What’s Missing from This Paragraph in The New Yorker?

Posted on December 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 31 Comments »

“Last month, Rolling Stone ran an article about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, based on interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.” It now appears that key details of the story, reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, may not be true. Other journalists—notably, my friend Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt, at Slate, and Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, and T. Rees Shapiro, at The Washington Post—raised doubts about the reporting late last month, but Rolling Stone dismissed them.” [emphasis added]

—Margaret Talbot, writing in the New Yorker

What’s missing? I’ll give you a hint: The one journalist who “raised doubts about the reporting” before all the journalists Talbot lists.

Listen, I’m not territorial, but…are you kidding me? It was not easy being the first person to question the Rolling Stone story. Being first meant taking the brunt of the hostility from people who didn’t want to hear anything that might undermine the article. It also meant going out on a reputational limb; I didn’t think I was wrong, but imagine if I had been. These things only look easy to write in retrospect.

Paul Farhi, who was the first person after me to raise any concerns, did so four days after my blog post. And even he buried his doubts pretty far down in a profile of Erdely.

(Correction: Hanna Rosin’s Slate Gabfest came three days later, on November 27.)

Meantime, if you go back and look at that original blog post, you can see that a) it has been proved correct on every point, and b) it has fundamentally driven the media narrative about Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article.

So, yes, I guess it does matter to me when people don’t give credit where it’s due.

The New Yorker has a storied fact-checking department. Was someone asleep? Perhaps an omission does not count as an error, but… Oh, hell. When it misrepresents what happened, an omission counts as an error.

Tuesday Morning Reading

Posted on December 9th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 32 Comments »

Some of the best stuff I’ve read lately….

1) This piece in Slate by Emily Yoffe, “The Campus Rape Correction,” is an absolutely superb piece of writing and reporting. Yoffe’s is the most methodical, serious examination of “rape culture” that I’ve seen; she debunks the usual statistics that constantly get thrown around as if they were credible, and looks at the way exaggerated estimates of sexual assault on campus are leading to real injustices—against men.

Money graf:

I’ve read through the court filings and investigative reports of a number of these cases, and it’s clear to me that many of the accused are indeed being treated unfairly. Government officials and campus administrators are attempting to legislate the bedroom behavior of students with rules and requirements that would be comic if their effects weren’t frequently so tragic. The legal filings in the cases brought by young men accused of sexual violence often begin like a script for a college sex farce but end with the protagonist finding himself in a Soviet-style show trial.

I hope Slate nominates this piece for a National Magazine Award…

2) Remind me never to make Erik Wemple mad. The Washington Post’s media critic has been absolutely shredding Rolling Stone, and in this piece, titled Rolling Stone’s disastrous U-Va. story: A case of real media bias, Wemple looks at how Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s pre-existing bias led to the publication of a horrible piece of journalism. For example:

Under the scenario cited by Erdely, the Phi Kappa Psi members are not just criminal sexual-assault offenders, they’re criminal sexual-assault conspiracists, planners, long-range schemers. If this allegation alone hadn’t triggered an all-out scramble at Rolling Stone for more corroboration, nothing would have. Anyone who touched this story — save newsstand personnel — should lose their job. The “grooming” anecdote indicates not only that Erdely believed whatever diabolical things about these frat guys told to her, she wanted to believe them. And then Rolling Stone published them.

Wemple has repeatedly called for all the Rolling Stone editors who worked on the story to be fired. We’ll see.

3) A few months ago, everyone loved Chris Hughes; journalists love rich guys who seem willing to bankroll us and not worry too much about turning a profit. But now that he’s crushed The New Republic under his Gucci boots, a number of those who once professed their admiration for him have taken the long knives out—including the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, in a story called “The New Republic is dead, thanks to its owner, Chris Hughes.”

