham admitted to Simmons. “I feel awful if anybody who was innocent was injured in the process of putting the story out.”
Rather than press her on her book possibly besmirching an innocent man’s character, Simmons argued that Dunham’s critics had sullied her reputation by pulling “strategically-picked, smear-campaign quotes” from her book. Dunham agreed. “That article came out the day after I launched a Planned Parenthood campaign and the day before the midterm elections,” she reported about a piece grossed-out by her childhood fascination with vaginas. “One thing I’ll never say about right-wing websites—they’re good at what they do. They know how to do it. They line it up and they knock it down.”
Acknowledging that she hails from “a very liberal, specific pocket of the world,” the New York-raised, Oberlin-educated, HBO star confessed that attacks on her book regarding her confessions of sexual precociousness caught her off guard. “Even though I’m aware of what the values of much of America are,” Dunham noted, “I’ve been so sheltered from them that it was, like, I was genuinely surprised by certain reactions.”
“For creativity in general, and honesty,” the host responded, “I’m really worried that we’re going to end up in this world where nobody says anything.”
The conversation featured at ESPN’s Grantland focused mostly on matters extraneous to her controversial book. Dunham tells of her mother bringing her to the Lilith Fair for her first concert after lying to friends that she would be attending too, crying when she read Rolling Stone’s retraction of its University of Virginia rape story, and the importance of the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs “battle of the sexes” tennis match in the development of her feminism. “A part of my feminist education was my dad showing me that match when I was a little kid,” she reveals. When Simmons explains that the match with Riggs was probably, well, rigged, Dunham responds: “Which I don’t want to know about.”
Despite the success of her HBO show, rock-star boyfriend, and bestselling memoir, Dunham reports harboring “real fears” about her future. “What if my daughter literally is like Phyllis Schlafly? What if she literally is like against everything I stand for?”
And a fawning Bill Simmons, redundantly acknowledging his friendship with Dunham, nods along throughout The B.S. Report’s conversation.
“I don’t care what conservative white men think about me,” Dunham, after calling the criticism “painful,” divulges. “But I do care if anything I write is painful for survivors of sexual abuse, if anything I write is painful for other feminists. The difference between not caring sort of what your sort of enemy party thinks of you and caring about how you effect people whose values line up with yours is very vast.”