Hardly making it to the headlines (except where I live) is the latest example of 1) irresponsible journalism and 2) the results of the Obama administration threatening colleges with sanctions of they don’t presume every male student accused of sexual assault is guilty.
On Nov. 19, Rolling Stone published a sensational report—sensational, mind you—by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, telling the tale of a vicious gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia. The victim and the source of the story, a young woman called “Jackie,” said that in 2012 she was forced into a room in the fraternity and raped by seven men, as her date and another man cheered her assailants on.
In response to the uproar triggered by the story, the university, which was loathe to be a target of investigations and sanctions by the Obama administration if they did not act with appropriate haste and severity, suspended all the campus fraternities until January as the media went into a feeding frenzy. Meanwhile, the alleged crime is under investigation by local police. [UPDATE: Here is a call to suspend the UVA President Teresa A. Sullivan: “Her decision was arbitrary, rash and wrong. Even Delta House got some semblance of a trial in the movie, ‘Animal House.'” I do not disagree.]
Several journalists diplomatically raised questions about the account, especially the fact that the story was often phrased in terms that left no hint that these were allegations only. In an environment where the party in control of the White House maintains that any hesitation to regard a rape accusation as inherently reliable is proof of a “war on women,” one unnamed woman’s unconfirmed accusation presented as truth by a female reporter was sufficient to trigger adverse consequences for male UVA students with remarkably little reflection: this was unfair, an example of punishing all the horses because someone said that one of them left the barn.
It should be no surprise that the other shoe has dropped.
Phi Kappa Psi released a statement today in which it denied the assault took place. “Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper,” it said in part. The fraternity had no event scheduled at UVA on the weekend that was claimed to be when the gang rape occurred, and “Jackie’s” claim that one of the men involved had worked at a campus pool did not check out. “As far as we have determined, no member of our fraternity worked there in any capacity during this time period,” the statement said.
Rolling Stone Magazine also acknowledged today that further investigation into the incident and the reporting has shown that its trust in “Jackie,” the alleged rape victim, was unjustified. There appeared to be “discrepancies” in the description of the gang rape. Erdley did not seek to contact any of the individuals whom “Jackie”accused of rape. She just found the woman “credible.” The magazine’s editor said…
“We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”
This is atrocious, biased journalism, unethical and irresponsible to the core. The theory, apparently, is that a rape accusation must be believed, based on nothing else. As some wags pointed out, apparently Atticus Finch wasn’t such a hero after all, since in “To Kill A Mockingbird” he challenged the story of a woman who had accused his client, a black man, of rape.
The Atlantic, focusing on the problems a high-profile botch like this will cause for other rape victims who come forward—ideally more quickly and with more details than Jackie—then tried to rationalize the unethical reporting by Erdley and incompetent editing by Rolling Stone by pointing to statistics that purportedly “prove” that 98% of rape accusations are true. So what? The fact that those that aren’t true result in ruined lives and reputations, and often years in prison still make ethical reporting as well as thorough investigation, healthy skepticism and due process for those accused essential. Even if it ultimately turns out that everything reported by Erdley was true, her methods were unprofessional; if they did not result in an injustice, it will just be moral luck. The risk was there, and it was a risk that the principles of journalistic ethics—“Oh, those old things…”—were designed to prevent.
In light of all this, it seems that women really have done a relatively poor job at intimidating the left-biased media as well as its progressive pundits and elected officials. If they had sufficiently pressured journalists into believing that to challenge their accounts of rape, substantiated or not, was proof positive of malicious animus, like the civil rights machine has regarding narratives of police racism, they could depend on much of the media continuing to repeat the Rolling Stone account as truth even if it is completely discredited.
This is, after all, what we are witnessing right now, as the recent grand jury decision in the Eric Garner death has allowed columnists, reporters, and broadcasters—and thus protesters and politicians—to continue to represent what happened to Michael Brown as if Dorian Johnson’s discredited description of his friend’s death was fair, accurate and unbiased.
I guess this is something for feminists to aspire to, right?
Or, in the alternative,
the news media could start being objective, informative and fair.