Among the evildoing Milbank attributes to Hughes:

a) Hughes ousted his intellectual partner [editor Franklin] Foer without even the courtesy of telling him; Foer found out when his replacement, a man who previously had been fired as editor of the gossip Web site Gawker, began announcing himself as the new editor and offering people jobs.

b) Hughes is no [Walter] Lippmann; he’s a callow man who accidentally became rich — to the tune of some $700 million — because he had the luck of being Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s roommate at Harvard.

c) At a lavish 100th-anniversary gala for the magazine at the Mellon Auditorium on Nov. 19, Hughes did the seating chart himself — and he put most of the magazine staff at tables in the back.

And that’s just for starters…

4) In a terrific Boston Review essay called “Feminism Can Handle It,” Judith Levine chastises feminists who accuse skeptics such as myself of “rape denialism.”

The charge is hurled at anyone who questions the veracity of a story, statistic (one in five women students sexually assaulted), or policy (yes means yes). And if men are slapped down when they question these orthodoxies, special punishment attends female critics.

5) And a question: Where is the New York Times? A couple of weeks ago, NYT media critic David Carr wrote about how he had dropped the ball on the Bill Cosby story for years. (And years. And years.)

He—and the rest of the Times—are doing pretty much the same thing with UVA. The Times has been late, reactive, and a non-player in this media story where a number of news organizations—WashPo, Slate, Reason—are excelling.

If I Were Aaron Sorkin, This Would Piss Me Off

Posted on December 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

The New York Times reports on the controversy over last night’s episode of The Newsroom, written by Aaron Soorkin, which is about a reporter handling allegations of sexual assault.

Here’s TV writer Bill Carter’s description of the episode:

In the episode, Don Keefer, a television news producer, was ordered to find a college student who had started a website designed to allow women to anonymously name the men who raped them. He was told to persuade her to go on live television to confront one of the men she had accused. He found the woman, who argued passionately that the legal system had failed her and so many other rape victims. Don told her that he found her credible and found the accused “sketchy,” but could still not square the idea of naming men accused of rape with his sense of fairness, which he tied to the American judicial system.

To simply accuse the man on television meant no jury and no presentation of evidence, the producer argued. And when Mary, the student, countered that her assailant was innocent until proven guilty only in the legal sense, the producer said he felt “morally obligated” not to name a person who has not formally been charged with a crime

This doesn’t sound terribly objectionable to me (but then, I teach Rape Denial 101, so you’d expect that from me), but many people were offended by the plot.

Libby Hill, writing for the AV Club, said: “Aaron Sorkin doesn’t understand who the victim is. He doesn’t understand how empathy works. And he, as a rich, powerful, white man in the United States, doesn’t understand that he is among the most privileged people in the world.”

Sort of a stupid quote, reliant on rhetoric and cliche, but fair enough; it’s what Carter inserts next that would really piss me off, if I were Aaron Sorkin.

The latter criticism dovetails with long-expressed criticism that Mr. Sorkin has tended to undervalue his female characters.

I’m not a Sorkin expert, but this criticism appears to be ubiquitous.

But it’s a cheap shot for Carter to shove it in following a quote about how Sorkin “doesn’t understand that he is among the most privileged people in the world” and how he has no “empathy.” It’s effectively endorsing a harsh personal attack.

(Also: Aaron Sorkin may be one of the most privileged people in the world at this point in his life, but he’s gotten there by dint of a boatload of talent and hard work. And his paternal grandfather was one of the founders of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union, according to Wikipedia, so Sorkin, who grew up in Scarsdale New York and went to Syracuse University, isn’t exactly a Dupont. So that “most privileged people” crack really is unfair.)

I haven’t seen the episode yet, but it seems to me one more example of a guy who deviated from a political orthodoxy and is being slammed for it.

Sorkin said this to the Times: “I understood going in that there would be backlash — some of it thoughtful, some of it less so — but that’s a bad reason not to write something.”

I know the feeling….

Jackie’s Roommate Speaks

Posted on December 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 38 Comments »

Emily Clark, one of Jackie’s first year roommates, writes a letter to the Cavalier Daily in which she supports her friend, saying that while she thinks the details of what happened to Jackie as presented in Rolling Stone are incorrect, some sort of trauma did happen to her roommate.

