journalists are rarely in a position to prove guilt or innocence in rape
April 5, 2015 7:33 PM   Subscribe

Rolling Stone has published an exhaustive Columbia School of Journalism study on their flawed reporting of an accusation of gang-rape at a University of Virginia fraternity (previously), with recommendations both for Rolling Stone and for media outlets globally about how to report on rape more responsibly in the future.
posted by gerryblog (166 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
tl;dr avoid hubris like this:
In an interview, Mr. Dana said he had reached many of the same conclusions as the Columbia report in his own efforts to examine the article, but he disagreed with the report’s assertion that the magazine had staked its reputation on the word of one source. “I think if you take a step back, our reputation rests on a lot more than this one story,” he said.
posted by Little Dawn at 7:46 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I find it disgusting that Sabrina Rudin Erdely apologized in the NY Times to readers, colleagues, sexual assault survivors and the UVA community in general, but not to the fraternity or to those that she misquoted, mischaracterized and/or defamed, whose reputations were harmed and who may have been materially affected, at least for a time, by this false story.
posted by knoyers at 7:57 PM on April 5, 2015 [35 favorites]


There was failure at every step up and down the line. Perhaps if you wish to preserve a reputation, don't go into the reportage of a story with your goal of the printed words alresdy set.
posted by scottymac at 8:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm glad the report calls them out on this,

"Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting," Woods said. "We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice."
-
Yet the explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. Erdely's reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie's position.

They didn't have to get tough and grill her or anything, just do their jobs to see if they can verify what she claims.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:01 PM on April 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


I read investigative journalism all the time, but outside of a few movies (mostly about Watergate) this is one of the only clear explanations of the process that I have seen. Clearly their process failed at every step, and this piece must be uncomfortable reading for the people involved. But I can also see how each misstep was so small and so easy to rationalize; I am sure those same shortcuts are taken all the time, but usually things don't end in a big disaster.

The article is long, but it is worth reading. It ends with some discussion of other reporters who have been investigating the same issue, and the processes that they use.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


from the Columbia report:
Rolling Stone’s senior editors are unanimous in the belief that the story’s failure does not require them to change their editorial systems. “It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Dana said. “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.” Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, said, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.”

Yet better and clearer policies about reporting practices, pseudonyms and attribution might well have prevented the magazine’s errors.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:07 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Dip Flash - I was a bit nervous about posting it, because I worried the comments might devolve into a nightmare, but it really is a fascinating read about investigative journalism beyond the sensationalism and kneejerk politicization of the subject matter.
posted by gerryblog at 8:07 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


What a strange story. There's just so many layers of screw ups. Even putting aside the debacle of the article, the aftermath of figuring out how this happened has so many problems. The only thing Rolling Stone has to say for itself is finger-pointing, victim blaming, and inconsistent story-telling. "It was her fault! No wait, I mean... It was the fact checkers fault! No wait.. Columbia, come help us fix this! No wait, they're wrong, we didn't screw anything up!"

And I do still consider Jackie a victim. Whatever happened, we'll never know now, but the story in Rolling Stone obviously never should have been published. But Rolling Stone wants to blame everyone but themselves.
posted by bleep at 8:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


Kudos to The Rolling Stone for having an investigation done on exactly how they managed to do an incredible number of amauterish fuckups.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:16 PM on April 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


To this day, I still don't understand why the accuser's story was considered false. To my understanding, all that happened was that some of the men she accused stepped up and disagreed with her tale of events. What am I missing?
posted by zug at 8:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


WaPo:
Despite presenting in her story comments from three friends who advised Jackie that night not to report the rape, Erdely never spoke with those friends and made little effort to do so, the report confirmed. The friends — Ryan Duffin, Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock — said Erdely never contacted them and denied that they had told Jackie to remain silent about the alleged crime.

In fact, Erdely wrote in her article that she had contacted Duffin and that he declined to be interviewed. That statement is apparently false; Duffin told The Post he was never contacted by Rolling Stone.
the Columbia Report:
With her digital recorder running, the reporter again asked about speaking to Ryan. “I did talk to Ryan,” Jackie disclosed. She said she had bumped into him and had asked if he would be interested in talking to Rolling Stone. Jackie went on to quote Ryan’s incredulous reaction: “No! … I’m in a fraternity here, Jackie, I don’t want the Greek system to go down, and it seems like that’s what you want to happen. … I don’t want to be a part of whatever little shit show you’re running.”

“Ryan is obviously out,” Erdely told Jackie a little later. [...]

If Erdely had learned Ryan’s account that Jackie had fabricated their conversation, she would have changed course immediately, to research other UVA rape cases free of such contradictions, she said later.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


Erdely's career can't survive this
posted by Renoroc at 8:20 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting," Woods said. "We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice."

I guess the other journalists and magazines who have reported on rape in the military, colleges, the prison system, and the population at large without their stories being exposed as fraudulent have just been lucky, then? Fuck you, Rolling Stone.
posted by sallybrown at 8:21 PM on April 5, 2015 [35 favorites]


zug: I think you're thinking of a different case. What happened in this one was pretty definitive, at least as far as these things go: Jackie's story underwent a number of permutations, but seems to have originated in a bizarre, catfish-style attempt to manipulate a crush. That the fraternity didn't have a party that night is only the least of the problems with the story as presented; the person at the center of the accusation seems not to exist at all.

That's not to say the story is an absolute or malicious lie, but there's very little reason to credit it at this point, something the police and CSJ both try to nuance as best they can.
posted by gerryblog at 8:23 PM on April 5, 2015 [15 favorites]


Erdely's career can't survive this

No reason why it should. Her mistakes were incredibly obvious.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


some legal commentary on Twitter is saying that RS giving investigation responsibility to CJR, RS not firing anyone and RS/Erdely avoiding apologizing to anyone who might sue is all a careful counter-litigation strategy.
posted by Bwithh at 8:36 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


To this day, I still don't understand why the accuser's story was considered false. To my understanding, all that happened was that some of the men she accused stepped up and disagreed with her tale of events. What am I missing?
posted by zug at 8:18 PM on April 5 [+] [!]


Apparently, 1) there was no party on the night in question, 2) she apparently fabricated the conversations she had with her friends, 3) the name of the rapist(s) have changed numerous times as the story evolved, 4) it appears that Jackie went to special lengths to manipulate the reporting about her incident ("don't talk to these people, I'm not comfortable with that.."), refusing to answer pertinent questions, etc.

The problem, of course, is that all of these behaviors could also be the result of extreme trauma. I'm personally at a loss for how to deal with these issues.

How do you verify a victim's story without re-traumatizing them?
posted by Avenger at 8:36 PM on April 5, 2015 [13 favorites]


And I do still consider Jackie a victim.

I agree. Did I miss anything in the CJR review where Jackie is asked to respond to Erdely's account of her inconsistencies? Did they try to contact her, at least, since her character seems thoroughly assassinated in the CJR article? I saw in the WaPo article linked by gerryblog that Jackie's lawyer was refusing comment back in December, but I found it odd that CJR made no attempt to give her a chance to defend herself.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:37 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


How do you verify a victim's story without re-traumatizing them?

from the Columbia Report:
Kristen Lombardi, who spent a year and a half reporting the Center for Public Integrity’s series on campus sexual assault, said she made it explicit to the women she interviewed that the reporting process required her to obtain documents, collect evidence and talk to as many people involved in the case as possible, including the accused. She prefaced her interviews by assuring the women that she believed in them but that it was in their best interest to make sure there were no questions about the veracity of their accounts. She also allowed victims some control, including determining the time, place and pace of their interviews.

If a woman was not ready for such a process, Lombardi said, she was prepared to walk away. [...]

Walt Bogdanich, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for The New York Times who has spent the past two years reporting on campus rape, said he tries to track down every available shred of corroborating evidence - hospital records, 911 calls, text messages or emails that have been sent immediately after the assault. In some cases, it can be possible to obtain video, either from security cameras or from cellphones.

Many assaults take place or begin in semipublic places such as bars, parties or fraternity houses. “Campus sexual violence probably has more witnesses, bystanders, etc. than violence in other contexts,” said Elana Newman, a University of Tulsa psychology professor who has advised journalists on trauma. “It might be useful for journalists to think about all the early signals and signs” and people who saw or ignored them early on, she said.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:39 PM on April 5, 2015 [42 favorites]


Did I miss anything in the CJR review where Jackie is asked to respond to Erdely's account of her inconsistencies? Did they try to contact her, at least, since her character seems thoroughly assassinated in the CJR article?
-
(Jackie declined to respond to questions for this report. Her lawyer said it "is in her best interest to remain silent at this time." The quotations attributed to Jackie here come from notes Erdely said she typed contemporaneously or from recorded interviews.)
posted by Drinky Die at 8:41 PM on April 5, 2015 [7 favorites]


Oops, thanks for clarifying -- didn't see that part.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 8:41 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


WTF. No one at Rolling Stone is being fired, including Erdeley, and the editor denies that any major change in their practices is needed. Erdeley doesn't even apologize to the people she falsely accused in her statement.
posted by gsteff at 8:44 PM on April 5, 2015


I don't see the need for Jackie to defend herself. I think there is a very good possibility that she has been forced to re-live this incident too many times already. There are few at that age of either gender that are sophisticated enough to run the type of long con being very belatedly alleged here. The trauma can make for some inconsistencies. RS went hunting among several universities for their campus rape exposee, and found their perfect tale at UVa. Their sloppiness at the reportorial, fact checker and editorial levels certainly makes them the last party appropriate to point a finger at Jackie for a lack of credibility.
posted by scottymac at 8:46 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


NYMag has a good (not updated for the CJR report today yet) summary page of reports on the UVA case since the start, including re: the problems with the texts and phone numbers in Jackie's story which (sez Twitter commentary) don't seem to be mentioned in the CJR report
posted by Bwithh at 8:49 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's more than one kind of victim. A young college student had her life turned upside down by a bunch of professionals doing their jobs wrong.
posted by bleep at 8:53 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]


How do you verify a victim's story without re-traumatizing them?

