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U. Virginia Gang Rape Story: Truth or irresponsible journalism?

U. Virginia Gang Rape Story: Truth or irresponsible journalism?

Story is suspect in so many ways.

Rolling Stone has gotten a lot of attention with a controversial article alleging a rape occurred in 2012 at the University of Virginia, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and featuring some harrowing and disturbing details. The victim was identified only as “Jackie.”

Almost as soon as the story was published, doubts arose about its veracity, or at least about the journalistic standards of its author, who did not manage to interview the alleged perpetrators even though it would seem there were ways to have contacted them. Even worse, Erdely has not been forthcoming about the extent of her efforts to find them, and did not include any mention of any of this in the article.

It has become evident that not only did Erdely demonstrate slipshod journalistic standards, but that the story itself could possibly be a fabrication by the alleged victim. This could be wrong, of course; there’s no way to know at this point. But it seems fairly clear that Erdely did not fact check the story properly, and neither did Rolling Stone. Their excuses as to why seem inadequate, self-serving, and obfuscating.

The article was not only about the alleged rape; it was critical of the UVA administration. But what did the administrators do wrong, exactly? They outlined all of Jackie’s choices, and left it to her to decide what to do. Also, Jackie had only come forward to the administration close to a year after the rape supposedly occurred, and it’s not clear from the article whether she named any names. But here’s what is purported to have occurred when she did report it to the official in charge of such incidents:

When Jackie finished talking, Eramo comforted her, then calmly laid out her options. If Jackie wished, she could file a criminal complaint with police. Or, if Jackie preferred to keep the matter within the university, she had two choices. She could file a complaint with the school’s Sexual Misconduct Board, to be decided in a “formal resolution” with a jury of students and faculty, and a dean as judge. Or Jackie could choose an “informal resolution,” in which Jackie could simply face her attackers in Eramo’s presence and tell them how she felt; Eramo could then issue a directive to the men, such as suggesting counseling. Eramo presented each option to Jackie neutrally, giving each equal weight. She assured Jackie there was no pressure – whatever happened next was entirely her choice.

Like many schools, UVA has taken to emphasizing that in matters of sexual assault, it caters to victim choice. “If students feel that we are forcing them into a criminal or disciplinary process that they don’t want to be part of, frankly, we’d be concerned that we would get fewer reports,” says associate VP for student affairs Susan Davis. Which in theory makes sense: Being forced into an unwanted choice is a sensitive point for the victims. But in practice, that utter lack of guidance can be counterproductive to a 19-year-old so traumatized as Jackie was that she was contemplating suicide. Setting aside for a moment the absurdity of a school offering to handle the investigation and adjudication of a felony sex crime – something Title IX requires, but which no university on Earth is equipped to do – the sheer menu of choices, paired with the reassurance that any choice is the right one, often has the end result of coddling the victim into doing nothing.

So the university is between a rock and a hard place. They can give a student autonomy, sympathy, and information; but if the student doesn’t take responsibility and go further with the reporting process, then the university is sure to be criticized for failing to be more heavy-handed in telling the student what to do. (I agree, however, that this should be a criminal matter, rather than being left to a university which cannot offer the same protections for the accused and does not have the same tools to investigate.)

No one has a clue whether Jackie is telling the truth, but her story is suspect in so many ways: her silence for so long despite the extreme seriousness of her allegations (premeditated gang rape of a violent nature); her friends’ advice to keep quiet in the face of such heinous accusations; the fact that if such rape is a widespread initiation rite for this fraternity (as alleged, involving large groups of men) it would have required the silence and acquiescence of many many more people over the years; Jackie’s lack of wounds and failure to seek medical help despite her allegations of being pressed down onto cut glass for three hours; and the fact that Erdely had originally gone looking on many elite campuses for just such a story and had searched until she found one.

