“No Evidence”

Posted on March 23rd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 98 Comments »

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Charlottesville, Virginia police announced today that they have found “no evidence” that Jackie, the primary figure in Rolling Stone’s story on campus sexual assault, was gang-raped, as that story proclaimed, at a UVa fraternity.

However, the cops said, that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t raped, “possibly somewhere else, on a different day.”

Rolling Stone now reports that, in the next Mission Impossible movie, Tom Cruise risks everything to try to track down Jackie’s attackers, then dies before succeeding.

Columbia J-School, Charlottesville Police to Report on UVa and Rolling Stone

Posted on March 23rd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

CNN reports what readers of this blog already know: That we can expect Steve Coll’s report on Rolling Stone’s UVa fiasco within a week or so. You’re welcome, CNN, don’t worry about giving me credit. Just because Steve Coll already told me this on Twitter and then I posted on this blog…

Meantime, another Jann Wenner publication has published bogus material: Us Weekly printed a fake interview with Kendall Jenner. Oops. Did the fact-checking department there try to contact her first? One phone call, that’s all it would have taken…

More timely, this afternoon the Charlottesville police are going to release the results of their own investigation into the alleged gang rape at UVa.

I wonder what Sabrina Rubin Erdely is doing today.

Another Boneheaded Hillary Move

Posted on March 19th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

She’s doing yet another paid speech, for the nonprofit American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey, which is reportedly paying her up to $200, 000 for the privilege of hearing her say, I’m quite sure, not much.

It’s a convergence of facts that raises several questions.

The American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey…exists? (Can you imagine going camping in New Jersey? Yikes.)

And has the money to pay HRC a six-figure speaking fee?

And, most important, why does Hillary continue to give these speeches, which really are unseemly for a woman who’s about to run for president? She can’t need the money. And if it’s for the Clinton Global Initiative, why not just say so?

There comes a point where it’s awfully hard not to think of these speeches as influence-buying; Hillary should stop giving them. I can’t imagine any other presumptive party nominee who wouldn’t. That Hillary won’t just adds to the sense that she holds herself above the rules normal politicians adhere to.

News from Steve Coll at Columbia

Posted on March 18th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

One of you readers tweeted something about my post below, and Steve Coll did respond; he wrote that his investigation of the Rolling Stone story on gang rape at UVA would be “coming soon—weeks not months exact date TK.”

TK is journalistic shorthand for “information to come.” (Long story.)

I appreciate that Coll did in fact take the time to respond. And frankly, I can’t wait for this report; it should be fascinating.

Hillary the Disaster

Posted on March 11th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 34 Comments »

She’s supposed to be unstoppable, but so far her imminent candidacy has been an utter train wreck. The use of private email at the State Department is a serious issue, and yesterday at the United Nations she didn’t have anything near a good explanation for it. Plus, there are a number of points where Hillary asks us to simply take her on faith on matters where there’s absolutely no reason to give her the benefit of the doubt. Such as:

1) She says that of the 60,000 emails she apparently wrote using her personal email, only one was to a foreign official, and he was British. Uh-huh.

2) Clinton says that of the 62, 230 emails she wrote, 31,830 were “private,” meaning personal. I don’t know about you, but I’d be in serious trouble at my workplace if over 50 percent of the email I wrote was personal.

3) Clinton says that she’s turning over everything that’s relevant, and not emails about things like Chelsea’s wedding. Why on earth should we believe her? She also admits to deleting a significant amount of email, so we’ll probably never know the truth.

4) A note on technology: Clinton says maybe she should have used two phones with separate email accounts. Just so you know, Mrs. Clinton, you could have more than one email account on a single phone. (Since you’re so interested in “convenience.”)

5) Clinton says there were “no security breaches” on her server, which is, apparently, in her home in Chappaqua. How would she know—has she brought in a security expert to check? (Answer: She couldn’t know.)

Here’s the main thing about this: If Clinton’s motive for using her personal email really was “convenience,” how arrogant of her to think that she can ignore rules for which there are actually good reasons to exist just because she finds them inconvenient. And that’s the best possible explanation. An equally possible one is that she’s secretive and wanted to control what emails were preserved for history, and that she holds herself above the law.

There is a great opportunity for another Democratic candidate to get in the race here. Can you imagine the amount of free media the person would receive?

But for the Democrats, I think, it’s more than an opportunity—it’s a need. If they don’t have a Hillary Clinton insurance policy, they might just be handing the presidency over to the Republican party.

A Rolling Stone Update

Posted on March 11th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Just so you know: I emailed Steve Coll, the dean of the Columbia School of Journalism and the man in charge on investigating Rolling Stone’s infamous story on rape at the University of Virginia, to ask him when his report might be finished.