That might be a problem for counsellors and law-enforcement personnel, but reporters can always choose a different subject, one whose story can be confirmed via external sources. They don't need to ignore those other victims. Erdeley apparently chose to go with "Jackie" because she was looking for the most thrilling and shocking story imaginable; a more responsible approach wouldn't have been as rewarding.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:56 PM on April 5, 2015 [28 favorites]


from the Columbia Report:
Rolling Stone’s retraction of its reporting about Jackie concerned the story it printed. The retraction cannot be understood as evidence about what actually happened to Jackie on the night of Sept. 28, 2012. If Jackie was attacked and, if so, by whom, cannot be established definitively from the evidence available.

Jackie’s phone records from September 2012 would provide strong evidence about what might have befallen her. But the Charlottesville police said the company they asked to produce Jackie’s phone records no longer had her records from 2012. After interviewing about 70 people and obtaining access to some university and fraternity records, the Charlottesville police could say only that they found no evidence of the gang rape Rolling Stone described. This finding, said Police Chief Timothy Longo, “doesn’t mean that something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie” that night.
Twitter might want to read all the way down to footnote 2...
posted by Little Dawn at 8:59 PM on April 5, 2015 [6 favorites]



There's more than one kind of victim. A young college student had her life turned upside down by a bunch of professionals doing their jobs wrong.


It seems to me there are a whole lot of people who have been put through the incompetent journalistic wringer here.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:05 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see the need for Jackie to defend herself.

I don't see the point of Jackie defending herself at this point. It is abundantly clear that she lied about various things, invented various things and even imaginary characters completely, and the magnitude of it can hardly be explained by confusion or memory gaps. She has lied so many times that if some sexual trauma did actually happen to her at some point, she is the "boy who cried wolf."

Although Jackie knowingly lied to Rolling Stone and others, it isn't Jackie's fault that Rolling Stone published her story without verifying it at all, and Jackie may have a psychiatric problem. But Jackie is still definitely a party to whatever humiliation she has suffered. And if things had gone differently, Jackie's lies could have gotten innocent people expelled or prosecuted.

Hopefully Jackie has benefitted society by demonstrating in a public manner that rape claims, like accusations of any serious crime, must be thoroughly investigated in a transparent process with presumption of innocence/burden of proof.
posted by knoyers at 9:06 PM on April 5, 2015 [24 favorites]


RS' entire response does make sense if you see them as trying to avoid massive litigation. Firing Erdely, changing editorial policy, or apologizing to the fraternity could all be seen as admissions of, essentially, various kinds of guilt. So they do none of that.

It seems to me that the fraternity has a decent case. It shouldn't be hard to prove harm and RS was obviously negligent here even if they won't admit it.

Looking forward to the full(ish) report on the 8th.
posted by Justinian at 9:11 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


Twitter might want to read all the way down to footnote 2...

Well, yes, it's no big revelation that one can very rarely prove something didn't happen during a nebulous time frame in a nebulous location. But it's clear that neither the police nor, now, RS believe anything remotely like what was reported occurred. The most likely explanation seems to be some sort of weird catfishing gone wrong which led to a story receiving far more widespread attention than intended.
posted by Justinian at 9:15 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure the fraternity will sue Rolling Stone, but it says something about the system that part of the reason they didn't object to this story more fervently from the beginning was that they couldn't keep the details of the various sexual assault allegations at their frat house straight.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:18 PM on April 5, 2015 [38 favorites]


weird catfishing gone wrong

Can you elaborate on that? I guess I'm not familiar enough with the concept of catfishing to be able to derive the meaning.
posted by zixyer at 9:22 PM on April 5, 2015


This individual is attempting to say boys will be boys, or claiming a false accusation.
posted by scottymac at 9:25 PM on April 5, 2015


Can you elaborate on that?

The evidence suggests Jackie was making up people she was dating/seeing before the alleged incident occurred. "Catfishing" is when you make up online people or pretend to be someone you're not for various shady purposes. Like Kaycee Nicole. I think it comes from the movie "Catfish".
posted by Justinian at 9:26 PM on April 5, 2015


There is the WaPo article upthread that explains it pretty clearly.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 9:27 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


One of my first reactions on reading the piece for the first time was that, what was being described in this crime was the work of not just rapist frat guys, but supervillains. I'll read the piece in depth later, but my shock was that no one at Rolling Stone seemed to just stand up and go, "Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are a bunch of interesting notes in the consequences sections of the wikipedia article, btw.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


It sounds like the university itself would have had a case with which to sue RS if they weren't a state university.
posted by Justinian at 9:36 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


knoyers: “She has lied so many times that if some sexual trauma did actually happen to her at some point, she is the ‘boy who cried wolf.’”

"The Boy who Cried Wolf" is, like many fairy tales, a hideous story designed to induce children to fear that their lying will justify their brutal killing. But the reality is that it oughtn't, and that the fact that someone lied doesn't excuse the fact that they are killed by a wolf (or sexually assaulted.)

“I find it disgusting that Sabrina Rudin Erdely apologized in the NY Times to readers, colleagues, sexual assault survivors and the UVA community in general, but not to the fraternity or to those that she misquoted, mischaracterized and/or defamed, whose reputations were harmed and who may have been materially affected, at least for a time, by this false story.”

It isn't disgusting. It's correct and proper. The fraternity suffered for a few months, but their suffering is over, and nobody on the street really knows their name at all. But everybody in the entire world knows about the "fake Rolling Stone rape story," and will never, never shut up about it. Which means that every sexual assault survivor that comes forward for the next three decades will have to endure the humiliation of being told that she's probably lying "like Jackie from that Rolling Stone article."
posted by koeselitz at 9:41 PM on April 5, 2015 [56 favorites]


You don't think it's a good idea to apologize to someone if their suffering "only" lasts a few months?
posted by Justinian at 9:43 PM on April 5, 2015 [24 favorites]


No, I don't think it's a good idea to apologize to someone who's clearly guilty of the crime in question when "well, that time we were innocent!"
posted by koeselitz at 9:44 PM on April 5, 2015 [8 favorites]


(Or: what Rock Steady said.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:45 PM on April 5, 2015


I don't see the point of Jackie defending herself at this point. It is abundantly clear that she lied about various things, invented various things and even imaginary characters completely, and the magnitude of it can hardly be explained by confusion or memory gaps. She has lied so many times that if some sexual trauma did actually happen to her at some point, she is the "boy who cried wolf."

This is a tricky subject, but this way of looking at it really doesn't sit right with me. Jackie can have fabricated any number of things, as a result of trauma, psychological problems, spite, or anything else - but if some sexual assault did actually happen to her at some point, our system needs to provide some way to evaluate that without saying "you're the boy who cried wolf, we're done with you." The difference here is in that Aesop story, the wolf is a blameless actor more or less, acting on its nature. Whereas in a rape case, the blame lies entirely with the 'wolf' who perpetrated the rape. Justice and the pursuit of truth needs to be accorded to even those who are not 'the perfect victim.'
posted by naju at 9:46 PM on April 5, 2015 [11 favorites]


You don't apologize to people because they're good people who deserve good things, you apologize to people because you were wrong. Otherwise it's not actually a real apology.
posted by Justinian at 9:48 PM on April 5, 2015 [37 favorites]


In any case I think RS' lack of apology to the fraternity has more to do with fear of litigation than some sort of principled moral stand.
posted by Justinian at 9:49 PM on April 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Well, it's kind of a moot point, really. I don't see anywhere that Sabrina Rudin Erdely refused to apologize to the fraternity; and the fact is that Managing Editor Will Dana did apologize to the fraternity, immediately after apologizing to UVa, in the main link in the post. So – they have been apologized to, if anyone is waiting for that to happen, by the managing editor of Rolling Stone.
posted by koeselitz at 9:50 PM on April 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


Justinian: “In any case I think RS' lack of apology to the fraternity has more to do with fear of litigation than some sort of principled moral stand.”

From the main link:

“We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students.”

This is in the name of Will Dana, Managing Editor, as I said above.
posted by koeselitz at 9:51 PM on April 5, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm sure the fraternity will sue Rolling Stone, but it says something about the system that part of the reason they didn't object to this story more fervently from the beginning was that they couldn't keep the details of the various sexual assault allegations at their frat house straight.