While I cannot say what happened that night, and I cannot prove the validity of every tiny aspect of her story to you, I can tell you that this story is not a hoax, a lie or a scheme. Something terrible happened to Jackie at the hands of several men who have yet to receive any repercussions.

Absolutely worth reading.

Thoughts on Jackie, More on Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Another Anna Merlan Correction

Posted on December 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 55 Comments »

There is almost too much going on with this story for me to be able to read and think about it all, especially when I have a more-than-full-time day job. Again, I place the blame for this havoc on the shoulders of Rolling Stone, which held a torch to a pile of kerosene-soaked kindling.

So I’m sure that I’m dropping the ball on a few things that I should be addressing. But let me try to address a few things regardless.

1) Even before a conservative blogger named someone who may or may not be Jackie—an appalling move, we can all agree—I had come to believe that Jackie is a subject and a person best left alone for a while. We will probably never know what, if anything, happened to her; her “truth,” to borrow a word usage from Liz Seccuro, has now become a matter of public debate. She could tell her truth 100 percent accurately tomorrow, and no matter what she said, half the country wouldn’t believe her.

That’s a shame—and so I find it increasingly hard not to be angry at Sabrina Rubin Erdely. If Jackie did indeed ask the writer to remove her from the article, as has been reported, and SRE told her that Jackie was going to be in it like it or not—that is a terrible cruelty.

I want to be cautious here, as Jackie is not a reliable source—it’s getting hard to know who said what to whom, when—and I want to be fair to SRE as well; only she and Jackie really know what happened in their conversations, and they may well have differing memories, different interpretations. Memory is a tricky thing.

But Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who hasn’t tweeted or made any other public announcement in days, isn’t inspiring confidence. (More on this later.)

In any case, Jackie is a young woman in the middle of a firestorm, and at this point reasonable people have to be concerned about her mental and physical health. That seems worth bearing in mind.

Buzzfeed, for example, has reported that a 2014 UVA graduate and former Phi Psi member who now lives in Boston has hired an attorney who specializes in sexual assault. (This may be a meaningful thing, or it may be nothing; Buzzfeed implies that it is a sinister thing.)

BuzzFeed reached out to a woman believed to be Jackie multiple times on Friday but did not receive a response.

Of course, they have to ask her for comment, if only because Buzzfeed is implying that this young man may have been involved in a sexual assault. (They reached out to him for comment as well.)

Still, this thing has become a media feeding frenzy, and that worries me. We all need to step back and take it down a notch. Of course we should search for the truth, but in a deliberate and cautious manner, remembering that there are real human beings involved, most of whom are young people.

2) Where is Sabrina Rubin Erdely?

So here’s another Stephen Glass story, which I share not in order to suggest a direct analogy, but because I can’t stop thinking about it.

In the aftermath of the revelations that Stephen was a literary forger, after he was fired from The New Republic, I had to try to find him; at George, we were trying to figure out what material he’d made up and what he hadn’t, and were hoping that he would at least now be honest about that.

I found him at his parents’ home in Chicago, and he came to the phone. I explained, nicely—which wasn’t easy, considering the situation—that I could use his help setting the record straight.

Stephen said that he couldn’t talk to me. He wasn’t doing very well, he explained. His parents were very worried about him. Somebody was with him 24 hours a day.

The implication, of course, was that Stephen was suicidal. In any event, he declined my request for help.

I certainly am not suggesting that SRE—who, strangely enough, worked on her college paper with Stephen Glass—is suicidal. I am saying that her going underground—no Facebook updates, no tweets, no media interviews, no statement through Rolling Stone—gives me a bad feeling. If it were my story and, even if it turned out to be wrong, I was confident in the character of my reporting, you can bet I’d be out there in public saying so. And in her absence, some are suggesting that Rubin Erdely’s other reporting should also be called into question.