People may lie for a variety of reasons, especially to get attention, sympathy, or money, or to implicate someone with whom they are angry. Sometimes they even get paid for it—Stephen Glass, for example, whom Rolling Stone published long ago. Journalistic standards have only fallen since then, not risen. Whatever its truth or falsehood, Erdely’s article should have been sent back for much more work and better verification before it was ever published.

[NOTE: Here’s a long piece I wrote on the subject of campus sexual assault, after the Duke case was debunked as a hoax; and here’s another in-depth analysis of the Rolling Stone article.]

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[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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From what I read elsewhere, there is a growing believe that the story is a Rather: Fake, but accurate. Meaning, this story didn’t happen, but the way things are it could have.
Personally, I would not turn to the Rolling Stone for news and facts.

Richard Aubrey | December 5, 2014 at 8:14 am

If I get the actual story, some of Jackie’s friends wanted to keep it quiet for fear of not being invited to be the guest of honor at the next gang rape.
Not buying it.

pablo panadero | December 5, 2014 at 8:25 am

I have a friend who is a good reporter / editor at a major newspaper in Ohio. He is a liberal through and through, but is registered as an Independent in order to avoid being labelled as biased. He has broken some major scandals within the local area, specifically within the schools, which have been 100% Democrat for more than a generation.

He is now seriously considering moving outside of journalism in order to support his family (good thinking!). However, he honestly does not see that a actions such as this poison the entire journalism profession. It is only when owners of these failing publications finally realize that you gain credibility by the ounce, but you lose credibility by the ton. And without credibility, you don’t have a viable business.

Far too many people want to be a victim and far too many journalists want that sensational story. For the supposed victim, there is the fame, pity and attention they crave. Sometimes there is also a financial reward. For the journalist, there is the fame from writing and uncovering an article that gets the newspaper lots of attention that increases readership. The journalist gets kudos, perhaps even a raise or promotion for his work and it really doesn’t matter if it is factual or fake any more. It is a marriage made in hell.

When I need a big, thick, steaming bowl of fabulosity or Collectivist character assassination, I always reach for a can of “Rolling Stone”.

Which is pretty much never. I’ve never suffered. Huh?

I predict we will look back on this last few years of histrionics with the same sense of marvel and disbelief we have for the witch trials.

And pretty much for the same reasons.

NC Mountain Girl | December 5, 2014 at 10:33 am

Journalism has always had its biases. Something different began to happen in the 90s, however an I don’t think we’ve yet hit bottom. Maybe because reporting had fully turned the corner from a trade to an effete profession for those with expensive degrees from pampered liberal arts institutions, I started to see stories where I wondered just how stupid the reporter thought the readers could be. Once someone like Mark Singer would have been laughed out of the reporters’ guild for having swallowed hook line and sinker convicted domestic terrorist Brett Kimberlin’s claims that Dan Quayle had been a dope dealer. Instead Singer was rewarded with a staff position at the once scrupulously fact checking New Yorker magazine. He admitted Kimberlin was a known liar and there was no corroboration for the claims, but that Kimberlin was from the same state and of the same age range as Quayle somehow spoke to larger truths in Singer’s mind,

What pretentious bovine excrement.

From the article, Erdely admits she “set out to find a sexual-assault story at an elite school like UVA.”

Duke University was her first choice, but well. You know . . .

This story is not journalism. It is an essay exploring a woman’s emotions about a story which is unverified, in other words, fiction, possibly “based on a true story,” and possibly based in fiction or exaggeration.

Sort of like Lena Dunham’s book.

Journalistic integrity appears cyclical. At the turn of the 20th centry (1895-1910) newspaper editors across the country joined in a hoax just for the fun of it (no political motive). They published accounts of ‘airship’ sightings at a time when the mystery airship as described was not known to science as yet. Most of these made up stories took advantage of public amazement at recent technological inventions (Edison, Tesla, etc.) – and of public gullibility as well. They took care to leave clues within the newspaper reports that signalled it was all a spoof, but many missed it.