What do you draw this conclusion from? I haven't read all the material surrounding this, but reading the linked CJR study it's clear the fraternity didn't respond because RS didn't give them anything specific to respond to.
posted by sbutler at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


No, I don't think it's a good idea to apologize to someone who's clearly guilty of the crime in question when "well, that time we were innocent!"

They were accused of organizing and covering up gang rape as an initiation right which implies this was not the first time. It was an essentially an accusation that every single member is a rapist and they all were willing to remain silent about it. Apparently pledges were evaluated based solely on willingness to rape because nobody ever said no and reported them. That is a very different claim then, "Like many frats, this frat house is an environment rich in the elements of rape culture." They did deserve the apology.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2015 [27 favorites]


No, I don't think it's a good idea to apologize to someone who's clearly guilty of the crime in question when "well, that time we were innocent!"

Could you explain exactly whom is "clearly guilty" here? And of what? Not being facetious - what precisely do you mean?
posted by Guernsey Halleck at 9:53 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


How do you verify a victim's story without re-traumatizing them?

As others have said, sometimes you can't, and so the appropriate thing to do in that case is to walk away. During my time working at a rape crisis center, we sometimes had requests for survivors to share their stories, and there was always a huge discussion among the care providers about which survivors were currently stable enough to even ask them to consider whether they would want to participate. And this was always for "Take Back the Night"-type activities, where their stories were not going to be fact-checked or officially questioned. It was still part of our ethical duty to make sure we weren't inadvertently pressuring survivors into going public with their stories before they had the confidence to say "No" to any such request.

I realize that therapists/counselors and journalists have different ethical obligations, but the recommendations in the article for journalists to be willing to walk away if the survivor doesn't seem ready still seems to serve both the survivor and the story.
posted by jaguar at 9:54 PM on April 5, 2015 [9 favorites]


You're right koeselitz, RS apologized, it was Erdeley in the NYT that didn't. I would guess RS is going to throw Erdeley under the bus if it comes to litigation.
posted by Justinian at 9:54 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Of course that's all pure speculation until we see the actual report from CSJ. I know we're getting a condensed version. I hope it's not condensed too much.
posted by Justinian at 9:57 PM on April 5, 2015


No, I don't think it's a good idea to apologize to someone who's clearly guilty of the crime in question when "well, that time we were innocent!"

The residents of the fraternity house reportedly
went into hiding for weeks after their home was vandalized with spray-painted messages calling them rapists and with bricks thrown through windows. They booked hotel rooms to avoid the swarm of protesters on their front lawn.
I think there's a lot more justification for an apology than "that time we were innocent!" Erdeley's sensationalist sloppiness put these people in grave danger from vigilante "reprisals". The fact that other people have been guilty of other rapes does not excuse the vigilantes' attacks or the false reporting that inspired them.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:59 PM on April 5, 2015 [18 favorites]


Yeah, that was a hasty thing to say. I read the "consequences" section on Wiki before posting that comment; I still think that what the fraternity suffered is tiny compared to what this will do nationally and internationally to the cause of helping survivors of sexual assault – but when a journalistic enterprise screws up and reports that a crime has been committed when it hasn't, that warrants an apology to the accused.

I have to admit – I'm still very, very angry at Rolling Stone for trying to pass this off on Jackie. We're talking about a young women who flat-out begged them not to publish this story, and they've come back around to 'we just trusted her way too much.' Or not enough, perhaps?

As jaguar said eloquently above, this comes down to knowing that sometimes it's not a good idea to publicize rape cases, regardless of their truth or falsity.
posted by koeselitz at 10:10 PM on April 5, 2015 [19 favorites]


One of my first reactions on reading the piece for the first time was that, what was being described in this crime was the work of not just rapist frat guys, but supervillains. I'll read the piece in depth later, but my shock was that no one at Rolling Stone seemed to just stand up and go, "Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof."

This Jonah Goldberg opinion piece from December expresses his difficulty believing the story. He points out things like Jackie's ability to count and identify her assailants in a room she describes as pitch black, but also incredulity at the idea of a premeditated rape in which nine men were implicated, which was apparently supposed to be an accepted part of the fraternity's pledge hazing rituals.

I found the report very interesting reading, and felt that Erdely seemed to make a lot of decisions based on holding onto a really sensational story. She acknowledges that there were other sexual assault cases, even at UVA, that she knew about and could have written about, but anytime she seems to be in danger of losing this very dramatic story as the centerpiece of her article, she backs right off. She says she didn't want to make Jackie skittish, but I tended to read that as "didn't want to have to build a story around less dramatic cases." It felt sometimes like she avoided doing the fact-checking that might have scuttled the story. When Jackie says, for instance, that she doesn't want to be the one to tell Erdely the name of her primary attacker, but doesn't say that she doesn't want Erdely to find it out any other way. Erdely backs off on the idea of finding him, even though Jackie didn't tell her she had to do that.

A month or so ago, there was a story posted on the front page of MetaFilter—I honestly don't remember about what anymore—but I read the linked article, and was unable to believe the story it told. There are these signs: it comes together too perfectly, or it's too convenient, or it's too much like what might happen in a movie. Goldberg observes that the friends' argument about the possible consequences to their social lives if Jackie reported the rape to police was just a bit too perfect for a story on rape culture.

It would be fascinating to eventually hear Jackie's story: who was she really? what happened to her? what motivated the portions of her story that weren't true?

I have a good friend who is, like me, a very good storyteller. When we were first getting to know each other, I found myself frustrated and sometimes embarrassed when I took something in a story she told me at face value—I once made a comment to her girlfriend about a story from when they were first dating, and her girlfriend rolled her eyes and said drily, "My memory of that is just a little different." For my friend, it is perfectly OK to mess with facts in the construction of a story, even if it's a story about yourself you're telling as if it's true. But it's not OK with me, and I don't do it. I did, as a kid and young person—that desire to make the story just that bit better, to turn a bus stop conflict from an exchange of grunted insults to some Noel-Coward style banter, to get the extra attention and regard that comes with a really great story versus a merely good one. But I stopped doing it, many years ago, because it felt dishonest and because I lived one too many times through that humiliating moment when you realize you've gone too far. I wanted to have a certain kind of integrity.

This makes me very curious about what manner of untruth Jackie indulged in, and why. Did she shape her story to be "better" in some way that made sense to her? What is the kernel of truth at the core of it? Her friends say she did call them and describe being sexually assaulted—forced to perform oral sex on several men. Did the story she ultimately told the reporter grow from that? I feel like there's an impulse there I can be sympathetic to, at least to some extent. And even though I do think Jackie is responsible for her actions, for the way she told her story, there is supposed to be a series of checks on a witness's potentially biased, falsified, or incomplete account. Erdely had multiple opportunities to perform the reporter's portion of those checks, and she chose not to do a single one of them. I wonder how conscious she was at the time that she was lying to herself about her reasons for that? I recently made a change in my life and only in retrospect could I see how deeply and completely in denial I'd been previously. I'm a very mentally healthy and self-aware person and I'm still boggling at this six months later. I wouldn't have said I was capable of that level of denial at this stage of my life. I wonder if it's like that for Erdely, looking back?
posted by not that girl at 10:12 PM on April 5, 2015 [30 favorites]


Eugene Volokh says that the fraternity itself, as a legal entity, may have grounds to sue.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:19 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


This New York Times article says most of what I was struggling to say, only better and more briefly.
posted by not that girl at 10:22 PM on April 5, 2015


I appreciated your comment, not that girl, but that NYT piece reads as very reactionary to me. I bristle any time someone brings up the Duke Lacrosse trial, because it's such a dog whistle for false rape allegations, and the speculation that maybe men are too deferential to women and that's why no one at RS challenged the piece is obnoxious.
posted by jaguar at 10:29 PM on April 5, 2015 [10 favorites]


Point taken, jaguar. I think what I liked was the piece articulating the idea that lack of skepticism is one of the forms of journalistic failure.
posted by not that girl at 10:45 PM on April 5, 2015


I haven't read anything about this particular fraternity, but..
"fraternity men were three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses"

I too doubt Jackie fits as neatly "under that bus" as RS or Erdely might like, koeselitz. Jackie's attempt to back out suggests that she was basically making up bullshit to impress, much like not that girl's friend. We all love the schadenfreude when a bullshit artist digs themselves a hole, but Jackie's "crime" is basically wasting Erdely's time.
posted by jeffburdges at 11:12 PM on April 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well – I agree that Jackie doesn't fit under the bus, to the point of wanting to say that her friends apparently really don't believe that she is just a kid making up bullshit. That's one of the disturbing things about this case.

According to the initial Washington Post article, which a few people have linked here, all of her friends swear that something awful must have happened to her that night, because she changed completely, sank into depression, stopped going to classes, etc. If she was acting, one of them said, she deserves an Oscar; another, who has herself been raped and worked with rape survivors, says she believes she was assaulted, too, although she is quick to point out that this is about a lot more than just Jackie, it's about all the other survivors, too. So it sounds like something happened. It's just that, whatever it was, Jackie didn't remember the details very well, or was traumatized enough not to.