In any case, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, more than anyone else in this story, has caused an enormous controversy and a huge amount of pain. She needs to address that, and quickly. The fact that she hasn’t only makes it worse. No matter what Rolling Stone or lawyers tell you, you can’t just do this to people and then disappear without a trace.

I wrote before about her article that “something doesn’t feel right to me,” a statement which has been quoted both admiringly and derisively.

But something doesn’t feel right to me now about Rubin Erdely’s disappearance. And that makes me wonder how many of the “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story are the fault of Jackie, and how many are literary invention? I keep coming back to that statement attributed to Jackie’s friend “Randall,” the one who allegedly said that he wouldn’t talk to Rubin Erdely out of “loyalty to his frat.” It would be such an easy thing to scribble in your notes, and it feels so convenient; it fits so perfectly with the political agenda Rubin Erdely has admitted she brought to the story.

Incidentally, do you happen to know what Stephen Glass’ middle name is? “Randall.

3) Anna Merlan further indulges her fondness for shit metaphors with another post on Jezebel today, during which she gets yet another thing about me wrong. (Among other mistakes, her prior post about me alleged that I was “mostly retired.” Oops.)

In a post titled “The UVA Mess is Now a Full-Fledged Shitstorm” (well, we can agree on that), Merlan writes,

I’ve gotten a lot of well-deserved criticism for a salty post I wrote defending Erdely from Reason’s Robby Soave and Worth’s Richard Bradley — formerly Richard Blow, before he changed his name during his own brush with bad publicity….

That’s the second time that Merlan has mentioned that I changed my name—she actually amended her original post to add that fact—and I think I know why: She’s trying to insinuate that I have some dark secret in my past that I’m trying to run away from, and that, consequently, I can’t be trusted. (Bloomberg’s C. Thompson has implied the same thing.)

So let’s just set the record straight.

Merlan says that I changed my name “during [my] own brush with controversy.” She is wrong in both her timetable and her attribution of motive.

I was embroiled in a controversy (that’s a whole other story) back in 2000, when I decided to write a book about my former boss, John F. Kennedy Jr., and again in 2002, when the book was published.

I changed my name in 2005—not exactly “during” a brush with controversy.

The reasons why I changed my name are personal and I don’t write about them easily—it was a very hard decision for my father, which made it a very hard decision for me—but it certainly wasn’t because I was afraid of controversy. Clearly, I am not afraid of controversy.

Also, you can find the cover of my first book on, you know, the first page of this blog. So I’m not exactly hiding from my past. I’m damn proud of that book. (You can buy it for a few bucks on Amazon, which I won’t see any of, but hey, you might like it.)

If there’s some reason for Merlan or anyone else to write about that part of my life, that’s fine. But I am bothered when it’s used as some sort of dubious insinuation to reflect poorly on my character or work, so it’s important for me to spend a few minutes debunking that.

I have tried to give Anna Merlan the benefit of the doubt. She’s not making it easy.

4) I have one final thought, which I may expand upon later but I want to put out there to get it into the dialogue.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s “overarching point,” to use her words, was the prevalence of rape culture at the University of Virginina and the university’s alleged indifference to it, as exemplified by the way it allegedly mishandled Jackie’s case.

We now have thousands of people around the country trying to figure out the truth of Jackie’s case—lawyers, reporters, friends, administrators, police. After all this scrutiny, we don’t seem any closer to the truth.

The fact of that uncertainty should make us think again about the challenges that UVA administrators, and university administrators in general, face in handling these matters, and the danger of reflexively thinking that they are hostile or uncaring because the matters are not resolved with a stark moral clarity.

The whole country is trying to figure out what happened to Jackie. Can we really blame UVA if it too tried—and failed?

“We’re Going to Offer Richard Bradley a Qualified Apology”

Posted on December 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments »

Oh, for Chrissakes.

My Uber Nightmare

Posted on December 8th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

I want to like Uber; there’s a lot to like about it, especially when you’re traveling in Miami, whose taxis often feel like they’ve drifted north from Cuba. (Not the drivers; the taxis.)

