I still can’t sleep.
This is the second Comment of the Day on this October 18 post, a surprise one for Pennagain, since I didn’t even flag it at the time. Again, I’m sorry. I don’t know what was up in October; it also ended with the worst traffic here of any week for more than two years. Obviously, it was a protest over my dilatory posting of the fine work by my commenters.
This one is a triple COTD, made up of three by Penn, who properly raised the specter of Samantha Erdly in the context of hoax research. Erdley is the Rolling Stone journalist who inflicted the “Jackie” tale of an imaginary gang rape at the University of Virginia, an earlier assault of truth and due process by the “believe all women” crowd. (Ethics Alarms covered the episode in a series of posts.). I just re-read Pennagain’s comments, made in a discussion with Alizia Tyler, who earns an assist. Excellent observations, and a valuable assist in making sure this journalistic outrage is never slipped down the memory hole, as so many would love it to be.
Here is Pennagain’s Comment of the Day on Ethics Quiz: The Good Hoax?:
As far as hoax articles appearing in either reputable journals or popular publications (rarely the same thing), if I weren’t an atheist, I would damn them all to hell. What I have in mind as an example that should need no further elucidation here is the piece knowingly published by Rolling Stone that included the false rape stories and statistics responsible for poisoning much of a culture, not to mention its politics….
“In November 2016, a federal court jury found Samantha Erdely was liable for defamation with actual malice” and that “Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice”
Her background reveals a start in college, when her colleague Stephen Glass ‘threw a righteous fit’ after she and a another student “concocted a funny and obviously made-up travel story” for the school magazine.” [Glass, you may not know, later became nationally notorious for inventing false stories published as factual journalism in the highly respected The New Republic, seriously harming its reputation.] Erdely was obviously already toxic before she left school. If you’re curious, her Wikipedia bio contains descriptions of six other major rape stories she invented out of whole cloth and used to smear real people and institutions, articles that in at least two cases went up for major journalism awards. As a self-appointed expert in rape and bullying, her work went into GQ, The New Yorker, Mother Jones, Glamour, Men’s Health, Philadelphia, among other lesser magazines. She was believed. The more she got away with, the greater the lies she invented … until, after twenty wonderful years of conning millions of people, she got over-confident and lazy, and plagiarized a previous article of her own. Until someone finally noticed that the Rolling Stone piece bore too many similarities to another one to be coincidental.
For twenty years, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, Seattle to Florida, she built a reputation for being the go-to journalist on the subject of rape. No one doubted her. Witnesses later spoke out using her writing as statistical evidence — women (and so many men who had been falsely accused) and feminists in particular — had absorbed every precious word – even against the evidence of their own knowledge and experience in the times and places Erdely was writing about.
A month ago, September 21, 2018, Rolling Stone was also found “liable for defamation.” It was noted in the case against Erdely that the magazine hadn’t been doing too well before they glommed onto that gem of Samantha, aka “Jackie,” the fictional rapee.
Last week’s headline: WaPo Reporter Is Tired of Being Reminded He Fell for Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Hate Hoax So Badly He Called for Burning Down UVA Frat Houses
I now amend my description of the poisonous piece: It is a “hate hoax.”
No, Alizia, poisons do not, in general, lead to death. They lead to minor discomfort in some, and major permanent damage in others; some knock you on your ass right away, and some creep insidiously into your brain over months or years. The public remembers things they read and hear. They (I won’t say “we” because I became skeptical reader at the age of 12 after a defamatory article was published in a local newspaper concerning a friend of my family concerning something that happened while I was present and knew to be a lie. I had been visiting one of their children, a classmate, at the time the incident took place, or rather, didn’t take place. My testimony was taken down, along with his, not discounted, but the editor of the paper would not print a retraction because, he said, “we don’t want to confuse our readers; they expect the truth, and that is what we give them.” Our parents wanted that in writing; naturally, he refused.
I am convinced that what is presented in a plausible manner from an authoritative source (which could be the 10 o’clock news or a magazine with a reputation for having its journalistic thumb on the pulse of young America) is frequently taken in without the auditor, viewer or reader later recalling the source. If they didn’t question it in the first place, they not only don’t question it later, but, when challenged, they will deny or dismiss any correction out of sheer embarrassment, egotism, mental laziness or, in the case under discussion, because they want to believe it.
As has been pointed out in Ethics Alarms before, the left, on the whole, has taken the anomalous position of being at once both victim and dictator. Thus, the concept of a Rape Culture is heaven for them: they are, collectively, the injured parties … and the ones who injure, including any who are capable of doing injury, are now at their mercy — via 30-year-old wisps of memory, anonymous join-the-conga-line #MeToo-ers, a casual touch on the shoulder, or a dirty-dirty word in their ears. They feed on lies more than on facts – the truths are painful, but the lies are more … emotional, memorable, dramatic, arousing . . . . They need to feed the addiction even when they know it is poison…
The fact in this matter is that Erdely, falsely or idiotically or crazily or not, believed she was doing something fine and high-minded “for women,” and to alert a deaf public (and via that route influence authorities) that there was “a rape problem” that needed to be addressed. In her mind, the ruining of a single man (or a whole college fraternity) was insignificant in terms of getting her message “out there.”
In other words, her cover (if you will) was in presenting these gross exaggerations as hoaxes. I may have taken you in the wrong direction by quoting the court decisions concerning malicious intent. The articles undoubtedly did “malicious” damage. So where am I? What Erdely believed (and apparently still does) has been shown to be shared by much of the public touched by it — including a proportion of men who don’t understand they are simply seeing themselves as heroic exceptions, or else thinking they are disguising themselves to live in the midst of an Amazonian tribe that wants to cut their balls off (that was an irrelevant side-bar, sorry, I do that a lot, letting off steam). Here’s what happens when someone with a cause and a vague concept of how bad the situation is gets hold of what she thinks are solid statistics, intended as a righteous hoax: https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2014/12/06/msnbc_panelist_we_live_in_a_culture_that_hates_women.html
I rest my case.