My personal guess is that she was embarrassed by the "mundane" nature of her assault, and felt that she had to add all kinds of details and specificity to it to convince people that it was a serious source of trauma for her; this is a feeling a lot of survivors of sexual assault struggle with. And at a certain point, I'm sure she felt as though standing up and speaking out would help future survivors do so as well.
posted by koeselitz at 11:20 PM on April 5, 2015 [39 favorites]


[A couple of comments deleted. Folks this is a topic we've seriously struggled (and failed a lot) with in earlier threads. If we want to be able to discuss the post at all, let's not a) make it personal or attack each other, b) make it about what "Metafilter" is like, c) make it into a "it happened/didn't happen" debate. Some personal restraint in sticking to the subject of the reporting on this case and how to report on difficult cases generally would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 12:16 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


"The Boy who Cried Wolf" is, like many fairy tales, a hideous story designed to induce children to fear that their lying will justify their brutal killing.

Was this the Fractured Fairy Tales rendition of the story?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:36 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


NPR just interviewed RS editor Will Dana, and he was....chuckling throughout the entire conversation, in a "boy is my face red!" sort of way. Very off-putting.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:36 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


The whole thing is such a mess. Rolling Stone has stolen an important story and turned it into something complicated, bad, and stupid. It would be fascinating if we could get a properly truthful look into the outer and inner life of Jackie (and all the rest), but the stories are all too tainted now.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:39 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


One of my first reactions on reading the piece for the first time was that, what was being described in this crime was the work of not just rapist frat guys, but supervillains. I'll read the piece in depth later, but my shock was that no one at Rolling Stone seemed to just stand up and go, "Extraordinary claims need extraordinary proof."

Honestly, i had similar thoughts... and then i remembered back to well... basically everything about the Steubenville case. It seemed awful, but not impossibly awful. Just, Very Awful.

And even when the wheels started to fall off, i was still willing to believe that something really fucked up happened here even if the story wasn't consistent. As her friends said. I even believe the frat was involved.

Like Not That Girl, i know a story embellisher. And she's embellished stories about stuff like this... or entirely fabricated them. It was a huge deal among a wide range of people i'm even distantly connected to until it came out that wasn't what really happened(probably), and... she did it again, with the same details-not-adding-up results. I feel really bad for her, because shitty things have definitely happened to her and who really knows exactly what happened in those situations... but everyone takes what she says with a fat grain of salt now, even if they size up whoever else was allegedly involved.

I never see people like this as horrible manipulative conniving harpies or whatever, although that's easy to do and to want to do and is generally the first glance reaction for quite a lot of people including at times myself. More, i see them as having experienced something that broke them. And they don't know how to communicate that hurt. Sometimes just describing what happened isn't enough. I don't agree with it, but i can at least see it.

If anyone deserves a fuck you here though, it's the MRAs who will never stop whinging about on with "See, women lie! False accusations!". And everyone else who cranks that jack in the box. Damaged people who react and act badly are not the evil in the system here.
posted by emptythought at 3:42 AM on April 6, 2015 [13 favorites]


For some perspective: Sexually assaulted at UVA

There is nothing sensational in this story. It's the story that every woman who has been to college knows. A rapist raped a woman. The woman who was raped did everything that everyone says she was supposed to do. Her rapist saw no actual consequences.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:17 AM on April 6, 2015 [28 favorites]


For some perspective: Sexually assaulted at UVA

I read that this weekend. It is a wrenching counterpoint to the analysis of the reporting failings in this FPP, especially when you think about the people who will now stay silent -- something mentioned in the FPP piece, but not its main focus.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:30 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


sbutler: "What do you draw this conclusion from?"

The article talks about how the leadership of the fraternity thought Erdeley was asking about a different allegation of assault in September of 2012 that they had been notified of by university administration. It's in the "Can You Comment?" section, but I can't seem to link directly to it.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:33 AM on April 6, 2015


I don't think that's a different allegation.
posted by smackfu at 5:38 AM on April 6, 2015


Hmm. I guess I mis-interpreted that part of the article. Why the hell didn't they demand more details from Erdeley then, or investigate more fully before commenting?
posted by Rock Steady at 5:44 AM on April 6, 2015


People both deliberately lie and provide misinformation all the time, from real estate deals to traffic accidents. I really like that this report points out that the editors needed to ask more questions, as did the reporter. When a reporter gets deep in a story sometimes they do miss obvious paths of inquiry and that is part of why editors are around.

I have a lot of sympathy because when the report says the 25% reduction in resources at Rolling Stone didn't impact on their investing in this story, I'm sure that's true and a really good point...but I also know that as magazine editors are asked to do more, pay more attention to social media, make decisions about multimedia extensions, etc., their bandwidth of time to sit down and ask really good questions is reduced. They (we) need to make sure that even when under the gun to publish that story that has potential to go viral, get engagement, sell magazines that everyone slows down to engage with the story as responsible journalists.

This isn't a story about how to handle rape cases and it is certainly not a reflection on the validity of rape accusations in general. This is a story about how to handle investigative journalism. Bravo to the Columbia report, I hope every magazine puts it on its radar.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:51 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


but I also know that as magazine editors are asked to do more, pay more attention to social media, make decisions about multimedia extensions, etc., their bandwidth of time to sit down and ask really good questions is reduced.

It's not in that in this case. That a reporter would go along with subject refusing to name the person who did the crime, if only for verification, is just...I don't even know what to call it anymore. That the editors went along with that just screams...something, again I don't know what.

Rolling Stone totally shrugged their shoulders on whether a person, the alleged criminal in the article, even existed. And they did it for not good reason at all! Why they still have jobs at the magazine is a very good question.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:39 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not so sure that Rolling Stone's clear refusal to take responsibility has much to do with liability, since they have a history of behaving this way. They did these same terrible maneuvers with Robert F. Kennedy's unethical vaccine scare-mongering back in 2005. The pattern: publish an entirely irresponsible article, obliviously throwing around barely founded accusations, without realizing that people will assume that they have vetted them with at least a small amount of journalistic integrity.

And then, when their behavior is exposed, they only accede to corrections after the din is impossible to ignore, still refusing to take full responsibility for their actions.

With these two examples about a decade apart, I think it's safe to assume that Rolling Stone is in no way a serious news organization; despite writing in depth articles that are compelling to read, they are not reliable. And even when shown the errors of their ways, Rolling Stone refuses to attempt improvement. Not only have they set back some of the safest and most beneficial medicines we have, vaccines, Rolling Stone has also dealt a tremendous blow to productive discussion of rape by distracting the media from all the clear and convincing stories/stats that could have instead been reported on.
posted by Llama-Lime at 6:41 AM on April 6, 2015 [7 favorites]


Of course that's all pure speculation until we see the actual report from CSJ. I know we're getting a condensed version.

I believe this is the full report (which is also on the CJR website), and that a condensed version of it will be published in the print RS magazine.
posted by smackfu at 6:51 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The Boy who Cried Wolf" is, like many fairy tales, a hideous story designed to induce children to fear that their lying will justify their brutal killing. But the reality is that it oughtn't, and that the fact that someone lied doesn't excuse the fact that they are killed by a wolf (or sexually assaulted.)

It's a story designed to teach a lesson about the consequences of betraying trust. You substitute your personal disgust with the outcome as the point of the story.

It isn't disgusting. It's correct and proper. The fraternity suffered for a few months, but their suffering is over, and nobody on the street really knows their name at all. But everybody in the entire world knows about the "fake Rolling Stone rape story," and will never, never shut up about it. Which means that every sexual assault survivor that comes forward for the next three decades will have to endure the humiliation of being told that she's probably lying "like Jackie from that Rolling Stone article.

The best way to mitigate the potential damage caused by this fiasco to future victims of rape, is by

1. not bending into a pretzel to avoid naming the fraternity members as "victims" and
2. not going to great lengths to preserve the victimhood of the accuser in light of this report.

When one is wrong about something as important as this, admitting as much and learning from it is a much better strategy than doubling down because of how they fear it will play in the news.

It's also the decent thing to do.
posted by echocollate at 7:27 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


But I can also see how each misstep was so small and so easy to rationalize; I am sure those same shortcuts are taken all the time, but usually things don't end in a big disaster.

I don't. This wasn't journalism. Not a single step in the making of this lie could be construed as journalism. This was a manual on how to create propaganda. This was a person who wasn't looking for truth; this was a writer blinded by sophistry and had a bias to prove and then pretended to prove it, with a single scruple to consider the damage she could do to thousands of lives, and there has been damage. Shame on her. Shame on Rolling Stone.

I worked in this profession for years. I even wrote a book on lies such as this one. This is a classic textbook case of a pseudo-news article.

When you have the nerve to call yourself a journalist, then you better be prepared to be humble, make no arrogant assumptions that you know everything about anything and you don't think there is such a thing as the ability to look at someone and think you know if they are lying to you. You triple check every little fact. Sources have lied to me and I caught them because I kept looking. People lie about failing a grade. People lie about their health. People lie. They spin their self-serving narratives and their enabling friends and parents let it slide and then they are stupid enough to take their lie on the road.

If you cannot deal with this reality, you have no business being in journalism.

