Where was journalistic skepticism at Rolling Stone? Dec 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 15 • By PHILIP TERZIAN
With nearly every passing day, yet another detail in last month’s sensational Rolling Stone article alleging gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house collapses under the weight of scrutiny. Its author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, has retreated into strategic silence; her editor, Will Dana, having publicly disavowed the “facts” of the story, is still issuing clarifications and apologies. At this rate, we are unlikely ever to know what (if anything) really happened to “Jackie,” the story’s protagonist and putative heroine, on the UVA campus in 2012, or what impelled her to tell her tale to Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
The conventional wisdom of the moment, especially among those who deployed the Rolling Stone article for political purposes, is that this episode discredits future rape victims and will hamper efforts to raise awareness about sexual assault on college campuses. On the latter point, this may be a salutary development: The oft-cited claims that one in five American women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and that one in four female college students will be raped are almost certainly exaggerations. As for future rape victims, the opposite is likely true: There has never been greater public awareness about sexual assault in America than there is now, especially on campuses; and in any case, rape—which used to be a capital crime in some circumstances—remains a serious felony.
How all this will be sorted out by the University of Virginia is an open question. Once the Rolling Stone article was published, all fraternity and sorority activities were suspended for the balance of the year; and despite revelations about the story’s manifold defects, the administration is sticking with its decision. In the meantime, certain segments of the faculty are determined to prevent this putative crisis from going to waste, and will persist in their efforts to abolish Greek life at UVA.
There is another aspect to the story, however, beyond academic politics, fraternity behavior, or the national debate on sexual assault, the definition of rape, false accusations, and dubious statistics. This is a problem for the press. For just as Rolling Stone has discredited itself with its evident recklessness, the media generally—with a handful of honorable exceptions, notably the Washington Post’s Erik Wemple—have exhibited all the symptoms of political bias, mob mentality, and lazy practices that have done so much to earn the public’s disfavor in recent decades.
There is, to begin with, the abrogation of the bare essentials of journalistic practice. Sabrina Rubin Erdely is entitled to her opinion, of course, and her disdain for fraternity boys and the University of Virginia (not necessarily in that order) is evident throughout her account. But by her own admission, she not only shopped around the country for a story that would support her presumptions about campus “rape culture,” but relied exclusively on the veracity of “Jackie,” making little or no effort to confirm the story’s most improbable details, or confront (much less identify) the seven undergraduates “Jackie” accused of violent rape. For its part, Rolling Stone seems to have disdained the very idea of due diligence, content to publish an accusation of rape without question.
This is not, in itself, a shocking development: Rolling Stone was a hot book during the Nixon and Ford administrations, but its “serious” journalism is largely behind it. That does not explain, however, the willingness of the media, in general, to accept the truth of the allegations against UVA and its “culture”—unless the media are predisposed to do so. Which, of course, they are. Just as the press was quick to embrace the false premises of the 2006 accusation of rape against the Duke lacrosse team, it was equally eager to believe the worst of frat boys, Greek life, social practices, and campus customs at another prestigious Southern institution of higher learning.
This conscious neglect of professional responsibility—indeed, suspension of the media’s natural, and well-advertised, skepticism—might well be explained by an old, and well-warmed, chestnut: political bias. Except that in this case, as in others, credulity and prejudice combine to do genuine harm. For whatever reasons, “Jackie,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Rolling Stone were willing to generate a virtual lynch mob involving serious criminal accusations against (presumably) innocent people. And the press, which should be the first to ask questions, dig into records, and expose contradictions and inconsistencies, was the voice of unreason.
Dec 22, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 15 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
"In the last several years, allegations that college administrators mishandled complaints, or even discouraged victims from filing complaints, have cropped up at Columbia, Yale, Amherst and Vanderbilt, among dozens of other universities. The exact scope of the problem, though, remains muddy. Earlier this year, Vice President Joseph Biden Jr. said that ‘one in five of every one of those young women . . . ’ ” (“Rolling Stone and Rape on Campus,” New York Times, December 8).
10:29 AM, Dec 6, 2014 • By WHITNEY BLAKE
Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone published a bombshell piece that rocked the academic world. In the story, author Sabrina Erdely detailed a horrific crime — a gang rape at one of the fraternities at the University of Virginia that allegedly took place two years ago.
Is this the end of the collegiate bacchanal?Oct 20, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 06 • By HEATHER MAC DONALD
Sexual liberation is having a nervous breakdown on college campuses. Conservatives should be cheering on its collapse; instead they sometimes sound as if they want to administer the victim smelling salts.
9:36 AM, Jun 20, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
Josh Rogin of the Daily Beast reports:
Hillary Clinton is known as a champion of women and girls, but one woman who says she was raped as a 12-year-old in Arkansas doesn’t think Hillary deserves that honor. This woman says Hillary smeared her and used dishonest tactics to successfully get her attacker off with a light sentence -- even though, she claims, Clinton knew he was guilty.
Jun 23, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 39 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
Two weeks ago, George Will wrote a column about how progressives have exaggerated the prevalence of rape on college campuses. The column was not well received by some or even, as a great many of the histrionic responses would indicate, well understood. Last week a press release landed in The Scrapbook’s inbox, headlined: “87,000 Call on The Washington Post to Address Sexism, Fire George Will.” A group called UltraViolet was touting the success of an online petition they’d whipped up over the controversy. From the release:
12:31 PM, May 19, 2014 • By CLAUDIA ANDERSON
This week the Factual Feminist takes on the “rape culture” panic that is riling college campuses with help from the media, radical feminists, and too many politicians. Just as in the shameful panic over alleged child abuse at day care centers that sent innocent people to prison in the 1980s, false statistics, mob tactics at public meetings, and disregard for the principle of “innocent until proven guilty” hold sway among today’s accusers.
7:19 AM, May 2, 2013 • By DANIEL HALPER
Vice President Joe Biden made the case last night at a Washington, D.C. hotel that abused women fear getting "raped again by the system." Biden made the comments in remarks to a fundraiser for the Volunteer Lawyers Project, which is co-chaired by his daughter.
Apr 15, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 29 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
It's become a collegiate tradition as venerable as all-nighters, hacky sack on the quad, and toga parties: the consciousness-raising campus rape hoax. And so it wasn’t particularly surprising when, early last month, it was revealed that a 20-year-old woman named Morgan Triplett, who claimed she had been sexually assaulted at UC Santa Cruz in February, had in fact fabricated the charge.
4:51 PM, Aug 26, 2012 • By FRED BARNES
Support for Republican Todd Akin’s decision to stay in the Missouri Senate race has cratered and so has his favorability. Those findings come from two new polls conducted after Akin created a firestorm with his comment about “legitimate rape.”
12:29 PM, Aug 23, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
Earlier this week, Senator Al Franken of Minnesota joined Vice President Joe Biden for a campaign event in Minnesota.
ABC News reports Dem spin without context.5:26 PM, Aug 22, 2012 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
Democrats are trying to use Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin's bizarre and offensive comments about rape and pregnancy to smear GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. And many journalists are playing along.
According to Chris Good of ABC News:
1:09 PM, Jun 20, 2012 • By DANIEL HALPER
President Obama's Department of Justice recently released new regulations to prevent prison rape. "Sexual violence, against any victim, is an assault on human dignity and an affront to American values," Obama said when announcing the new initiative. "The Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003 (PREA) was enacted with bipartisan support and established a 'zero-tolerance standard' for rape in prisons in the United States."