Whether harmless fun by Mark Twain-like wags in journalism or naked attempts to sell newspapers with sensationalism, it is deeply unethical for an industry that demands respect and trust as the gatekeepers of truth and as the people’s strongest ally against tyranny to then take advantage of that trust with such sophomoric pranks. But they’ve done it many times before and the industry is currently taking this unethical practice to new depths of deceit via their liberal biases, most doing so knowingly while others lack the capacity for the insight to see their own bias. Entirely damning is that their motivations to lie now are political – even to the detriment of sales.

In transportation, a calamity is when the buses and trains stop running. In a republic, a calamity is when the free press freely chooses to lie. For political gain, no less.

I read the Rolling Stone article and the first thing I noticed was how similar the UVA gang-rape “Jackie” described was to a fictional gang-rape depicted in a 1980’s-era Jodie Foster movie called The Accused. In the movie, Foster’s character is gang raped by a bunch of frat boys, in a bar, atop a glass-topped pinball machine. The rapists stand around drinking beer, cheering each other on, and calling each other names like “pencil d*ck.” There is one rapist who sees the woman’s obvious distress and is reluctant to take part in the assault, so the others try to shame him by telling him he’s a “f*ggot” if he doesn’t take “his turn” (which he then reluctantly does).

In the UVA rape, a bunch of frat boys forcibly rape Jackie atop a shattered glass table. The guys are standing around drinking beer, and cheering each other on and calling each other names like “armpit.” There is one rapist, whom Jackie somehow is able to recognize in the “pitch black” room (she says he looked “like he was going to cry or puke”). This guy is reluctant to take part in the assault, so the others try to shame him by telling him he’s “a p*ssy” if he doesn’t take “his turn” (which he reluctantly does).

I was also struck by Jackie’s description of the behavior of “Drew,” the guy who Jackie says took her up to the rape room and directed the 3-hour long beating and gang rape. Jackie says Drew sought her out on campus two weeks later, asked her if she was ignoring him, and said he was glad he’d seen her because he wanted to thank her for the good time he’d had at the party. That’s some pretty odd behavior for a man who had recently committed several major felonies against Jackie — felonies which had reportedly left her battered and bloody and fleeing for her life (barefoot into the street). Either Drew is a diabolical sociopath, or something is very wrong with Jackie’s story.

    LSBeene in reply to Observer. | December 5, 2014 at 1:41 pm


    I had not made the connection to the Jodie Foster movie, but I have seen it, and, holy crap, it’s like an updated version of it.

    This story, of her being raped, on top of broken glass – FOR HOURS – without suffering major injury, and serious blood loss – that alone makes me seriously doubt it.

    Forget rape – any story, anyone trying to convey that to me would find me doubting them.

Rolling Stone is now saying that their trust in Jackie’s story was misplaced. LOL. The Washington Post has just come out with an article about the story. Here’s a bit of the Post’s story:

“Earlier this week, Jackie revealed to friends for the first time the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone. But after looking into that person’s background, the group that had been among her closest supporters quickly began to raise suspicions about her account. The friends determined that the student that Jackie had named was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier about her perpetrator.

The Post determined that the student Jackie named is not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and had never met her in person.

Emily Renda was a U-Va. senior when she first met Jackie in the fall of 2013. . . . .

Renda said on Thursday that Jackie initially told her that she was attacked by five students at Phi Kappa Psi on Sept. 28, 2012. Renda said that she learned months later that Jackie had changed the number of attackers from five to seven.”

The fraternity’s lawyer is also reportedly going to release a statement saying that no party was held in the frat house on the night that Jackie claims she was gang raped there.

Gee, what a surprise, right?

Rolling Stone has now officially retracted the rape story and apologized.

MouseTheLuckyDog | December 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm

My understanding is that Lena Dunham or whatever her name is is making claims of a campus rape, which Breitbart is trying to verify and failing miserably.