Rolling Stone’s senior editors are unanimous in the belief that the story’s failure does not require them to change their editorial systems.

Of course they wouldn't. They were too arrogant to do basic questioning and fact-checking, why do they think they need to change? They just hope it blows over and they can continue the charade doing the damage they do.

They are of the same ilk as NBC brass who dragged their feet and wimped out precisely because they do not see anything wrong with lying, exaggerating, and filling a news report with self-serving filler and fantasy.

The profession has been hijacked by a certain breed of false news producers for a very long time. They push opinion as fact, misrepresent reality, and then want validation-- they won't get it from me now or ever...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:31 AM on April 6, 2015 [20 favorites]


Erdely and UVA have issued statements. Here's Erderly's in full:
“The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.

“Over my 20 years of working as an investigative journalist — including at Rolling Stone, a magazine I grew up loving and am honored to work for — I have often dealt with sensitive topics and sources. In writing each of these stories I must weigh my compassion against my journalistic duty to find the truth. However, in the case of Jackie and her account of her traumatic rape, I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.

“Reporting on rape has unique challenges, but the journalist still has the responsibility to get it right. I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2015


I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.

Give me a break with this shit. This is what she's sticking with? Really? And like Rolling Stone's whole message of "Sorry we cared too much" isn't going to have the exact effect they're all claiming to want to avoid? Ugh, just stop.
posted by bleep at 8:32 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone's publisher, has engaged in the same sort of diffusing of the whole thing in his interview with the New York Times:
The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”
Oof. This is really execrable. Don't give Rolling Stone your money, people – if you needed any reason to avoid them before, you've got it now.
posted by koeselitz at 8:43 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seriously. They're apparently completely out of control of what gets published in their own magazine.
posted by bleep at 8:53 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]




Releasing the report on Easter Sunday is also an odd choice.
posted by smackfu at 9:03 AM on April 6, 2015


Wenner, Dana, and Erdely's frantic buck-passing in response to this is certainly both pretty scummy-looking and not very credible all around. But in terms of specific allocation of blame I found that reading the report convinced me more than I'd thought up to this point that the failures were newsroom-wide, stemming from failures of supervision and policy, not just one reporter's. Based on the earlier reporting I'd really felt that Erdely was primarily to blame for passing on an unverified story in a way that really appeared to have been multiply sourced and verified by Jackie's friends — and certainly "In retrospect, I wish somebody had pushed me harder" is a pretty fucking sorry excuse indeed — but Dana actually outdoes her in self-justifying denial about the major process failures here:
Dana said, "I had a faith that as it went through the fact-checking that all this was going to be straightened out." […]

Dana said there was no time to conduct a "forensic investigation" into the story's issues. He wrote the editor's note "very quickly" and "under a lot of pressure." […His note's] language deflected blame from the magazine to its subject and it attracted yet more criticism. Dana said he rued his initial wording. "I was pretty freaked out," he said. "I regretted using that phrase pretty quickly." Early that evening, he changed course in a series of tweets. […]

"It's not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don't think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things," Dana said. "We just have to do what we've always done and just make sure we don't make this mistake again."
Erdely at least has actually apologized, even if she doesn't seem to accept how much personal responsibility she bears for what are really a bunch of simple, straightforward failures of reporting here (not really at all, as she and RS keep asserting defensively, wrong tradeoffs between sensitivity and reporting). Dana — who already seems secure in having suffered no professional consequences at all for this massive fuckup! — still seems unable to accept even abstract moral responsibility. Forget the story itself, he can't even take responsibility for the scummy editor's note (which he himself, alone, wrote) in a straightforward way.

The whole thing leaves me feeling like Dana — and RS itself, its institutional culture — is more to blame for the story than I'd thought before, though the front-line failures of reporting were obviously Erdely's. And Dana really sounds like a guy who can't be trusted to handle his position responsibly, yet who's ingratiated himself so well with his boss that he's untouchable.
posted by RogerB at 9:27 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


Personally I don't give a shit about frat guys. Don't want to get accused of rape, don't get involved with a long standing culture of rape, coersion and violence. If women can be cautioned to avoid frat houses then in fairness men should be too.
posted by bleep at 9:51 AM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


Don't want to get accused of rape, don't get involved with a long standing culture of rape, coersion and violence.

What? Seriously? There are plenty of fraternities out there that are full of perfectly respectable men.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 9:55 AM on April 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


I've been confused when reading about this article. I read the article when it came out, and over fifty percent of the article wasn't about this particular case. In all the commentary I've read about these fake allegations, the story of the woman raped at that fraternity in the eighties who got her rapist convicted when he apologized years later is not mentioned. The UVA fight song talking about what happens to women on fraternity row is not mentioned. All of the true things in the article are ignored and tainted because the lead accusation is unfounded. And that's unfortunate because there seemed to be a lot of true things about UVA culture, about fraternity culture, about university culture, about USA culture, in the article that are now discredited and ignored.
posted by GregorWill at 10:02 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Personally I don't give a shit about frat guys. Don't want to get accused of rape, don't get involved with a long standing culture of rape, coersion and violence. If women can be cautioned to avoid frat houses then in fairness men should be too."

This is written from emotion I'm sure, but it's worth nothing that it's exactly the same type of rank prejudice that is problematic across many areas. It's really pointless.
posted by jaduncan at 10:06 AM on April 6, 2015 [12 favorites]


So it took me a day or two to admit that I found many of Erdely's details unrecognizable. No one says "UVrApe"; no one I know has ever heard the Rugby Road-themed "traditional fight song" that poetically ("fuck for 50 cents"/"panties on the fence") separated the article's sections. And, in the words of one sorority girl I talked to in Charlottesville: "We knew something was bullshit when she wrote that Phi Psi was a top-tier frat.

Jia Tolentino talked directly about the legitimacy of the song claim.
posted by 99_ at 10:09 AM on April 6, 2015


What? Seriously? There are plenty of fraternities out there that are full of perfectly respectable men.

then they should be concerned with cleaning up frat culture from inside the greek system so that people don't lump them in with the rape happy organizations. i'm sure there are plenty of catholic parishes where no one ever raped a child or covered it up - but they're still part of a bigger system that is seemingly focused on protecting the perpetrators of that sort of crime.

but it's worth nothing that it's exactly the same type of rank prejudice that is problematic across many areas.

context matters. having sweeping ideas about frats or white guys or whatever is absolutely not the same as when pointed towards traditionally disenfranchised groups. plus, "stay away from frats" is absolutely the type of thing women are told when we're being lectured on how to avoid the rapes done to us (and then used to blame us when we do get raped).
posted by nadawi at 10:11 AM on April 6, 2015 [12 favorites]




[A couple comments removed, cool it.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's a little concerning to be lumping a whole bunch of unconnected organizations together, and "being OK" with the harassment and threats of bodily harm to some people because of the unconnected actions of others. We need more empathy in this world, not less.
posted by Llama-Lime at 10:21 AM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


This whole situation is what happens when the narrative is more important than the facts. Sad that Rolling Stone has pretty much lost all credibility regarding news.
posted by holybagel at 10:22 AM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


a young women who flat-out begged them not to publish this story

I've seen this claim before, but in the reporting I've read on the story I've failed to see the source of it. That is, I've read accounts of Jackie backing away at various points in the reporting, but not that the final publication occurred over her consistent plea for it not to. Could someone link me to the source of this claim?
posted by yoink at 10:26 AM on April 6, 2015


i don't think people should be threatened with physical harm or harassed or falsely accused. i also think it's totally valid to say that if we warn women away from being around frat culture, then we can extend that warning to the men joining the frats, and if both of those things are on the table it shouldn't be that weird to say, and that's because the greek system, especially on the frat side, is rotten to the core with rape culture. the fact that there are certainly good fraternities that are focused on building men not holding parties to see how drunk you can get the vulnerable so you can harm them doesn't change the base point that in general men and women should steer clear of many frats as the culture exists today.
posted by nadawi at 10:29 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


The UVA fight song talking about what happens to women on fraternity row is not mentioned. All of the true things in the article are ignored and tainted because the lead accusation is unfounded.

Apart from the fact that the "UVA fight song" appears to be one of the "untrue things" from the article, this is a little like bemoaning the fact that no one honors John Wilkes Booth for being a terrific Shakespearian actor. "Hey, not everything in my story was a complete fabrication--just the bit that claimed to be original reporting!" is hardly a sentence any reporter is going to imagine going over well.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on April 6, 2015


Phi Kappa Psi Plans to Sue Rolling Stone Over Discredited UVA Rape Article

"The report by Columbia University's School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit," Stephen Scipione, President of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said in the statement. "This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards."

"Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers," Scipione said. "If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it's time to get serious."

posted by Drinky Die at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2015


Give me a break with this shit. This is what she's sticking with? Really? And like Rolling Stone's whole message of "Sorry we cared too much" isn't going to have the exact effect they're all claiming to want to avoid? Ugh, just stop.

This is really execrable. Don't give Rolling Stone your money, people – if you needed any reason to avoid them before, you've got it now.

According to the press conference, apparently the author of the CJS report and their Dean both agree with these sentiments:
“We don’t believe Jackie was to blame,” Coronel said.

