Favorite

Rolling Stone forgot the truth 

So here's my question: Why would a conscientious citizen ever again trust anything published in Rolling Stone? To me, the diligent professors at the Columbia School of Journalism went too easy on the magazine's reporters and editors.

Rolling Stone's doomed article about a make-believe gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house was more than "a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable." The magazine and its editors made themselves willing, if not downright eager, parties to a hoax — and not a terribly sophisticated hoax at that.

Frankly, it's getting to where the cultural left's credulousness about melodramatic tales of victimization quite matches the conspiracy mongering of the right.

But hold that thought.

That nobody's resigning or getting fired strikes me as the death knell for Rolling Stone's reputation. More than that, its editors profess themselves "unanimous in the belief that the story's failure does not require them to change their editorial systems." They even insist that the article's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, will write for them again.

I'll believe that when I see it. Perhaps she can write captions for cute kitten photos or an astrology column. Have I mentioned that Erdely teaches journalism classes at the University of Pennsylvania?

Anyway, to hear them tell it, the editors' biggest mistake was bending over backward to protect the tender sensibilities of the "survivor of a terrible sexual assault." One confessed that "ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting. We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice."

Noble sentiments. However, what rape victim? After a four-month probe, the Charlottesville police department concluded there was no credible evidence to support Rolling Stone's melodramatic narrative. None whatsoever. Although the police chief — clearly pandering to campus political sentiments — conceded that his investigation didn't prove nothing bad ever happened to "Jackie," the magazine's one-and-only source.

Of course no investigation can ever prove such a thing. Only that not a single verifiable element of Jackie's story checked out. There wasn't even a frat party on the night of the supposed drunken gangbang.

Of the many falsehoods Jackie spun for the enraptured Erdely, my personal favorite is "Haven Monahan." That's the name of the handsome classmate Jackie told friends escorted her to the imaginary party. The friends were unable to confirm that the fellow was enrolled at UVa, possibly because — and what are the odds? — there appears to be nobody by that name living anywhere in the United States of America.

Erdely told the Columbia sleuths she began to harbor doubts about Jackie's trustworthiness when she wasn't sure how to spell her betrayer's name. Alas, her Rolling Stone piece was already in print; she'd been touting it all over MSNBC and CNN. The J-School team politely pretended to believe this improbable tale.

Because until then, see, neither Erdely, her editors, Rolling Stone's fact-checkers, nor even — astonishing to me — the magazine's libel lawyers had done a single bit of journalistic due diligence regarding Jackie's tale of woe. They'd swallowed it whole, making no effort to contact the three pseudonymous friends whom the magazine "quoted" as warning Jackie that reporting the crime would make her a campus pariah. They'd taken Jackie's word for it.

It was the same with the alleged perps. Erdely took no serious steps to contact them. Even the failure of Jackie's mother to return phone calls failed to clue the enraptured reporter that something might be fishy. Her editors played right along.

Actually, there's a psychiatric term called "folie à deux" in which two closely allied persons come to share the same delusional belief. However, it's impossible to know Jackie's state of mind, since she's gone into hiding. By her own account, Erdely arrived in Charlottesville with strong convictions about campus "rape culture" and the wickedness of WASP fraternity boys — particularly Southern ones.

She let the theme determine the facts, an elementary blunder. "Those failures were so profound and so basic that it's hard to know how we can even look at this as a teachable moment," writes Northeastern University journalism professor Dan Kennedy on his "Media Nation" blog. "The lesson is 'don't do any of this.' "

Writing in The Daily Beast, Columbia University linguist John McWhorter challenges what he sees as the self-delusions of the sentimental left: "The whole sordid affair has been about something much larger: the idea that the pursuit of justice can be separated from facts; that metaphorical truth can be more important than literal truth."

That is, that because some girls get mauled at fraternity parties, all self-proclaimed "survivors" should be depicted as martyrs. To dissent is seen as symptomatic of bad faith or worse. Resisting such thinking, whether in Charlottesville or Ferguson, Mo., can be hard.

Even so, it's a journalist's most important job.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
    • Jul 27, 2017
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • Blaming Obama

    A couple of months ago, on May 10, President Trump invited two Russian diplomats into the White House to celebrate his firing of FBI Director James Comey.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Not again

    This just in: Nothing boosts circulation or enhances ratings like a sex scandal.
    • Jan 14, 2016
  • Never wrong

    Quite a few people make noises about leaving the country if the wrong person gets elected president. I've been making discreet inquiries in the vicinity of Kinsale, County Cork, myself — from whence my people emigrated after 1880.
    • Apr 21, 2016
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
    • Jul 28, 2016

Most Shared

  • 'Cemetery angel' Ruth Coker Burks featured in new short film

    Ruth Coker Burks, the AIDS caregiver and activist memorably profiled by David Koon as the cemetery angel in Arkansas Times in 2015, is now the subject of a short film made by actress Rose McGowan.
  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
  • Not Whitewater

    Just think: If Democrats had turned out 78,000 more votes in three states in November, people could be reveling today in the prospect of impeaching and convicting President Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, as some Republican lawmakers had promised to try to do if she won.
  • Head-shaking

    Another edition of so-much-bad-news-so-little space.

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.
    • Jul 27, 2017
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • No one in charge

    The American president has long been described with the honorific "Leader of the Free World." No more.
    • Jul 13, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Buyer remorse

    Out here in flyover country, you can't hardly go by the feed store without running into a reporter doing one of those Wisdom of the Heartland stories.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Buyer remorse

    • IBS, you're from Chicago, right? Hillary's from Chicago. Your monomania against Hillary is puzzling and…

    • on July 27, 2017
  • Re: Buyer remorse

    • When we had not one but TWO shit candidates running for president, is it really…

    • on July 27, 2017
  • Re: Buyer remorse

    • So Gene Lyons says all people who voted for Trump fall into just two categories…

    • on July 27, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation