Sorority Women Get Hysterical

Posted on January 28th, 2015 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

At first I thought this was a joke, but it appears to be real: The Washington Post reports that the national chapters of UVA sororities have ordered the sorority women of UVa not to attend any fraternity events this weekend out of fear for their safety.

At some U-Va. chapters in recent days, students described mandatory emergency meetings with representatives from their national chapter telling them they risked suspension, fines and other penalties if any of them attended bid night parties. Boys’ Bid Night is typically a night when sorority sisters go from house to house sharing drinks with friends.

Mandatory emergency meetings…

Tammie Pinkston, the international president of Alpha Delta Pi, tells the Cavalier Daily that she doesn’t trust the safety of “Bid Night,” which is apparently when fraternities tap their new members and host parties to celebrate the event.

“We believe the activities on Men’s Bid Night present significant safety concerns for all of our members and we are united in our request that the 16 NPC sororities not participate,” Pinkston said.

(I can’t resist pointing out that Tammie Pinkston was once a Tiger Twirler at Clemson.)

The move is obviously a reaction to the Rolling Stone story, so let’s try to comprehend the logic here. A Rolling Stone article says that a woman was gang-raped at a fraternity. She was not. Therefore, it is unsafe to go to parties at fraternities.

But wait—there’s more.

At some chapters, women were told not only to avoid going to fraternity parties on Boys’ Bid Night, but to avoid any social gathering with fraternity members, said Ben Gorman, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council at U-Va. That would mean a ban on attending off-campus parties or gatherings at bars that night after a hotly anticipated basketball game on campus, which pits the undefeated No. 2 Cavaliers against No. 4 Duke. “People are very agitated and very upset, and see this as an obstacle to larger cultural change a violation of free rights and student free will.

Let’s repeat that: “Women were told…to avoid any social gatherings with fraternity members.”

A few thoughts on this:

1) The idea of banning socializing with members of fraternities is a deeply sexist, anti-feminist idea; it suggests that college women are, in fact, girls or infants, incapable of taking care of themselves or displaying any judgment. (I can’t wait to see what Jezebel says about this.)

(Zoe Heller makes much the same point about “affirmative consent” laws in her recent New York Review of Books essay, writing, “special protections to women based on their difference from men have a habit of redounding to women’s disadvantage.”)

2) This move may also have the effect of dividing women on the issue of sexual assault on campus, possibly creating a constituency of women who feel that emotion and irrationality have gone too far in this wave of hysteria.

3) There’s a kind of Big Brother aspect to this dictate that is deeply unpleasant. “We will tell you with whom you can socialize—whether on campus or off—or you risk expulsion from the national chapter.” It’s not going too far to say that there’s something deeply un-American about this.

4) There’s also an ugly element of manipulation in the move—using the college sorority members as pawns in an attempt to force fraternity members to change their alleged behavior. It’s a modern-day Lysistrata! (I mean—this is the Greek system, right?) But somehow I doubt that the people behind this policy have read Lysistrata. In any case, even if that is the strategy, it’s a deeply sexist one. We’ll use these young women in a game of chess…

5) There’s virtually nothing that the national sororities could have done to faster discredit themselves and increase sympathy for the fraternities.

6) Some people said that the damage that comes from a fake allegation of rape is trivial. Imagine being a fraternity member and having a national organization prohibit its members from socializing with you at a bar. Guilt by association is not trivial.

The Post suggests that a backlash on campus is quickly brewing, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the national organizations revoke their bank before Friday.

I wonder what Sabrina Rubin Erdely, wherever she is, makes of this…

What Is it With College Men and Unconscious Women?

Posted on January 28th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

A 19-year-old Stanford (now ex-Stanford, actually) student has been charged with “rape of an unconscious woman” and “sexual assault with a foreign object,” according to the Los Angeles Times. The student was a swimmer who’d been, apparently, heavily recruited by the university, but not a fraternity member. He was a freshman, and freshmen at Stanford can’t join frats.

Early on the morning on Jan. 18, prosecutors say, two men riding bikes on campus spotted a man later identified as Turner on top of an unconscious woman. Turner ran away, but the pair tackled him. A third person called police.

Of course, this kid is innocent until proven guilty. But it’s good to read that, unlike at Vanderbilt, people who saw this happening actually did something about it. (Though we shouldn’t have to welcome that; it should be taken for granted.)

I still believe that rape on campus is an relatively rare phenomenon, and the statistics back me up. But one incident of sexual assault is too many, and in the interest of fairness, I think it’s important to point them out when they do happen. These stories are depressing—and reprehensible.

Why Didn’t Sabrina Rubin Erdely Write about Vanderbilt?

Posted on January 27th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Serious question. The rape for which two Vanderbilt students (they’re always referred to as football players, though I have no idea if that’s relevant or just convenient) were just convicted is plenty horrific. And it has, from a crusading journalist’s perspective, the advantage of being true. Is Vanderbilt just not as sexy a story as UVa?

In any case: These guys should be locked up for a very long time. Getting your girlfriend so drunk that she passes out, then handing her off to two other guys to rape her? What kind of a person does that? And what kind of person would rape her instead of slugging the guy in the face and calling the cops?

The New York Times On “The Hunting Ground”

Posted on January 26th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

The paper of record continues its bizarrely one-sided reporting on the issue of campus sexual assault today, as film writer Brooks Barnes pens a glowing review of a new documentary called “The Hunting Ground.”

I first heard about this film a few days ago in a Variety review; Variety called the documentary “a buzzed-about documentary about the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses.”

That word “epidemic” always sets my alarm bells ringing, as there’s absolutely no evidence that this is true, and in fact, there’s real evidence that there is considerably less sexual assault on college campuses than there is, well, everywhere else.

Variety continues:

Statistics indicate that as many as 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted on college campuses in the United States in a year. But a tiny fraction of the attackers ever face any disciplinary action, and college hearings rarely expel students for rape.

Except that statistics don’t indicate that 20 percent of college women are sexually assaulted on college campuses. And while I’m sure that there are no reliable statistics on the number of “attackers” who ever face any disciplinary action, to the extent that this is the case, the main reason for this appears to be that, even with standards of proof lower than you’d find in a criminal court, many of these allegations are hard-to-prove and/or tenuous.

The Times’ review goes even further in its uncritical promotion of the “epidemic.”

At the premiere here on Friday, audience members repeatedly gasped as student after student spoke on camera about being sexually assaulted — and being subsequently ignored or run through endless hoops by college administrators concerned about keeping rape statistics low.

I haven’t seen the film, so I don’t want to go overboard here—especially because I’m sure that some of the horror stories are true. (The recent case at Vanderbilt appears to be one such example.) But I just don’t believe that there’s some sort of systemic conspiracy to “keep rape statistics low” out of fear of reputational damage. Maybe rape statistics are low because there’s no epidemic of campus rape. And university administrators are not typically cold heartless sinister bureaurats. (Remember, these are the people that the right-wing typically portrays as aging lefty hippies or politically correct SJWs; now the left-wing has them as something out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.)

The film is going to air on CNN sometime this year, which allows CNN head Jeff Zucker—formerly producer of the Today show who is now busily destroying CNN in order to save it—the chance to talk about how brave the network is.

“We’re not afraid,” Jeff Zucker, president of CNN Worldwide, said after the panel, when asked about a potentially forceful response from higher education officials to “The Hunting Ground.” “They’re on the wrong side.” CNN has not revealed an air date except to say that it will run the film by the end of the year.

Indeed. Because, you know, those higher education officials are known for their vicious, merciless responses. I mean…are we living in the same world here. How many people could even name a higher education official other than, perhaps, the president of the university they attend(ed)?

Then Mr. Barnes writes one of the oddest paragraphs I’ve read in some time. (Is there an editor in the house?)

Underscoring the degree to which media scrutiny of campus rape can provoke swift and severe pushback, Rolling Stone in November was forced to step away from a provocative article focused on accusations of a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The magazine acknowledged that it had erred in relying solely on the word of the accuser, named only as Jackie, and did not try to contact the men she accused.

“Swift and severe pushback?” Is Barnes on crack? Since when is pointing out that a story is terribly reported and quite likely false “swift and severe pushback”? And remember—there was a vast media silence about that story until I and a few other folks started raising doubts. There certainly wasn’t any “swift” pushback.

But wait—there’s more. That sentence—”the magazine acknowledged that it had erred in relying solely on the word of the accuser…” makes it sound like Rolling Stone forgot to cross a “t” and dot an “i.” A fairer sentence would have said, “The magazine admitted that it had failed to prove its allegations, which now appear to be fake.”

But Barnes make it sound like the reaction to the Rolling Stone story only proves the legitimacy of the issue. I’m trying to get my head around the logic: Because people reacted strongly to a story that wasn’t true, therefore “media scrutiny of campus rape” is somehow under siege. It’s intellectual vapor from Cloud Cuckoo-land.

Barnes also mentions that 90 schools are being investigated by the Department of Education for their handling of sexual assault cases. you see that and similar numbers reported a lot. But he doesn’t report (does he know?) how such investigations are launched; any student can write a letter to the DOE complaining of a Title IX violation, and the Department is required to initiate an investigation. So the mere fact of a large number of investigations does not in and of itself mean very much.

I would have thought that the Rolling Stone fiasco would have caused people in the press–and particularly the Times, which was so embarrassed by the follow-up reporting of the Washington Post—to employ at least a little skepticism about the “epidemic” of sexual assault on campus. I was wrong. The epidemic of bad journalism continues unabated.

You Guys Wrote Some Emails

Posted on January 25th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

It’s 10:15 PM, Sunday night. My wife is in Utah for her job, trying to get back to the East Coast before the storm hits tomorrow afternoon. The kids are asleep (though who knows how long they’ll stay that way). And I’m in front of the computer, trying to catch up on, well, everything.

One of the things I’m trying to catch up on is all the kind and thoughtful emails I’ve received from readers of this blog over the past few weeks. I want to apologize for being so slow to write back, and let you know how much I appreciate those emails. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t write this blog to make money, and since its subject matter is really not related to my day job, it doesn’t help me much there either. Truth is, between being the dad of a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, and a job as editor of Worth magazine that is more than full-time, I constantly feel like I’m late—because I usually am.

But to open my email folder and see all that incredible feedback—it really does mean a lot.

Thanks. And if you wrote me, and haven’t heard back from me—I’m trying. Really.

On a Lighter Note

Posted on January 23rd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

…because it is Friday, after all…

I Fear for Our Young

Posted on January 22nd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 41 Comments »

What does one say about a comment like this one, from my post, “Rolling Stone Hedges Its Bets“?

My name is Nicole and I am currently a senior double majoring in Criminology and Political Science. This semester I decided to take a course by the name of Confronting Gender-based Violence in the United States. We have been challenged with the task to confront a journalist in which we believe is using passive voice when reporting on gender-based violence. I happened to be reading your article and I realized that you were doing just that, by tearing apart the victim’s story. In your statement you mentioned Rolling Stone “found her to be “entirely credible”—a word which is subtly different than, say, “Truthful.” I wanted you to realize that your choice of words can cause readers to refer to the victim as an alleged victim, rather than a victim, ultimately creating doubt which inculcates distrust. I hope the next time you write an article on sensitive issues, please consider my recommendations before you insult, re-traumatize, and or deeply hurt someone.

Well, to start, you say that no one should ever, ever use the word [sic] “re-traumatize.”

Then you wonder about a course in which students are assigned to “confront a journalist in which [sic] we believe is using passive voice when reporting on gender-based violence.”

What does that even mean?

Then you acknowledge that, yes indeed, your words can cause readers to refer to the “victim” as an “alleged victim”—which, in the case of an anonymous, single-sourced, fantastical story, seems more than appropriate.

And then, before the next time you write an article on “sensitive issues,” you completely ignore the recommendations of this poor, silly, hapless writer.

Is Liz Securro for Real?

Posted on January 21st, 2015 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

A couple of days ago, the UVA graduate and rape survivor told the Washington Post that she has come to doubt the revelations in Rolling Stone’s UVA rape article.

“I think it’s important, for a gang-rape survivor at U-Va. who was portrayed in this story, to say what was a red flag to me,” Seccuro said. “I became frustrated in that I felt like the work of so many other people in the article went down the toilet.

Securro tells Postie T. Rees Shapiro that she was closely involved in the reporting of the story,

Besides [arranging] interviews, she also helped arrange for Erdely to speak with experts on college sexual assault, she said. Speaking on the phone with Erdely the night before the story’s publication online, Seccuro said, “we were so excited about it and proud of this piece.

I’m fascinated by this language, because it’s yet another sign that Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely approached this story not as a journalist, but as a woman with a cause. “We were so excited and proud”—this is the language of sisterhood. And given how serious the subject is, “excited” is just a weird way to feel. If you were writing a story on, say, My Lai, would you feel “excited” just before its publication? I don’t think so.

Securro goes on to say that she did not read the article at first because—well, her words are important.

“I decided I was not strong enough to read the entire article,” Seccuro said. “I had no reason to read it because I knew what was going to be in there.”

I call bullshit on this. Liz Securro is a woman who was strong enough to go to campus authorities and the police after she was raped; strong enough to help prosecute her rapist many years after the fact; strong enough to write a book and give speeches about the experience.

But she’s not strong enough to read a magazine article in which her case is only briefly mentioned?

She does eventually read it, though.

When Seccuro finally sat down to read the magazine in early December, she immediately spotted red flags in the narrative, she said.

“I decided to take it apart with a fresh eye,” Seccuro said.

Armed with a highlighter and pen, Seccuro began to circle, underline and annotate in the margins. She highlighted the detail that the room where Jackie alleged she was attacked was pitch-black. She underlined a section that described how Jackie crashed through a low glass table, causing shards to cut into her back as the men raped her. In another section, Seccuro wrote in the margins: “Not possible.”

There’s something odd about this as well. On December 4th—which is to say, “early December”—Time.com published an essay by Securro titled “UVA Rape Survivor: Don’t Doubt a Victim’s Story Just Because It’s Horrific.

In it, she criticized me (by name) and others for doubting the plausibility of the story “Jackie” told Sabrina Rubin Erdely—even though that is exactly what she does in the section quote above. “Not possible,” she wrote in the margins. Well, yes, exactly. But apparently we weren’t supposed to think that. Why is it wrong when I doubt a rape survivor’s story but not when she does?

But there’s another problem here besides Securro’s hypocrisy. It has to do with chronology.

Let’s say Securro hasn’t actually read the Rolling Stone article when she writes her defense of it. Then she’s defending an article that she hasn’t actually read. And criticizing others who have read it for doubting it—even though she later does the exact same thing. I mean—even I didn’t sit down and scribble in the margins.)

But there’s some indication that Securro had read the article when she defended it. In her Time piece, she writes, “Unlike most people who read the article, I was not shocked by it….”

Which sure sounds like she read it before writing her piece for Time.com. But she told T. Rees Shapiro that she “immediately” saw red flags when she read the article.

So which is it? Was she defending an article that she hadn’t read? Or was she defending an article that she had read but didn’t actually believe? (“‘Not possible,’ she wrote in the margins.”)

It sounds to me like Securro is just lying here. Why? If I had to guess—and I do—I’d say that, when things were going well for the article, she was trying to piggyback on the positive publicity it was getting, particularly among women. Now that the article has been thoroughly discredited, she wants to get back on the right side of history.

Either way, it’s a little hard to put much stock in what she says any more.

Jann Wenner’s Dishonest “Note to Our Readers”

Posted on January 14th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 51 Comments »

In the current issue of Rolling Stone—Nicki Minaj’s breasts are on the cover—”editor and publisher” Jann Wenner writes a brief commentary on the discredited “A Rape on Campus” article.

Maybe I just can’t find it, but Wenner’s note doesn’t appear to be online, so I’m going to reproduce it here.

A Note to Our Readers
In RS 1223, Sabrina Rubin Erdeley wrote about a brutal gang rape of a young woman named Jackie at a party in a University of Virginia frat house [“A Rape on Campus”]. Upon its publication, the article generated worldwide attention and praise for shining a light on the way the University of Virginia and many other colleges and universities across the nation have tried to sweep the issue of sexual assault on campus under the rug. Then, two weeks later, The Washington Post and other news outlets began to question Jackie’s account of the evening and the accuracy of Erdely’s reporting. Immediately, we posted a note on our website, disclosing the concerns. We have asked the Columbia Journalism School to conduct an independent review—headed by Dean Steve Coll and Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel—of the editorial process that led to the publication of this story. As soon as they are finished, we will publish their report.

Jann S. Wenner
Editor and Publisher

There are some problems with this short disclosure.

First, it’s worth noting how Wenner frames the article—it’s the same sort of revisionist history that Sabrina Rubin Erdely tried to engage in after people began to doubt her article. The gist of the article was “shining a light on the way the University of Virginia and many other colleges and universities across the nation have tried to sweep the issue of sexual assault on campus under the rug.”

But that’s not really true. The centerpiece of this article was Jackie’s story, and it was an essential part of the argument that UVa administrators tried to cover up sexual assaults on campus. Wenner wants to compartmentalize Jackie’s story as if he’s cutting a bit of mold off a block of cheese, but it’s not that simple.

There’s another bit of historical revisionism here when Wenner says that The Washington Post and other news outlets began to question the accuracy of the story. It’s as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge the contributions of the blogosphere—not just myself, but others who “began to question…”

The Post, to its credit, was the first to report factual errors in Jackie’s story—but it wasn’t the first to question the accuracy of Erdely’s article. I and others were. I can’t imagine why Wenner would deny that. Maybe he thinks that Rolling Stone is too important to be brought down by lowly bloggers; maybe he wants to create the impression that admiration and praise for the article were universal until “news outlets” began to question the reporting.

And let’s be clear on one other point: The Post did not question the accuracy of Erdley’s reporting; it demonstrated the inaccuracy of that reporting. There is a very big difference between those two things.

Wenner’s being dishonest here, and he must know it.

There is one other possibility for that language, and it’s Wenner’s assertion that “immediately, we posted a note on our website, disclosing the concerns.” I’ll leave the detailed timeline to others, but this is clearly not true. As this New York magazine timeline establishes, I, Robby Soave, Steve Sailer and others had been criticizing the piece for, well, weeks over a week before Rolling Stone acknowledged the Washington Post’s reporting on December 5th. In fact, up until the Post story ran on the 5th, Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely had been vigorously defending the story.

Now, you could say that the magazine didn’t need to say a word until the Post story ran; the Post was the first to establish factual errors, rather than just suggest their existence. That’s not a crazy argument. At the same time, Rolling Stone had ample opportunity to do its own digging before the Post did—my blog post ran on November 24th—and chose not to. It could have addressed the “concerns,” which were clearly serious; internally, people at Rolling Stone, unless they were completely blinded by ideology, must have known that their emperor had no clothes. But it did nothing; to the contrary, Rolling Stone tried to tough it out until that was no longer possible. The magazine was far from the responsible, responsive “news outlet” that Wenner presents it to be.

All of this matters, I think, because it helps get to the bottom of how this mess happened in the first place. As Michael Dukakis famously once said, “The fish rots from the head down.” If Jann Wenner can’t be honest about what happened even now, what does that suggest about the editorial culture he fosters at Rolling Stone? He’s the founder, the editor, the publisher. Ultimately, it’s on him.

The Police Clear Phi Psi

Posted on January 12th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 22 Comments »

According to a University of Virginia press release (discussed here in the Cavalier Daily), the Charlottesville police have released the results of their investigation:

“The reinstatement resulted after consultation with Charlottesville Police Department officials, who told the University that their investigation has not revealed any substantive basis to confirm that the allegations raised in the Rolling Stone article occurred at Phi Kappa Psi,” according to the release.

Which is to say: While you can’t prove a negative…Jackie’s story is false.

To anyone who’s followed this case and isn’t invested in the campus rape advocacy world, this is not a surprise—but nonetheless, it’s important to hear this from the cops. Certainly the statement makes it harder (though not impossible) for the lingering “we believe Jackie” devotees to keep lingering.

Let’s see what happens next. Will Teresa Sullivan apologize to the fraternity? Will lawsuits follow?

(I’m inclined to say no and no, but you never know.)