“It was the collective fault of the reporter, the editor…and the fact-checking department.”
[...]
Rolling Stone’s “writers and editors took shelter under the defense” that they were too sensitive to Jackie’s position.

Coll said that the report’s purpose was to make clear that the evidence did not support the magazine’s public defense — in the aftermath of the story’s unraveling — that they were too sensitive to Jackie’s position.
[...]
“We disagree with any suggestion that it was Jackie’s fault,” Coll reiterated.

Coll said that it was a failure of methodology in reporting and editing and “not the subject’s failure.”
So maybe, per the mod's request, people can stop trying to pin anything on Jackie, or really anyone other than Erdely and her higher-ups at RS.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:45 AM on April 6, 2015 [9 favorites]


According to the press conference, apparently the author of the CJS report and their Dean both agree with these sentiments:

And it's perfectly fine to disagree with those sentiments. Obviously "Jackie" isn't the main problem with this whole fiasco but it's pretty clear she lied and made up stuff and she certainly bears responsibility for that. But the fact that Erdely and editors allowed Jackie story without basic fact checking is most definitely the main problem and issue here.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:50 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Obviously "Jackie" isn't the main problem with this whole fiasco but it's pretty clear she lied and made up stuff and she certainly bears responsibility for that.

No, she doesn't. The report makes it abundantly clear that whatever the veracity of her story, it's not her fault that Erdely ran with it.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:56 AM on April 6, 2015 [11 favorites]


Yeah, part of the whole point of journalism as a team enterprise is to prevent stories like these from spinning out of control. Jackie's own moral/mental/whatever state is beside the point, in a sense: had the system been working, we wouldn't be at this point today.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:02 AM on April 6, 2015 [6 favorites]


No, she doesn't. The report makes it abundantly clear that whatever the veracity of her story, it's not her fault that Erdely ran with it.

Except he didn't say that she bears responsibility for running the story, he said she bears responsibility for lying and making stuff up. To the extent that she's not actually mentally ill, surely that is true?
posted by yoink at 11:13 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


No, she doesn't. The report makes it abundantly clear that whatever the veracity of her story, it's not her fault that Erdely ran with it.

Whatever happened that night, it doesn't excuse Jackie making up stuff. We'll probably just have to agree to disagree on that point and it's certainly a small one in this shitshow.

We're in agreement that the ultimate responsibility rests with Erdely and Rolling Stone. Why her or the managing editor still have a job is beyond me.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:16 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Interesting the things that get brought to the forefront by stuff like this; today is the first time I've ever heard of a rapey UVa song, and I graduated from the place 18 years ago. I think you can safely assume that it doesn't really play a part in the institutional culture of the school; its certainly not what anyone would normally consider a school fight song - no one ever sings it at a sporting event or anything.
posted by LionIndex at 11:16 AM on April 6, 2015


The fraternity is going to sue:
"After 130 days of living under a cloud of suspicion as a result of reckless reporting by Rolling Stone magazine, today the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine," the fraternity said in a statement released Monday.
I hope they nail RS's ass to the barn wall. The only thing that is going to get the attention of top management there and bring about reform is a huge libel award.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:28 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


today is the first time I've ever heard of a rapey UVa song, and I graduated from the place 18 years ago. I think you can safely assume that it doesn't really play a part in the institutional culture of the school

"We sang it all the time," UVA Historian Sandy Gilliam is quoted saying in this 2014 Cavalier Daily article (UVA student newspaper) about 'Rugby Road', the rapey UVA song in question. A 2010 Cavalier Daily article says the song was performed at UVA football games as recently as 2010 and one student leader is quoted saying there are 35 verses.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 11:33 AM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Jazz Shaw:
What happened here was the exact opposite. This “reporter” began – by her own admission in her notes – with a story that she already wanted to write and a depiction of one portion of American culture she wanted to relay. This was not a case of a reporter finding out that a rape took place and setting out to investigate. This was a reporter who had decided that the “rape culture” (that was her phrase, not mine) existed and began a search to find an example to support her assertion. Who knows how many other colleges she contacted before finding UVA as the ideal hot spot?

This is not reporting. This is what is generally known as a fishing expedition. (An application of the phrase which I find particularly offensive as a fisherman.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:48 AM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


"We sang it all the time," UVA Historian Sandy Gilliam is quoted saying in this 2014 Cavalier Daily article (UVA student newspaper) about 'Rugby Road', the rapey UVA song in question.

Think this part is pretty relevant - bolding mine: "Gilliam, who graduated from the University in 1955"
posted by smackfu at 11:55 AM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, that same Cav Daily article is what came up when I googled it. I learned about that song, and something called "The Cavalier Song" from my googling, which I've also never heard sung. I can however, provide the complete text of the Good Ol Song from memory if you so desire, since that song gets played every time the football team scores.
posted by LionIndex at 12:03 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This was a reporter who had decided that the “rape culture” (that was her phrase, not mine) existed and began a search to find an example to support her assertion.

This kind of predictable bullshit from the Fox News-sphere perfectly bears out Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's article on this story today. Focusing on this one woman's story is now perceived on the right as an easy way to score culture-war points against feminism, and the way that is now playing, in itself, really demonstrates how counterproductive it was to focus what should've been a broad, political discussion on one sensationalized individual story:
the right tends to pore over the specific details of high-profile cases […] concluding that if those particular situations were embattled by complications or mitigating factors, then the phenomena they’re meant to represent must not be real either. And if a few highly publicized rapes turn out to be murkier than first represented, then rape itself is not a crisis, just a regrettable and rare anomaly. […] It isn’t great reasoning, but it is very appealing on a sub-intellectual level.

Which is perhaps why, coupled with a leftist tendency to attempt to correct procedural injustices in representation, liberal activist journalism appears to be joining in the wider journalistic slide from big-picture work […] toward pieces wherein structural analysis is unwholesomely pegged to personal tales. Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate […] The trouble is only that the right is skilled at this game, and correctly deduced that undoing Jackie’s story would go a long way to endangering Erdely’s larger structural point.
posted by RogerB at 12:11 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


having sweeping ideas about frats or white guys or whatever is absolutely not the same as when pointed towards traditionally disenfranchised groups.

This kind of situational ethics is completely bankrupt. Carving out exceptions for groups based on personal sympathies and prejudices undermines the very principles at stake.
posted by echocollate at 12:24 PM on April 6, 2015 [10 favorites]


i vehemently disagree.
posted by nadawi at 12:29 PM on April 6, 2015 [8 favorites]


This was a reporter who had decided that the “rape culture” (that was her phrase, not mine) existed

The implication that it does not really, really pisses me off.
posted by Mooski at 12:40 PM on April 6, 2015 [18 favorites]


Jay Rosen on the report
posted by rhizome at 12:43 PM on April 6, 2015


@RogerB:

I do not really think that Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig's argument is a serious one. I certainly endorse the idea that we need to pay more attention to larger statistical truths and less attention to anecdotes, but the idea that arguing by anecdote is somehow a right-wing phenomenon strikes me as very strange. It is in fact a human phenomenon, and it is a rhetorical maneuver that is regularly resorted to by polemicists of all stripes -- and that is just because stories about people are often more persuasive and emotionally resonant than stories about statistics.

If you don't want someone poring over the "specific details of high-profile cases," my advice is to avoid using them to prop up any "larger structural point." It is a fair criticism of Erdeley that she was in large part using an anecdote to make whatever larger structural points she was presenting -- and that in retrospect, when the anecdote is stripped away, her larger structural points appear to have lost a great deal of their force.
posted by Mr. Justice at 12:51 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The version of the Columbia report published by Rolling Stone adds a footnote that begins with this:
1. This report is intended as a work of journalism about a failure of journalism.
Which almost seems like an attempt to minimize the Columbia report, now that Rolling Stone has undermined the collective credibility of journalism [WaPo].
posted by Little Dawn at 1:01 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The fraternities of America (except for the one suing them) have every reason to thank Rolling Stone for disproving the obvious. Frat culture is ABSOLUTELY rape culture. Even at my local low-profile public mostly-tech school, Cal Poly, we've had two fraternities lose their credentials in the last year because of well-documented rape cases in the last year (and a third on the brink). Although I would be totally unsurprised if both of them use Rolling Stone as part of their appeals for reinstatement. The simple fact that "Animal House" and "Revenge of the Nerds" didn't result in a nationwide call for the abolition of the Greek system shows the American moral bankruptcy that supports and exalts these organizations for Very Important Assholes. At least they do slightly reduce the population of their kind through all-too-commonly fatal hazing rituals.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:35 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


To be fair, Revenge of the Nerds ought to have inspired us to get rid of nerds as well.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:37 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


There are several important questions when judging a prejudice, echocollate :

How voluntary is group membership? Race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. are not voluntary. Religion is voluntary, but church is much more voluntary. Profession or field of study are voluntary, but social club membership even more so.

Do statistics back it up? "Fraternity men [are] three times more likely to commit rape than other men on college campuses."

We shouldn't only single out fraternities here : Cops commit domestic violence at four times the national rate. Rapes by cops are far more underreported than rapes overall, but presumably the rate or rape by cops looks similar to, or worse than, the fraternity rate, after controlling for the ambient setting. Cops commit a fair bit of child sex abuse too. Ditto priests.

