Thursday Morning Video

Posted on December 18th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The trailer for the forthcoming Terrence Malick film, “Knight of Cups.” Can’t wait.

Thursday Morning Music

Posted on December 18th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

A new song, “Realise,” from the British band Tear Talk. Shades of The xx and Wild Beasts. I like it.

Biased Journalism from the Daily Beast?

Posted on December 17th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 66 Comments »

On the Daily Beast yesterday, Liz Seccuro published a long account of her rape at UVa in 1984. I have grown a little cynical about Seccuro since, hours before the Washington Post published its first debunking of Jackie’s story of gang rape, she published an article on explaining why you should never question a “rape survivor“—and has since steadfastly refused to acknowledge just how wrong she was—on -the premise, I suppose, that if you never admit that you were wrong, people will eventually just…forget that you were wrong.

But no matter—her story on the Daily Beast is painful and disturbing to read, and good on her for going public with this traumatic experience. You can buy her book here.

My issue is with the Daily Beast, which set up Seccuro’s story like this:


I Was Gang Raped at a U-VA Frat 30 Years Ago, and No One Did Anything

History repeating?

I thought at first that maybe that’s some clever description—a slug, you’d call it in the magazine biz—the Daily Beast uses to introduce personal memoirs. But I searched the site for that phrase and couldn’t find any other usage of it as a slug. It’s possible that I wasn’t able to search the site correctly. It’s also possible that I’m just over-interpreting this.

But…it does appear like “HISTORY REPEATING” is a reference to Jackie’s claim that she was gang-raped at UVa.

If so, that’s an odd bit of editorializing; we still have no idea what, if anything, happened to Jackie. (And more and more, I doubt that we ever will.)

There’s some support for this interpretation to be found in an editor’s note at the bottom of the page:

Editor’s note: Liz’s account of her rape was briefly recounted in the November 17th issue of Rolling Stone, in the story ‘A Rape on Campus’ by Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Liz is the author of Crash Into Me: A Survivor’s Search for Justice.

Just so you know, editor’s notes do not typically refer to their writers by their first names; if I wrote something for the Daily Beast, you can be sure that the tagline might say something like, “Richard Bradley is the author of….” It would not say, “Richard is the author of…”

Using Seccuro’s first name suggests a sort of editorial intimacy with the writer —a friendship, almost—that I would think inappropriate in anything other than a teenage girls’ magazine. I can guarantee you that Newsweek, the former owner of the Daily Beast, would not refer to a writer by her first name.

What’s the point? That this is unprofessional behavior on the part of editors because they want to show empathy with a woman who is recounting a story of rape. I understand the impulse, but it’s the same sort of mentality that got Rolling Stone into trouble.

Given what’s happened in the past couple of weeks, one would hope that the Daily Beast would know better. But in recent years, in an attempt to solidify its financial standing, the site has gone into the business of developing conferences aimed at women, and I imagine this kind of “we’re all part of the sisterhood” mentality is part of that financial agenda. Don’t be surprised if “Liz” is speaking on a Daily Beast panel sometime soon….

UPDATE: The word “former” was added to the sentence beginning “I can guarantee you…” to reflect the fact that Newsweek no longer owns the Daily Beast and, frankly, I’m not even sure if Newsweek still exists.

New York Mag Also Writes Fake Stuff

Posted on December 16th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 51 Comments »

New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler wrote a pretty long story this week about a New York high school kid who made tens of millions of dollars in the stock market.

Mo, a cherubic senior with a goatee and slight faux-hawk, smiled shyly. “He’s quiet today,” said Patrick Trablusi, who was seated with Mo and Damir at a table littered with empty glasses. “Humble.” And tired: “This is our third meeting of the day,” Damir said, signaling to the waitress for another round. “We saw a real-estate agent, a lawyer, you …”

“Next we’re going to see a hedge-fund guy,” Patrick said. The friends locked eyes and started to giggle.

“He basically wants to give us $150 million,” Mo explained, a blush like a sunset creeping over his cheeks.

Perhaps that giggling should have told Ms. Pressler something—like, they were laughing at her—because it turns out that the story is fake.