But in addition to the dubious ethics of its founders, and the serious privacy concerns I have about a company that can track your moves from point A to point B, I had an experience with Uber on Friday night that raises some serious issues about its lack of regulation.

I flew into Fort Lauderdale on Friday on my way to Miami for a Worth event. Landing at about 7 PM, I called an Uber car and got one promptly; the driver, Larry, was a nice guy, a Frank Sinatra fan, and the car was a new Cadillac. All good so far.

But after we’d been driving for about 15 minutes on I-95, his cell phone rang. He answered it. I heard him say, “That’s tonight? I thought that was tomorrow night? Really? Okay, I’ll be right there.”

I’ll be right there?

He hung up the phone and said to me, “I’m really sorry, but I have to do something and I’m going to have to drop you off.”

You can guess my reaction.

“That was my sister-in-law Lenora,” Larry explained. “I was supposed to take her to the hospital, and I completely forgot. You’re going to have to call another Uber.”

I said, “She can’t call another Uber?”

Okay, I know that wasn’t very nice, but I was a little freaked out.

Oh no, Larry answered, I could never do that. She’s my sister-in-law.

He promptly exited the highway onto an isolated access road and pulled into the parking lot of a Denny’s. “I’m really sorry,” he said as I called up the Uber app on my phone, and drove away.

So there I was, standing in the parking lot of a Dennys in the middle of not-very-nice nowhere, my luggage on the sidewalk next to me, waiting for another car, which took about ten minutes to arrive.

I gave the guy a one-star review and Uber didn’t charge me for that portion of a trip—the least they could do, I thought, and when I wrote them to point that out, they didn’t bother to respond.

Having a guy cut short your ride and drop you off to wait for another car is not good, and it’s hard to imagine that happening with a regulated company, or one with a stronger ethical culture.

Uber just held a financing round which valued the company at $40 billion. I’m not so sure. What if municipalities created a taxi app that worked just as Uber does? How hard could it be?

And at least they wouldn’t drop you off at a Dennys in the middle of nowhere…

Aftermath

Posted on December 6th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 250 Comments »

In the wake of Rolling Stone’s retraction, I’m trying to gather my thoughts into a big picture, what it all means sort of post—and failing.

There are so many disparate elements to this situation; even now, we do not know what to believe and what not. Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely threw a hand grenade into an emotional social and political environment, and now the rest of us have to pick up the pieces.

So I’m going to keep thinking. I know in our culture we’re expected to produce instant conclusions. I’m just wary of being glib. And also, given that I’ve been tough on other people’s mistakes, I want to be extra cautious.

But I do have some pieces I want to pick up.

1) I appreciate Anna Merlan’s apology. Not that my opinion counts for much, but I think that Anna (once someone refers to you as a “giant ball of shit,” you’re pretty much on a first-name basis) has the potential to be a very fine journalist. I do think she needs to reject the culture of snark and the easy gratification that comes with it.

But listen, I’ve written some things in my life that I’d love to take back, so I’m not going to be all high and mighty about it. I’ve been called worse things than an idiot.

Speaking of taking back, I will admit—I’d like to hear something from Liz Seccuro and Kat Stoeffel. When Stoeffel’s piece, which caricatured what I wrote, came out, I sent her a polite email pointing out why I thought she’d done me some disservices. She responded with a one-sentence email to the effect that I had misspelled her name. (To be fair, I did.) I apologized—and then heard nothing.

She did, however, tweet:

Ughhhhhhh it’s about ethics in gang-rape journalism as well now?

(One thing about social media—a lot of journalists are shockingly open about their biases.)

I look forward to reading your follow-up, Kat.

I am disappointed by Liz Seccuro. The article she wrote on Time.com is discredited within hours of its posting, and she responds by tweeting…

Liz Seccuro @LizSeccuro · 17h 17 hours ago
I am terribly, terribly disappointed by today’s developments. But that cannot change what happened to me. My truth is unassailable
.

This is a red herring; no one is assailing Seccuro’s truth. But how can we work through the issues surrounding allegations of sexual assault if there is no honesty in our public discourse? How can you write something that is almost instantly proven wrong and then not at least acknowledge that?

2) Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The woman who accused UVA of “stonewalling” has gone underground; she has said nothing publicly, and is declining to respond to journalists’ inquiries.

I hate it when journalists do that. How can we expect others to talk to us if we won’t talk to them?

I appreciate that this must be a very difficult time for Rubin Erdely, but I don’t think that’s the right approach to take—even if it’s the one Rolling Stone wants her to.

Before the story collapsed, Rubin Erdely—whose Facebook image is a picture of Linda Carter as Wonder Woman, and who posted pictures of herself schmoozing with rape victim Tori Amos—seemed to be reveling in the acclaim her story was attracting.

On November 29th—five days after my original post questioning her story—she posted this on Facebook (we’re not friends; her page is, as of now, public):

I’m in the back of a big black car, on my way to MSNBC. Watch me on Melissa Harris-Perry’s show at 10:30 this morning! You know what I’ll be talking about.

I’m sure that Rubin Erdely, who has apparently written a lot of great stuff in her career, will eventually address what went wrong here. But it’s not courageous to enjoy all the attention when you’re riding high and then vanish when things go south. It has now been two weeks since I and others began faulting her reporting. In that time, Rubin Erdely has done nothing but defend her story and suggest to people that they are misguided for trying to confirm it. When she has spoken, it’s conspicuously to mainstream media outlets, like NPR, that are likely to be more sympathetic to her. (Rubin Erdely has not responded to two emails I sent her.)

3) Rolling Stone strikes the wrong note by putting out a statement saying that “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in [Jackie] was misplaced.”

Jackie, who may genuinely not know whatever happened to her, did not force Rolling Stone to publish anything. She did not force Rolling Stone to abandon basic tenets of journalism. It’s pretty simple: The magazine wanted to run with a bombshell story and chose to compromise its standards in order to do so.

To be fair, managing editor Will Dana acknowledges Rolling Stone’s responsibility in subsequent tweets and interviews.

But it’s gross that Rolling Stone’s first instinct was to throw Jackie under the bus. Meanwhile, the author of the piece has not said a word taking responsibility. That’s not right.

4) Either in the Washington Post or New York Times—forgive me, I’m losing track—I read a quote from Will Dana to the effect that the magazine did not know of the “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s account until it was contacted by the Washington Post.

What on earth has Rolling Stone been doing for the past week or so?

As difficult as it would have been, Rolling Stone should have gone back to its sources—well, source—and pushed to do the reporting it didn’t do the first time around.

A footnote here: In the past few days, a lot of folks have said to me things like, “Well, what do you expect from Rolling Stone?” Or: “They should stick to music reviews.” Etc.

Just for the record, I like Rolling Stone. I’m a subscriber, and I think the magazine has done a lot of great reporting over the past few years. It’s still committed to long-form journalism, which is increasingly rare. I defended the magazine, on this blog, for all the heat it took about its Boston Bomber cover.

I just don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here…

5) I am troubled by the fact that Jackie has now given a name for the man she said invited her to the fraternity party, and he has responded that he has never met her.

This from the Washington Post:

Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he worked at the Aquatic and Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. But he added that he never met Jackie in person and never took her out on a date. He also said he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

If this man is telling the truth, Jackie has just made a false allegation of sexual assault.

That is an uncontestable equation, and all of the writers who, in the past several days, have argued that we must never question a story of sexual assault have a responsibility to admit that they were wrong.

Would Marc Cooper and Helen Benedict, the two journalism professors quoted in the New York Times as saying that it is not necessary for journalists to contact the accused, care to revise their opinions?

6) I have never understood why UVA president Teresa Sullivan suspended activities at all fraternities because of the alleged crimes that took place at one. It was a defensive overreaction in an environment of hysteria—not the mark of a leader.

I do not now understand why those fraternities remain under suspension.

I don’t have an investment in fraternities one way or another, it’s just an example of how bad journalism leads to bad policy that, once implemented, tends to linger.

7) There are a lot of high profile journalists who praised Rubin Erdely’s work after her story was published—Lisa DePaulo (“you’re SO good!”, she wrote Rubin Erdley on Facebook), Jeffrey Goldberg (“a super reporting job,” he tweeted), Elliott Kaplan, etc.

Journalists can be a tribal, insular bunch. Sometimes this is good, as when journalists are wrongly criticized or when we support each other, as with the really awful situation now happening at The New Republic.

Sometimes it isn’t.

I’ve gotten a lot of emails from journalists in the past few days like the one from the editor of a very high profile magazine—he’s a powerful guy. “Good call on RS,” he wrote. “I was with you all the way.”

I mean—I appreciate that, I truly do. But it is easy to say after the fact, in private, after Rolling Stone has retracted its story. On Twitter, I’ve seen a lot of non-journalists raising issues with this story once the discussion got started. I didn’t see a lot of journalists doing so.

Sometimes our tribalism goes too far.

(Full disclosure: Lisa DePaulo, who is probably best known for trying to convince the world that Gary Condit killed Chandra Levy when he did not, is not my biggest fan, due to a falling out we had many years ago. Also, I’m not that fluent with Twitter, so it’s absolutely possible that I’ve missed relevant tweets.)

8) I have seen the word “backlash” used quite a lot to describe the efforts by me and other writers (Robby Soave, Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, Hanna Rosin, Allison Benedikt) to point out some of the issues in Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article—as in, “the backlash against the Rolling Stone story began when…”

Like Liz Securro referring to my blog as a “rant,” “backlash” is an extremely loaded word in this context. It was, after all, the title of Susan Faludi’s famous book, followed by the subtitle, “The Undeclared War against American Women.”

What I and others did was not a backlash. You could call it a correction, an assessment, a reevaluation, an investigation—there are plenty of reasonably accurate labels.

But please don’t use a term that has very specific political connotations to describe journalists who are just doing their jobs. Sabrina Rubin Erdley intended to be political; we didn’t.

9) In the past 24 hours, I’ve read a number of times that we must not let the “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story blind us to the larger truths about the University of Virginia and “rape culture.”

This argument should not be received uncritically.

One reason is that Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story does not establish any larger truths about the University of Virginia.

The damage is done, of course. Nothing that I or anyone else now writes will dissuade the general public from believing that UVA is a bastion of misogyny and sexual assault.

I don’t know if it is or isn’t.

I do know that, from start to finish, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article has methodological flaws and a deep bias. “A Rape on Campus” is an irresponsible patchwork of personal politics, sloppy reporting and preconceived conclusions by a writer who lamented that the University of Virgina has no “radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy”—and took it upon herself to do just that.

As to the larger question of the existence of “rape culture”–well, that is an ongoing discussion, and I hope to participate in it.

Thanks for hearing me out. And thanks to all the people who’ve taken the time to comment on this blog. I find it incredibly inspiring. As I’ve mentioned before, I do this for free. Your comments mean a lot.

Rolling Stone Retracts

Posted on December 5th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 88 Comments »

…And I am about to get on a plan to Miami. I’ll be tweeting as I can and will post as soon as I can.

Here’s the Washington Post story that appears to have forced the magazine’s hand.

And I want to digest all this a bit before writing, anyway, so it’s probably just as well that I’m at LaGuardia Airport….

Liz Seccuro Speaks Out Against My “Rant”

Posted on December 5th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 55 Comments »

On Time.com, UVA rape survivor Liz Seccuro publishes a piece headlined, “Don’t Doubt a Victim’s Story Just Because It Sounds Horrific.

I have no desire to get into an extended debate with Ms. Securro, whose strength and courage I have nothing but respect for. She endured a terrible experience and has turned it into something positive—she wrote a book about her saga and is now a victim’s advocate and professional speaker—which is heroic.

Still…Seccuro misrepresents what I have written and takes some cheap shots along the way. So let me at least defend myself. I learned some time ago that if people take shots at you and you don’t stand up for yourself, it only emboldens others to do the same.

Seccuro writes:

Former George journalist Richard Bradley fired the first shot at the Rolling Stone story. “I’m not sure that this gang rape actually happened,” he wrote in a blog post, using brilliant plagiarist Stephen Glass (whom he edited, and who duped him) as a comparison base for the idea that astounding and uncomfortable stories must be fabricated. Though Bradley’s rant was on his personal blog, doubts have now burbled up at established outlets.

That priapic language—I “fired the first shot”—is a little sleazy. Seccuro’s a smart woman and an accomplished writer; she knows what she’s doing.

My blog post was a “rant,” Securro adds—in other words, angry, aggressive, slightly out of control.

When you’ve tried hard to be dispassionate, it’s frustrating to have one’s words so blithely demeaned as emotional. I don’t think my blog was a rant; the New York Times, which called it an “essay” (too generous, but I’ll take it) didn’t either.

Like saying that I “fired the first shot,” with the anti-male stereotypes of that phrase, it’s sexist of Securro to employ the term “rant.” It’d be like if I called Securro’s article “hysterical.” (I’m not; it’s just a comparison.)

And then, the deepest cut; I wrote the post on a my “personal blog.” From way down in that muck, “doubts have now burbled up” to “established” outlets.

It’s a terrible thing when someone’s words are not taken seriously because they don’t come from a powerful source.

Now, I’ll grant that this blog is a modest endeavor, but that’s by design. When I started it in 2005, I wanted to have an outlet where I could write stuff uncorrupted by the desire to make money. I’ve been highly successful in that. In the decade since, and over 6, 000 posts I’ve written, I’ve never accepted any advertising or been paid a dime for this blog.

Is it unfair then to point out that, shortly after the Rolling Stone piece was published, Securro, who lives in the Hamptons and is writing a novel, tweeted out, “#college or #university who needs a #speaker about #rape? http://www.apbspeakers.com/speaker/liz-seccuro … @RollingStone @UVA”.

There—I’ve defended myself.

Seccuro’s major point is this:

Wholesale doubt or dismissal of a rape account because it sounds “too bad to be true” is ridiculous. Is it easier to believe a rape by a single stranger upon a woman in a dark alley? What about marital rape? What if a prostitute is raped? Just how bad was it? We should not have a rape continuum as part of the dialogue, ever.

I agree. All rape is horrific.

And I am not doubting Sabrina Rubin Erdley’s recounting of Jackie’s tale because it sounds “bad.” People do “bad” stuff all the time. I doubt the story in part because, in a Joseph Campbell-like way, a number of the details seem borrowed from works of popular myth, and also because the story contains internal inconsistencies (three hours on broken glass; a pitch black room but the traumatized victim remembers every detail; etc.).

There is nothing inherently wrong for a journalist to be skeptical—respectfully skeptical—about fantastical-sounding stories. People do lie about rape—both “victims” and advocates—and we should not have a truth continuum, ever.

Don’t you think the Times’ Nick Kristof wishes he’d been a little more skeptical about the horrific tale of rape told him by anti-trafficking activist Somaly Mam?

Mostly, I doubt Rolling Stone’s article because it relies on a single anonymous source; because it is uncorroborated by people who were allegedly present at the scene of the crime (or very close); and because the alleged victim apparently would not tell the author the names of the perpetrators she allegedly knew and made the author promise not to contact them. I believe if you are going to publish accusations of something terrible, you’d better make sure you have the facts. And this is not disrespectful to Jackie; I have no idea what transpired between Jackie and Sabrina Rubin Erdley. It is, though, respectful to everyone whose lives might be changed by the publication of such an article.

So I repeat: I have the utmost respect for Liz Securro. And regarding Rolling Stone, I respectfully disagree with her.