Is there an institution enabling or protecting the abuse? Again the cops and priests have this in spades, but fraternities do their part to protect their brothers.

There is no "exception" needed to hold the "prejudiced" view that frats, cops, and priests are all dangerous to relevant groups. It's simply true, members choose that social role, and they've institutions backing them up.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [14 favorites]


Apparently you can get fired from Rolling Stone!
posted by gman at 4:31 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I bet at some point there will be a countdown site on the Internet: haserdelybeenfiredyet.com. And let's face it: the more money she costs them, the faster she'll be gone.

I kind of feel a bit sorry for her/them because it sounds like their #1 concern was Not Scaring Jackie Off, and that's why they did what they did...but yeah, that's not good journalism either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:39 PM on April 6, 2015


So, what degree of responsibility does Jackie bear for her part in this, if any? I personally can't imagine her being regarded as anything other than a part in this mess, and while the proper responsibilities lie with people further up the reporting chain, to suggest she has no culpability treats her as a poor, mentally ill creature with no way of knowing what she did was wrong.
posted by gadge emeritus at 5:45 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


This primarily saddens me because it also calls Matt Taibbi's great Rolling Stone articles into question.
posted by fivebells at 5:49 PM on April 6, 2015


To suggest she has no culpability treats her as a poor, mentally ill creature with no way of knowing what she did was wrong.

No, I think we really don't know what she was thinking. There are various theories that it was a scam, or whatever, but I don't think it's possible to know. I think it's likely that something did traumatize her and the story just got out of control.

But even if she was running a fully cognizant con game for nefarious purposes, she still wouldn't be responsible for what got published. The editor of the magazine is responsible for what gets published.
posted by bleep at 5:57 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


The editor of the magazine is responsible for what gets published and ensuring it meets journalistic standards. There's no way the subject of an article can be held responsible for that, no matter what she said or did to get written about.
posted by bleep at 5:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


See, I agree with a lot of that, but also think that the key subject of the article lied, consistently and thoroughly, and while it should certainly be something we know nothing about because the reporter/fact-checkers/editors did the research and discovered she was, it still doesn't mean her lies aren't at the very heart of this.

I also find it interesting, considering that we are reminded that we don't know why she did it, what people project onto her motivations depending on their beliefs. I don't think it was a scam or anything like that, but much like people saying that, well, it was a frat, they must be guilty of something similar to this, they are also saying well, she must have been traumatised and a victim of something similar in exactly the same way. It's all possible, but it also could just be people trying to make the story fit the original narrative despite everything else, something you can see happening time and again when a hoax of this nature is revealed.
posted by gadge emeritus at 6:32 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


According to the article, the initial contact was set up by Emily Renda, "a rape survivor working on sexual assault issues as a staff member at the University of Virginia. Ms Renda warned Erdely that "obviously, maybe [Jackie's] memory of it isn't perfect," but Erdely pressed ahead.

So Jackie initially told her story to Renda, Renda told it to Erdely. And once Jackie was locked in to her lies, she was locked in. Why did she initially lie to Renda? Who knows. I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's an actual sexual assault at the root of it, plus a needy personality that was finally getting some sympathy.

This sequence of events IMO shows each of them to be less culpable than one would initially think: Jackie initially had no way of knowing that her story would be passed on to a reporter; Renda is presumably not expected to be a detective; Erdely's introduction to the story was via a respected source. Erdely should definitely have been more critical - but first impressions count, and I imagine that it would have been hard for her to tell Renda that she had been fooled. It's like a very mild folie à trois, but with national repercussions.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:23 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


The simple fact that "Animal House" and "Revenge of the Nerds" didn't result in a nationwide call for the abolition of the Greek system shows the American moral bankruptcy that supports and exalts these organizations for Very Important Assholes.

Did we learn nothing from John Belushi?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:34 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


It was possibly an article I read from here that talked about how the Greek system was, in fact, dying out - until Animal House rejuvenated its popularity to a greatly cultural extent.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:16 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


The editor of the magazine is responsible for what gets published and ensuring it meets journalistic standards. There's no way the subject of an article can be held responsible for that, no matter what she said or did to get written about.

I don't think it's quite so clear cut. The NYT and other papers are absolutely both morally and practically responsible for their journalistic failures leading up to the second Gulf War. But if Bush & co weren't deliberately feeding lies and half truths to the papers they wouldn't have been in a position to fail as journalists.

Actually, a good counterpoint is Snowden's appearance on Last Week Tonight (and associated Metafilter thread). The point is made by Oliver, accepted by Snowden, and generally accepted in the Metafilter threads that Snowden must bear some responsibility for how the documents he passed on are misused journalistically even though he had no part in the process apart from handing off the documents. This is similar. Jackie does and must bear some responsibility for spreading a false narrative even if RS should not have published the story.

That a newspaper or magazine will publish a false story you feed them is a forseeable result of feeding them a false story even if they shouldn't publish it. Neither party is blameless.

tl;dr - if Snowden bears some moral responsibility for the NYT's fuckup with redacting the documents he gave them, Jackie bears some moral responsibility for RS' fuckup with the story she gave them.
posted by Justinian at 8:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


I guess I shouldn't say that it's "generally accepted" that Snowden bears some responsibility. I think the weight of opinion is certainly on that side but, for example, at least five fresh fish rejected that argument. Y'all can read the threads yourself though.

But I stand by the rest; it is not clear cut that someone who tells something to a publication in full knowledge that it may well be published isn't at least partly responsible when that information gets sent out even if it was a journalistic failure to publish it.
posted by Justinian at 8:36 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]



That a newspaper or magazine will publish a false story you feed them is a forseeable result of feeding them a false story even if they shouldn't publish it. Neither party is blameless.


I just don't see any way this can be true. The Columbia report outlined a cascading failure of responsibility at Rolling Stone. No one hypnotized them or put a gun up to their head to continue with this story after they knew it was falling apart. And yet they did. They have no one to blame but themselves.
posted by bleep at 8:49 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Let's say Jackie does bear responsibility for the story being published (I don't think she really does, but let's go with the hypothetical). Then what? Presumably no other journalist is going to believe her in the future. But there are millions of other people who would happily make up stories to a journalist. Journalists are going to be exposed to multiple potentially-lying sources, given their profession. It therefore becomes a professional responsibility for journalists to fact-check all their sources, and that's a lot easier to hold up as a professional standard (because there could be professional consequences to not meeting it, though it looks like there won't be in this case) than it would be to try to enforce a "Don't lie to journalists" ethical standard on the general populace.
posted by jaguar at 8:52 PM on April 6, 2015 [3 favorites]


Jackie has a personal responsibility for her actions (as we all do given the things we say/do). She's in a better position then us to do the calculus about whether her actions were 'right' for the situation she was in. Most definitely there are consequences to actions, perhaps these were needed/worth it for her.

That's a very different thing than bearing the professional responsibility for producing an accurate/fair story for Rolling Stone. That's why 'journalism' is a thing.
posted by mazola at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


I agree with that; obviously the only people who bear a professional responsibility are Rolling Stone. But that doesn't eliminate Jackie's personal responsibility. The CSJ report was, rightfully, only charged with judging RS' professional actions. But some people's comments seemed to be going further than that and implying that Jackie bore no moral responsibility here of any sort for this story, not just no professional journalistic responsibility. If I've read people wrong about that then I have no disagreements.
posted by Justinian at 9:27 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, she's responsible for the story she told, but the printed story is on the byline reporter(s) and the editor(s).
posted by rhizome at 9:28 PM on April 6, 2015 [2 favorites]


Which is to say basically no responsibility in context, since reporters decline to use bad sources all the time.
posted by rhizome at 9:30 PM on April 6, 2015 [5 favorites]


So many people wonder what Jackie was thinking spinning a false narrative of assault. I am more curious to know what she thought of the reporting that was done around her. Does Rolling Stone even read as a serious journalistic outlet to someone in her cohort?
posted by Scram at 9:36 PM on April 6, 2015


To the extent that we've actually heard of this story, the blame rests entirely on Rolling Stone's shoulders. The problem here was a journalistic one. Journalists are expected to follow through with basic practices to avoid this kind of thing. People are not always reliable narrators, no matter their intentions or how much their stories might otherwise be useful to us.

To the extent that Jackie has misled anybody, that's another story. Perhaps she is a misguided innocent, whose accurate memories are lost in a fog of confabulation - perhaps she is a mendacious attention-seeker, whose lies spun out of control - or perhaps she is both, or perhaps she is neither. We just don't know.

Had Rolling Stone behaved professionally, we wouldn't be having any of this discussion. Jackie's stories would not have had the effect that they had if Rolling Stone had not only given her a platform, but also more or less groomed her into becoming the face of sexual assault on campus. They wanted a dramatic story, and they got one - just not the one they (or we) wanted.

This is what happens when you think basic drudgery is for other people, and when you try to privilege message over fact. Journalistic best practices do not merely comprise a set of busywork for little people. The fact that sexual assault on campus is a very real problem, and that "false accusations" are wildly overblown, does not mean that every single story about sexual assault on campus can be taken at face value. There is nothing improper whatsoever about a journalist confirming stories before reporting them, no matter the topic.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:43 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I mean, treating every single story about sexual assault as something which must be corroborated might be inappropriate in most contexts, but it's actually thoroughly appropriate in the context of writing longform journalism. It's a job, with its own standards and expectations. You wouldn't expect your lawyer to take your opponent's side, you wouldn't expect your therapist to get bored and stop returning your calls, and you wouldn't expect a journalist to take every claim ever at face value.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:47 AM on April 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


a young women who flat-out begged them not to publish this story

I've seen this claim before, but in the reporting I've read on the story I've failed to see the source of it. That is, I've read accounts of Jackie backing away at various points in the reporting, but not that the final publication occurred over her consistent plea for it not to. Could someone link me to the source of this claim?


So, to answer my own question, having now read through the report it is clear that the claim that Jackie "begged" Rolling Stone not to run the story was yet another of Jackie's many, many lies.
posted by yoink at 7:22 AM on April 7, 2015


[One comment deleted. At this point, the "we must parse out exactly how much and what kind of blame Jackie bears" thing has really run its course, and we're into the Being That Guy territory that people were talking about in MeTa a month ago. You've made your points, let it rest there. The article linked in the post is about the journalists and what they did, didn't, and shoulda done. I'm officially asking folks to let the Jackie-blame-quantification thing drop, and bring it back to the journalists, the process issues, etc.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:59 AM on April 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


I'm surprised people aten't combing through Erdely's past work. Perhaps Rolling Stone should have someone do that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:19 AM on April 7, 2015


How about looking at all Will Dana's editorial decisions?
posted by Scram at 9:52 AM on April 7, 2015


Go for it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:14 AM on April 7, 2015


Hell, why Dana still has a job at Rolling Stone is messed up as hell.

But I mentioned Erdely first because stories about rape and bullying seem to be her beat, so the colossal fuckup with this story makes me wonder about her other pieces.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm surprised people aten't combing through Erdely's past work.

There have been a number of pieces pulling apart her earlier work on abuse in the Catholic Church in Philadelphia and her report on a rape case in the military. She seems to have a penchant for finding people with dramatic stories to tell and not bothering to do much in the way of fact-checking. I do think Rolling Stone should do a Jayson Blair-style investigation into her past reporting rather than peddling this "oh well, we all make mistakes, but she's basically a great journalist" line.
posted by yoink at 10:50 AM on April 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: “Hell, why Dana still has a job at Rolling Stone is messed up as hell.”

On the one hand, yeah, it's messed up. On the other hand, it's not surprising. We're talking about a magazine of which the publisher has miniscule journalistic scruples, as proven time and time again.

As some people have pointed out elsewhere, let's keep it in perspective: Rolling Stone is a magazine that fired a guy for writing a negative review of Hootie and the Blowfish, but can't see any good reason to fire anybody for letting a mistake like this story go through.
posted by koeselitz at 4:06 PM on April 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I actually find it weird that the straight journalism and commentary of The Daily Show and Rolling Stone is so well regarded. They've each produced decent work, but surely that isn't their primary role? Their status is an implicit indictment of journalism in the USA.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2015


Does Rolling Stone even have a primary role anymore? It seems like a weird relic.
posted by Justinian at 5:32 PM on April 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always felt that Hootie and the Blowfish was the quintessential demonstration of payola anyways, so that's just confirming my suspicions. At least say Black Eyed Peas managed ear ring wormy quality, while nothing but pure payola could explain Hootie.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:34 PM on April 7, 2015


Did you know that Darius Rucker (Hootie) is a big country star now?
posted by smackfu at 6:09 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I actually find it weird that the straight journalism and commentary of The Daily Show and Rolling Stone is so well regarded.

That's an odd comparison. I don't think anyone thinks that the Daily Show should be held to the standards of journalistic best practice--it's a satirical comedy show. But Rolling Stone has been doing straight journalism on topics beyond the music scene for a very long time. Think of Matt Taibbi, Michael Hastings (who won a Polk Award for his piece on McChrystal) et al.
posted by yoink at 8:41 AM on April 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Interesting perspective from Chomsky in telesurtv:
A front-page article is devoted to a flawed story about a campus rape in the journal Rolling Stone, exposed in the leading academic journal of media critique. So severe is this departure from journalistic integrity that it is also the subject of the lead story in the business section, with a full inside page devoted to the continuation of the two reports. The shocked reports refer to several past crimes of the press: a few cases of fabrication, quickly exposed, and cases of plagiarism (“too numerous to list”). The specific crime of Rolling Stone is “lack of skepticism,” which is “in many ways the most insidious” of the three categories.

It is refreshing to see the commitment of the Times to the integrity of journalism.
posted by fivebells at 1:52 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Richard Bradley, one of the first journalists--if not the first--to doubt the UVa story, shared his thoughts on the Columbia report (Bradley was briefly mentioned in the report). He thinks Erderly likely lied to Columbia's investigators:
3) Sabrina Rubin Erdely claims that she spoke to Jackie several days after publication and just happened to ask her, “Oh, by the way, what was Drew’s real name? You can tell me now.” [I’m paraphrasing, of course.] And that when Jackie fudged on the spelling of Drew’s last name, Erdeley suddenly got suspicious.

This anecdote is, I suspect, a load of hooey. There were, after all, many, many pre-publication indicators that Jackie was not a reliable source, yet Erdely never got suspicious then. Jackie won’t return calls, she threatens to back out of the story, Jackie’s mother won’t return calls…. Let me tell you something: If you have a source who’s claiming she was gang-raped, and tells you to talk to her mother for corroboration, and the mother won’t return your phone calls—you get nervous fast.

It’s incomprehensible to me that there could be red flags like this and only now, post-publication, when Jackie misspells Drew’s last name, does her spider sense start to tingle. (It’s worth noting, by the way, that the reason Jackie would have claimed she didn’t know the exact spelling of Drew’s last name would be to hide the fact that there was no Drew, and make Drew’s non-existence harder to establish—a fine example of Jackie’s calculated deception to keep her horrible fable from coming apart.)

Erdely claims that she asked Jackie this question at this point because Drew was “at-large” and “dangerous.” That claim does not pass the smell test. For one thing, this would have been the case pre-publication as well as post. For another, in the wake of the 2.7 million readers Erdely’s story attracted, it’s implausible that Drew was sitting back is his frat boy lair planning his next gang rape. This is not Silence of the Lambs we’re talking about.

I think Erdely told this story to try to look like she was being responsible and thorough, even if only after the fact. My bet is that she was probably reacting to something—post-publication phone calls from skeptics? my blog post? the reporting of T. Rees Shapiro or Hanna Rosin?—that rattled her, and she was starting to panic, and trying to confirm what she should have confirmed (or not) before the article was published.

Which is another way of saying that I don’t think Jackie is the only liar in this matter.

...

7) There are significant discrepancies between Erdely’s recollection of the editing process and those of her editor, Sean Woods; these are not easily explained by differing interpretations or foggy memories. At least one of these people is lying.
posted by riruro at 4:20 PM on April 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


You should not trust RedState, but.. RedState claims they "[spoke] with multiple members of Navy command [connected with]" around Erderly's piece “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer” and "[everyone] was crystal clear that at no point did Sabrina Erdely or Rolling Stone ever contact them whatsoever, even to ask for background information." We should expect more Erdely stories to fall apart, I suppose.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:11 AM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


At the very least, Erdely's conduct with regard to this story has cast thick, nasty shadows over her other work. If I were a defense lawyer or a PR flak charged with protecting another one of her subjects, then I'd be jumping all over that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:05 AM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm feeling pretty nervous for her just reading her Wikipedia page. It goes into some speculation regarding the integrity of one of her other articles, and it sounds... fantastical now. Maybe it's not, but that's the sort of domino effect a lack of academic integrity produces. Justified or not, academic progress is often in large part built on trusting a person or group who tells you they did research in a fair way. You can build internal constraints for fact-checking, but the public generally doesn't do this as intently. If you draw the skeptical eye of Sauron on your ability to work in a trustworthy manor within that context, readers have no choice but to feel the need to check everything before saying okay. I suspect this is going to turn into a big thing, a la Stephen Glass or Jason Blaire. Maybe not in terms of the plagiarism, but in terms of manipulating or fabricating source material to construct a particular narrative.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:19 PM on April 9, 2015


SpacemanStix: "I suspect this is going to turn into a big thing, a la Stephen Glass or Jason Blaire."

Funnily enough.
posted by rhizome at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Funnily enough.

Wow, that is really weird in more than one way.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:24 PM on April 9, 2015


If you read down it says the article in question was for a satirical magazine so it kind of makes no sense.
posted by Drinky Die at 3:27 PM on April 9, 2015


"That said, without having seen the actual article in question, it’s hard to know. If and when we’re able to obtain a copy of the article, we’ll be sure to include it here so you can read it and judge for yourself."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:25 PM on April 9, 2015


it's kind of hilarious and typical that someone yelling about journalistic ethics didn't immediately remove the possible satirical part of their post while they worked out the veracity of the piece.
posted by nadawi at 5:37 PM on April 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


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