Dunham and Dumber: Lena's Campus Rape Story Unravels

Lena Dunham – the 28-year-old writer, actress, director – seems to be getting more attention for the writing in her “memoir” Not That Kind of Girl in the past two months, than she has for the writing that won her two Golden Globe Awards and eight nominations for the Emmy Awards for her HBO series Girls.

But this attention isn’t the “good” kind.  As a matter of fact, the amount of negative attention this book has gotten due to investigations by various news outlets is beginning to unravel one of the chapters of her book that centers on an alleged rape from a “campus Republican” named “Barry”, that it outed an innocent man who has racked up a tremendous amount of debt in legal fees trying to clear his name – even AFTER reaching out to Dunham and her publisher Random House a few months ago.

Why is this such a big deal?  For starters, it’s false advertisement.  This is a “memoir,” not a work of fiction.  This “memoir” describes how she became the person she is today – the events in her life – her life experiences. The name “Lena Dunham” has become synonomous with millennial pop culture, and she prides herself on being a “voice” for twenty-somethings with no direction, a dabbler in politics by appearing in a Barack Obama election ad to attract young voters, and acting as a rape survivor/activist.

Dunham also received a reported $3.7 million advance for Not That Kind of Girl, has gone on a worldwide media blitz promoting the book - even selling out places where scalped tickets can be bought for around $900. She’s obviously made a decent amount of money off this “memoir.”  Meanwhile, “Barry” has been stuck with the legal fees of trying to clear his name and identity.

When word broke about the alleged rape in her book, headlines ran with it, and with that exposure came the question of “who exactly was this ‘Barry’ that went to Oberlin College, a campus conservative among a sea of liberals?” Breitbart.com did an in-depth investigative report – even going to Oberlin College to conduct its research and interview several people who went to the school and worked at the same library as “Barry”.

It didn’t take long at all until indeed, they found a young man named Barry, who was a campus conservative, who worked at a library and attended Oberlin College, but other than a few similarities, from the massive list of “identifiers” she gave of “Barry” (the mustache, the radio show he supposedly hosted, his graduation date, had a voice “that went Barry White low”, the purple cowboy boots, etc.)  most everything else didn’t ring true. From Breitbart:

“In the end, Breitbart News could not find a Republican named Barry who attended Oberlin during Dunham's time there who came anywhere close to matching her description of him. In fact, we could not find anyone who remembered any Oberlin Republican who matched Dunham's colorful description.

Under scrutiny, Dunham's rape story didn’t just fall apart; it evaporated into pixie dust and blew away.”

This has become such a big story that Random House – Dunham’s publisher – issued the following statement Tuesday:

“As indicated on the copyright page of Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, some names and identifying details in the book have been changed,” the publisher said in a statement, obtained by The Wrap. “The name ‘Barry‘ referenced in the book is a pseudonym. Random House, on our own behalf and on behalf of our author, regrets the confusion that has led attorney Aaron Minc to post on GoFundMe on behalf of his client, whose first name is Barry.”

“We are offering to pay the fees Mr. Minc has billed his client to date,” the statement continued. “Our offer will allow Mr. Minc and his client to donate all of the crowd-funding raised to not-for-profit organizations assisting survivors of rape and sexual assault.”

Incidentally, this is the first time Random House has referred to the name “Barry” as a pseudonym. Yes, there is a copyright page which states SOME names have been changed to protect the innocent, however, early in the memoir, when Dunham uses a pseudonym, she informs the reader of that fact, but when she first mentions “Barry,” she neglected to do so, leaving the reader to think that is the alleged rapist’s real name.

As the Washington Post’s Eugene Volokh states: “How could Dunham and Random House do this? How could an author and a publisher — again, of a self-described memoir, not a work of fiction — describe a supposed rape by a person, give a (relatively rare) first name and enough identifying details that readers could easily track the person down, and not even mention that “Barry” wasn’t this person’s real name?”

So if it isn’t the “Barry” she suggested, why doesn’t Dunham come forward and tell the real name and get this guy off the streets to keep him from doing the same to someone else?   

Even more, why didn’t Dunham and Random House make this “correction” months ago, when “Barry” had been trying to contact them? The books are already out there and most people will not know of this “correction,” so does it really do “Barry” any good?

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Melissa Mullins's picture

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