I’ve written a great deal about this case because it means a lot to me, for reasons I’ve explained before. Nonetheless I’m trying to avoid going overboard on this one issue. Hence this will be my last post on the case, at least until something important arrives, such as a police investigation.
Okay, first topic: what’s the response from Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone? Answer: almost none. Erdely seems to have gone into hiding; it’s been almost two weeks since anyone heard from her. Rolling Stone, meanwhile, has altered its initial statement after widespread complaints that it was trying to put the blame on Jackie. Other than that, nothing. As Richard Bradley and many others have been saying, these people are cowards. They should be coming forward and admitting fault.
Of course both Erdely and everyone else at Rolling Stone has good reason to hide. They’ve committed the biggest journalistic fraud since Dan Rather and his phony memos. They’re going to be infamous for years to come. Erdely’s name will forever be listed next to Stephen Glass as a notorious liar and fabricator who fooled major publications.
Further, it’s not just this one story. Conservative sources have started poking into everything else Erdely has ever written and much of it is clearly fake. Mollie Hemingway has a good summary of it. Erdely won’t be writing any journalism anytime soon, but she has a career has a trashy romance novelist waiting for her if she wants it.
Next topic: what actually happened at UVA? The latest revelations from the Washington Post show that we’re closing in on the an answer. Our protagonist, “Jackie”, began playing an elaborate prank soon after arriving at UVA for her freshman year. She told her friends about her super-hot chemistry major boyfriends, even sending false texts and photos. Then for some reason it morphed into a story about this guy leading a brutal gang rape in a frat house. Over time Jackie has changed nearly every detail: the name of the boyfriend, the number of attackers, the location, and more. The three friends also did an interview with ABC news As Hanna Rosin puts it, we are inching closer to the moment when the entire story becomes an acknowledged hoax.
Next topic: the response. Ever since the Post first exposed the flaws in the story, many liberals and feminists have been wringing their hands about the possibility that this will perpetuate the stereotype of “the girl who cried rape” and make true victims of sexual assault less likely to come forward. While such fears aren’t entirely groundless, I think they’re exaggerated. The actual, factual evidence that women are intimidated into silence is rather thin.
What liberals really fear is obvious and well-grounded. People will trust the liberal media less as a result of this. And well they should. The difference between Erdely’s disaster and a typical political story in The New York Times is one of degree, not kind. If skepticism about the media goes up, so much the better.
I will say that some amazingly dumb arguments have sprung up as a result of this. Here, for instance, we have a student making a stunning argument:
If everyone here believed Jackie’s story until yesterday — a story in which she is violently raped by seven men at a fraternity house as part of a planned initiation ritual — should we not still be concerned? There was something in that story which stuck. And that means something.
Okay, the wording is careful. That “means something”; no word on what it means exactly, but the implication is clear. Since people believe that a fraternity would commit organized gang rape in its frat house, then it must happen, even if this particular case is a fabrication.
I don’t think the student who wrote this is taking Logic 101. If a magazine publishes a phony story and numerous people at UVA and across the country believe it, that doesn’t necessarily mean the story was plausible or that anything like the story has even taken place. It may simply be that UVA and other places around the country have lots of credulous fools. (Pardon my bluntness, but someone’s gotta’ say it.)
Final topic: what’s the appropriate response to all this? How should we feel about the victims? First, we must remember who the victims are. They are the men false accused of rape, two that Jackie named and all the members of Phi Kappa Psi. These people deserve nothing but sympathy. They also deserve a big cash settlement from Rolling Stone, and they’re nearly certain to get one.
And, a bit more problematically, they deserve a settlement from Jackie. Obviously Rolling Stone is the bigger, better target. Nonetheless I find it likely that at least one person or group will sue Jackie herself. If so, she’ll be forced to testify under oath about what took place and may, financially, lose everything. On top of that, there’s a police investigation still underway. If Jackie lied to the Police, she may even end up serving time in jail.
Should we feel sympathy towards her? Sort of. She’s a college student who did something stupid. I was once a college student who did stupid things. I’m glad that those things didn’t continue to follow me all my life. I’d imagine most folks would say the same thing. Jackie happened to take her bad decisions a few steps too far and will be paying for it for a long time. Perhaps the real lesson to learn from this is that we need to do a better job of teaching our young people about responsibility, honesty, and empathy, and we need to do it at an earlier age.