A blush like a sunset creeping over his cheeks

According to the New York Observer,

Monday’s edition of New York magazine includes an irresistible story about a Stuyvesant High senior named Mohammed Islam who had made a fortune investing in the stock market. Reporter Jessica Pressler wrote regarding the precise number, “Though he is shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the “’high eight figures.’”

…now it turns out, the real number is … zero.

In an exclusive interview with Mr. Islam and his friend Damir Tulemaganbetov, who also featured heavily in the New York story, the baby faced boys who dress in suits with tie clips came clean. Swept up in a tide of media adulation, they made the whole thing up.

As the Observer points out,

Even if this working-class kid had somehow started with $100,000 as a high school freshman on day one at Stuy High, he’d have needed to average a compounded annualized return of something like 796% over the three years since. C’mon, man.

Well, first things first: Jessica Pressler, whom I’ve never met or spoken to, once took a gratuitous cheap shot at me for no reason other than being snarky. As words go, snark and karma have a lot in common.

More important, whether it’s with Jezebel or New York magazine, we’re seeing a generation of writers who simply haven’t learned to report. They grew up writing for blogs, where snark generates hits, which generates attention—and in the short term, that’s good for your career. Eventually, it catches up to you…call it “snarkarma.”

I mean, this is basic business reporting. This kid wasn’t even old enough to open a brokerage account, and Pressler has him generating an 800 percent annual return.

Pressler, by the way, has “protected” her tweets, so that if you’re not following her you can’t see them—another example of journalists who, when it comes to transparency, don’t practice what they preach….

But before she went Twitter-silent, Pressler tweeted, according to the New York Times, “It’s New York mag’s Reasons to Love issue, we’re not a financial publication.”

So that’s okay then.

New York has added a pretty mealy-mouthed “editor’s note” saying that they were really writing about a “rumor.”

Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor; the initial headline has been changed to more clearly reflect the fact that we did not know the exact figure he has made in trades….

Whether it’s Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely or Jessica Pressler, why is it so hard for people to admit when they’re wrong? The idea that New York magazine “is not a financial publication”—and by the way, New York does cover finance quite a lot—and that mitigates the idiocy of publishing this story is just so facile and morally irresponsible.

Ms. Pressler, by the way, is moving to Bloomberg next year to join the “financial investigative unit.”

According to Capital New York,

“I hear that when you go to Bloomberg, after you’ve been there a year, they give you a magazine that you can run into the ground,” said Pressler, jokingly (we think!).

I’m sure Bloomberg is feeling pretty good about their new hire right now.

In an email to the Washington Post, Pressler maintained her sassier-than-thou attitude.

“I’m I guess moderately surprised. In my day (2008?) it took at least a few days to cop to a fraud. I have to talk to nymag before officially comments as the story’s really theirs.”

The story’s really theirs? Way to own your work, Jessica.

The Post’s Terrence McCoy adds,

how was he able to convince a reporter into thinking those returns had not only been real — but that he was worth “high eight figures?” A source close to the Islam family who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue told The Post Islam had “created some bulls—t thing on the computer with blacked out numbers. He said she could look at it for 10 seconds, and pulled it away.” The Washington Post couldn’t independently verify that claim.

The “she” here actually may refer to a fact-checker—the NY Mag editor’s note suggests as much—meaning that Pressler never even bothered to try to verify the young man’s claim; she just left it up to the fact checker. Hey, why not—the story’s really theirs, anyway!

By the way—has anyone ever seen Anna Merlan and Jessica Pressler in the same room?

The faces of snark: Jessica Pressler and Anna Merlan

The faces of snark: Jessica Pressler and Anna Merlan


Update: New York has amended its editor’s note, which now reads, in part: We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers..

Alex Pinkleton Faults Sabrina Rubin Erdely

Posted on December 15th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 55 Comments »

Interviewed by Brian Stelter of CNN, UVa rape survivor Alex Pinkleton says that Sabrina Rubin Erdely had a blatant ant-fraternity bias, and that her questions seemed crafted to make fraternities look bad.

According to (surprise, surprise) Erik Wemple, who writes about the interview in the Post, Pinkleton said,

[Rubin Erdely] did have an agenda and part of that agenda was showing how monstrous fraternities themselves as an institution are and blaming the administration for a lot of these sexual assaults.”

Pinkleton noticed a certain tendency in the reporter: “When she asked about my own assault, she kept asking, you know, ‘Did he feed you the drinks, was he keeping tabs of the drinks that night?’ ” Pinkleton told Stelter. “And he wasn’t and that’s something that I had to keep saying over and over again. And I felt that she wasn’t satisfied with my perpetrator as someone who wasn’t clearly monstrous.

That is ghastly–if you’re being interviewed by someone and they are so determined to twist your answer or hear something that you’re not saying that you have “to keep saying it over and over again.” In the journalism world, that is a three-alarm fire.

Pinkleton later added, “I didn’t like that it seemed like she was looking for a story that had to be at a fraternity.”

That is not going to help Rubin Erdely defend herself in any legal action…

It’s worth pointing out that Pinkleton still believes that “something traumatic happened to [Jackie] that night,” adding that “some of the details we’re finding out may have some discrepancies due to trauma—that’s something that comes along with being a survivor…. One thing that she might have done is try to fill in the blanks herself and might have filled it in with something that isn’t quote-unquote ‘true.’ But it’s something that she believes may have happened to her that night…”

“Quote-unquote true”….George Orwell just did a 360.

I don’t mean to fault Pinkleton; she seems like a level-headed and impressive young woman, and as a rape survivor, she’s obviously going to stand up for her friend—”my job as an advocate was never to question Jackie’ story,” she admits, and fair enough. She also articulates a far more nuanced view of sexual assault on campus than you will find in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s piece.

But as I’ve pointed out before, the distance between being forced to perform oral sex on five men, as horrible as that is—and assuming that it’s true—and being vaginally raped by seven men over the course of three hours seems to stretch the definition of the word “discrepancies.” Especially because, according to her friends, Jackie told them the forced oral sex story immediately after it happened—which, if that story were true, suggests that she was telling the truth and then, years later, “discrepancies” crept in to her account. To me, it’s hard to explain those discrepancies as the result of trauma—especially if you got the story right the first time.

Pinkleton adds, by the way, that Rubin Erdely has gotten back in touch with her since the publication of the story. “I haven’t responded,” she says. She explains that she’s in the middle of exams and doesn’t have a lot of time to talk with her—an excuse that seems less than credible given the fact that she’s giving a lengthy television interview as she says it.

Update: I meant to add that after reading Wemple’s article, I went and watched the video, and thought that Brian Stelter did a very nice job of interviewing Pinkleton—polite and sensitive about some difficult subjects, but asking all the right questions.

Where is the New York Times?

Posted on December 15th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 28 Comments »

In today’s paper, NYT media critic David Carr writes a long and pointless piece about pot-stirring, Jackie-doxxing blogger Charles C. Johnson.

He concludes with these words: My worry is that people who have made it this far in the column will click over to GotNews to see what all the fuss is about.

If that’s how you feel, why write the profile at all?

Especially because a) the Washington Post already did it last week, and b) it’s not as if the Times has exactly excelled in its reporting of Rolling Stone’s bogus UVa rape article. There is plenty of other work the Times’ media columnist could be doing.

Nobody likes to criticize David Carr because he has a lot of friends in the media and because he is powerful. And also because he has done such a good job promoting his story of drug addiction that he’s created a sort of triumphant-victim persona for himself.

But I’m never going to work at the New York Times, so…why not?

This piece feels lazy, the work of a guy who’s been scooped by a blogger (yours truly) and a metro reporter, T. Rees Shapiro, and Hanna Rosin, among others, and has reached the point in his career where getting scooped doesn’t really bother him—the “I’d rather be a pundit” phase; Carr now spends two days a week teaching at Boston University. Carr also spends a lot of time going to conferences—TechCrunch, South by Southwest, the ANA Brand Conference, the Chicago Humanities Festival, Internet Week New York, the Harvard Kennedy School, or giving the 2012 Mary Alice Davis Distinguished Lecture at U.T.-Austin or the UC-Berekely J. School’s 2014 commencement address or—well, you get the point. You have to wonder if all this outside activity takes away from his time to actually, you know, report. Or maybe he just thinks that he’s too grand to travel to Charlottesville and knock on doors.

David Carr, I should add, once wrote a piece about me which I didn’t think was particularly fair but wasn’t the worst. That was about ten years ago. What struck me at the time really was how under-reported it was. Carr had lunch with me for about an hour, then made a few phone calls to other people and that was it. The profile of Chuck Johnson seems even less reported: It appears to be based entirely on one phone call with Johnson, and the rest is filler—Carr opining. This is the slapdash work of a reporter who is overcommitted, burned-out, lazy or some combination of the above. (A not uncommon problem among Times columnists, to be fair.) Carr is going through the motions.

What frustrates me about today’s piece goes beyond the fact that it’s odd to write about Chuck Johnson and then add the caveat that you don’t want Chuck Johnson to get any more publicity. There’s an MSM/NYT arrogance there: The only thing you need to know about this guy is what I’m telling you.

But the real loss is that there is a really interesting social media story to be written about the collapse of Rolling Stone’s article: The part that social media played in undercutting a story that the mainstream media left unquestioned for weeks.

Yes, of course, that’s a self-serving thing to say, I concede that, but it’s truly not why I make the suggestion—I just think it’s a more interesting story than “Chuck Johnson is a scumbag, so read my column and not his blog.”

And there are plenty more people who could and should be included in a discussion of online criticism of Rolling Stone’s story: Robbie Soave, Steve Sailer and others, I’m sure. You could even include the role that Anna Merlan and others of her political leaning played.

Of course, that would have required Carr to make more than one phone call.

And that’s an article that would make the establishment media look bad. And Carr—who, once upon a time, used to write for Washington City Paper, a terrific alternative weekly in D.C.—really does see himself as the voice from Mount Olympus these days. “[Johnson] is not without some talent,” Carr writes.

So it is not surprising that The Times’ media reporter chose to write a piece that makes bloggers look bad. But it is a missed opportunity…as is all the Times’ coverage of what’s going on at UVa.

She’s Re-Reporting The Story?

Posted on December 15th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 63 Comments »

Kathryn Hendley, Alex Stock and Ryan Duffin—the three friends of Jackie’s who Sabrina Rubin Erdely falsely claimed discouraged from her calling the authorities—now tell the AP that they have all been contacted by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who is “re-reporting” her original story.

All three say Erdely has since reached out to them, and that she has told them she is re-reporting the story. Hendley told the AP Erdely apologized to her for portraying her the way she did.

This is a bizarre idea for a number of reasons.

First, Rubin Erdely herself continues to refuse to talk to the press—or, as she said of the UVa administration, she is “stonewalling.” So she is a hypocrite.

And second—why on earth would anyone talk to her? (The AP story does not disclose whether the three friends agreed to be re-interviewed interviewed.) She revealed her profound political bias in her first article, as well as a fatal lack of professionalism. She might improve on the second part, but she’s unlikely to change the first. In fact, she might be even more invested in proving the point that, whatever happened to Jackie, there is a larger “rape culture” at the University of Virginia.

But most important, Rubin Erdely is deeply compromised by her original shoddy reporting, and she is now part of this story; it makes no sense for her to be a part of “re-reporting” it. What if she subsequently writes that Jackie made the whole thing up? That would obviously be to her benefit—and we couldn’t possibly believe it. Apologizing to Kathryn Hendley is a decent thing to do, but at this point, it’s also a way to fend off a lawsuit. Remember, Rubin Erdely called Hendley a “self-declared hookup slut queen” who told Jackie not to go to the authorities lest she (Hendley) never get invited to a fraternity party again.

However, Hendley told the AP that not only did she not say any of that, she had arrived with Stock to the picnic table only to have Jackie say she didn’t want her to be part of the conversation. She said she watched from afar while Stock and Duffin talked with Jackie.

Anything and everything that Sabrina Rubin Erdely reports on at UVa would now directly affect her; anything she might produce under such circumstances shouldn’t be trusted any more than her original article.

I suspect that Rubin Erdely is doing this on her own; if you’re Rolling Stone, there’s no way you want her making telephone calls and representing your magazine now. But then, Rolling Stone too says it is “re-reporting” the story. And Rolling Stone has done a lot of stupid things over the past few months.

By the way, “re-reporting” is not a common or even known term in journalism, and here’s why: You can’t “re-report” a thing, because as soon as you write about it the first time, you change it; the word suggests that a situation is static, but it is the opposite.

There’s at least one reporter—the Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro—down in Charlottesville trying to find out what really happened. Judging from what he’s printed, and from what I’ve seen of him on television, he seems like a serious guy; the TV interviewers keep trying to get him to speak beyond the scope of his reporting, and he keeps limiting his answers only to what he knows for sure. That’s smart—and responsible.

Rubin Erdely should let other reporters do the job at which she failed. Instead, she should be busy writing an apology—and, in my opinion, a resume.

Everybody Should Read Anna Merlan’s Latest Post on Jezebel

Posted on December 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 180 Comments »

Because it raises an important argument that we’ll be hearing a lot of in the next few days…and that I intend to challenge as soon as time permits.

Some Notes on This Blog

Posted on December 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Yes, I am on Twitter: RPBradley1.

Someone else—a jeweler, I think—took RichardBradley. My bad for not being an early adopter.

For those of you who are new to the blog, one small point about commenting: I’m a pretty light moderator. Steer clear of meanness and you can say pretty much whatever you want.

And if you include a link, I have to “approve” the comment before it appears. That’s to avoid spam comments, of which I used to get a ton. So don’t worry if your comment doesn’t instantly appear.

I first started writing this blog back in 2005 to help promote and discuss a book I had just written, “Harvard Rules,” which was about Lawrence Summer’s failed presidency at Harvard. (Still available—cheap!—on Amazon.)

I still write often on Harvard-related issues, but I’ve broadened the blog into a forum for discussion of culture, sports (Yankees good/Red Sox boo), politics and pop music, usually from the 1980s.

I have covered the issue of sexual assault on campus, as well as bogus journalism, fairly consistently over the past few years. I defended Woody Allen and Patrick Witt; not so much Nicholas Kristof. And, if I were to write about him, I would certainly not defend Bill Cosby.

So you may actually see some posts from time to time that have nothing to do with Sabrina Rubin Erdley, Jackie or Rolling Stone.

Where is Sabrina Rubin Erdely?

Posted on December 11th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 48 Comments »

It has been a week since the original Washington Post story which drew key aspects of Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone article into question. In that time, “A Rape on Campus” has only become more discredited. There is reason to suspect that both Jackie and Rubin Erdely have concocted deceptions.

Also in that time, we have not heard a public word from the author of this fatally flawed and irresponsible magazine article. She appears to have taken down her Facebook page has not posted on her Facebook page and deleted her Twitter account has gone dark. She has not responded to media inquiries; she has not made any kind of statement.

Where is she—Bermuda?

Let’s suppose that there are two possible reasons why Rubin Erdely has gone underground.

1) She is depressed.
2) Her/Rolling Stone’s lawyers have told her to say nothing.

I’m sure the first is true to some degree—and let us hope that it’s nothing serious—but I expect #2 is the predominant reason.

Whatever the cause, Rubin Erdely’s mysterious silence is disappointing. As I’ve pointed out before, she was more than happy to enjoy the perks of publicity back when people believed her story.

Now, she’s avoiding responsibility.

You can’t have it both ways, reveling in praise when things are going well and then running away when it all heads south.

Because this story isn’t just about her. It has caused hurt, pain, anger, division and controversy; it has set back the cause—in her words, “upend[ing] the patriarchy”—which was her motivation for writing the story in the first place. (Well, that and professional advancement.)

No matter how depressed she may be…no matter what the lawyers are telling her…Sabrina Rubin Erdely needs to man up do the right thing. If her lawyers are telling her to lay low, she should tell them to stuff it. It’s time for her to take responsibility for the chaos for which she is primarily responsible.

(FWIW, I think the phrase “man up” has become a gender-neutral term for taking responsibility. But I can understand why others might disagree, and I don’t want to distract from the point, so I changed the language.)