He never responded.

Frankly, I didn’t expect him to answer my question, but I am surprised that he didn’t bother to reply. I’m always surprised when journalists do this. How can we expect other people to talk to us when we deny others even the courtesy of a reply?

That’s why I always try to be courteous and responsive to other journalists, even if for some reason I can’t answer their questions. It only seems fair.

Has Rolling Stone Learned Anything?

Posted on March 4th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 28 Comments »

In its pages, reviewer Alex Morris writes glowingly of the campus rape doc, “The Hunting Ground.”

So glowingly—and with such utter credulity—it’s as if the magazine has learned nothing from its experience with Sabrina Rubin Erdely, Jackie and the University of Virginia.

The film is, Morris says, a “stunning documentary” that “shows how universities cover up sexual assault cases”—something that Sabrina Rubin Erdely tried and failed to prove in her bogus article, “A Rape on Campus.”

(“Alex”, by the way, appears to be short for Alexandra.)

And then there’s this:

At the heart of The Hunting Ground are the stories of the survivors, each of which is hauntingly similar in its salient points: sexual violence followed by callous dismissal at the hands of a much-trusted institution.

There is not a single cautionary word here to suggest that, in addition to “the stories of the survivors,” there is at least one other side to these cases to hear and consider. Rolling Stone, of all magazines, should know this; should have learned that lesson by now. But…no.

Morris continues:

Simply put, ignoring or undermining survivors keeps rape stats low, which not only helps maintain the school’s brand but also protects fundraising (a large percentage of which comes from Greek alums or is tied to the performance of sports programs)….

This idea that university administrators across the country consistently sweep accusations of rape under the carpet “in order to keep rape stats low” and not harm fundraising is just a paranoid fantasy. An incident here or there, perhaps if it involves a star athlete—certainly possible. But a nationwide cover-up? To maintain the flow of donations from Greek alums, even though they are allegedly the perpretrators of these campus assaults?

(You can’t really have it both ways, can you? Saying that frat members commit most sexual assaults but that frat alums are so concerned about sexual assault statistics that they’ll stop writing checks.)

What a lost opportunity this is for the magazine to show that it has considered the lessons of Sabrina Rubin Erdeley’s fabricated article and integrated them into its coverage of this issue.

The debate about sexual assault on campus has grown considerably more nuanced and thoughtful since Rolling Stone’s false article came out. How weird that Rolling Stone doesn’t seem to notice. Perhaps they’re the ones making money off stories of campus sexual assault…

Considering the Hunting Ground

Posted on March 3rd, 2015 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

I have two young children, so I don’t get out to the movies much anymore, so I haven’t yet had a chance to see “The Hunting Ground,” the documentary about sexual assault that has been generating a lot of buzz. It’s playing in a handful of art theaters around the country. I’ll watch it when it airs on CNN. Judging from the alarmist title and the hysterically ominous trailer—I’ve seen Saw trailers that were more subtle—I think I’ll have some things to say about the film. But the early reviews are telling—both about the film and about the media.

Jezebel’s review of the film is, frankly, idiotic; so great is the reviewer’s credulity, you might as well have hired a parrot to type with its beak. Every statistic is gospel truth; ever interview subject is exactly right; every allegation, both against alleged rapists and universities in general, is assumed to be true.

The documentary underscores the most persuasive reason for the dearth of campus rape convictions: college is a business. Universities, the documentary explains, rely on the powerful networks of sororities and fraternities, and on the “multibillion dollar” college football industry for profit. If a school—from big public universities like UNC to small liberal arts colleges like Occidental College to religious institutions like the University of Notre Dame—is labeled as dangerous, it’s assumed their profits will suffer.

This is, frankly, nonsense. There are certainly reasons why university bureaucrats don’t like to talk about sexual assault on campus, and some of those may not be good reasons. Others have to do with federal law and the importance of discretion when handling sensitive matters—for all the parties involved, not just the alleged victim. But universities, with the possible exception of some with big time sports programs, do not think of “profits.” The sources of their revenue—tuition, alumni giving, federal grants, some money from science research, and returns on endowment investing—would not significantly be affected by the disclosure of a sexual assault on campus. In fact, the opposite is far more likely to be true; the cover-up of a rape on campus and its subsequent disclosure would likely be far more damaging to alumni giving and federal grant making than the mere disclosure of an incident.

But no, The Hunting Ground and Jezebel insist: If a school—from big public universities like UNC to small liberal arts colleges like Occidental College to religious institutions like the University of Notre Dame—is labeled as dangerous, it’s assumed their profits will suffer.

Oh, for God’s sake. I used to get this paranoid when I smoked pot (not very much, just for the record) in high school. And claims like that would seem credible under those circumstances.

The New York Times’ Manohla Dargis is a little more skeptical of the film, but primarily because of its, shall we say, creative journalistic techniques. The gist of her review is this:

As Ms. Pino, Ms. Clark and the other interviewees share their lives on camera, their voices underscore that publicly talking about rape isn’t just an act of political radicalism, but also a way for survivors to reclaim their lives. By speaking out, they are asserting that they, rather than their assailants, are the narrators of their own stories, the agents of their destinies. Mr. Dick doesn’t specifically address this openness, but it’s impossible not to think — as woman after woman speaks — that it is female empowerment itself that is driving some of the backlash directed at rape activists. Mr. Dick addresses that backlash rather obliquely, as in a section in which interviewees swat away the issue of false rape claims.

Alas, this too is silly, just with a slightly more sophisticated veneer. I’ll grant that there are probably some men who are made uncomfortable by all the attention women (mostly) are bringing to this issue. But there are a lot of people, male and female, who don’t believe that there is an “epidemic” of campus sexual assault and worry about the trampling on individual rights that’s taking place in the name of eradicating a bogus epidemic.

And, to be fair, Dargis does then write, “It’s too bad that [director Kirby Dick] doesn’t dig into whether the new guidelines to protect (mostly) women are infringing on the civil rights of men, as Emily Yoffe argued in Slate last December.”

Which brings us to Emily Yoffe’s review in Slate.

Yoffe, who has written so smartly about sexual assault, is far more skeptical about The Hunting Ground.

The Hunting Ground, Yoffe writes,

is a polemic that—as its title suggests—portrays young women as prey, frequently assaulted and frequently ignored by their universities and law enforcement when they try to bring charges. The movie, from director Kirby Dick and producer Amy Ziering, features numerous interviews with women who describe horrific experiences, and their testimony has raw, emotional power. But good policy about the lives of young people—female and male—needs to be based on prudent assessment. The film traffics in alarmist statistics and terrifying assertions, but fails to acknowledge both the recent changes in the way the government and universities approach sexual assault charges and the critiques that those changes go too far. By refusing to engage the current conversation about this issue, the film does its subjects—and us all—a disservice.

I have to get on a plane to San Francisco in a couple of hours—work trip—so I’m going to leave it at that. Except to say that I hope Yoffe’s review has some impact. This film is going to be shown on campuses all over the country, and it probably will have some impact. I doubt it’s going to be constructive.

Still Traveling…

Posted on February 26th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

I’m on my way to Mexico for some long-overdue scuba diving. Just a couple of days, but still—I can’t wait. I’ll post some pics, and, for those of you unfortunate enough to be in New England and New York at the moment, try not to gloat.

Drew Faust’s Problematic Book Review

Posted on February 24th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

Harvard president Drew Faust caused a stir the other day when she reviewed Richard Brookhiser’s new book, Founder’s Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln.

Faust clearly didn’t think much of Founder’s Son, which argues that Lincoln was motivated and inspired by a philosophical allegiance to the Founding Fathers. She writes:

By casting Lincoln as simply a derivative of the founders, Brookhiser obscures one of the most salient features of his life and character: the way he himself changed and the manner in which his ideas developed and shifted in the course of his life. By the end of the Civil War, Lincoln not only differed from the founders; he also differed from his earlier self. “The dogmas of the quiet past,” he told Congress in December 1862, “are inadequate to the stormy present. . . . As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew.”

It’s the kind of review which, if taken at face value, would strongly discourage one from reading the book.

But Brookhiser is fighting back. He has already prompted the Times to issue a correction about one point; Faust charges that Brookhiser’s treatment of Lincoln’s generals is superficial and that they are “left unnamed.” In fact, as the Times is forced to concede, they are not.

Brookhiser also facilitates (“plants” is probably too strong) is the subject of an article by gossip columnist Richard Johnson in the New York Post in which he alleges that Faust got something else wrong. Update: I sent Brookhiser, this post, and he informs me that he never talked to the Post, so—mea culpa. It discusses a letter Brookhiser wrote to the Times.

Brookhiser writes: “Faust asks, as if I had not considered the question, ‘what would Lincoln have thought about Sally Hemings?’ But I devote a chapter to Lincoln’s thoughts about Thomas Jefferson, including his relationship with Hemings.

For what it’s worth, I used Amazon’s “search inside the book” feature to try to fact-check this—not a very good research method, but I haven’t read the book—and found two references to Sally Hemings; both were brief, and didn’t appear to address the question Faust poses. So Faust may come out ahead on that one.

Faust is also tough on Brookhiser’s argument that Lincoln felt a connection to the Founding Fathers because the writers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence hoped to set slavery on a course to extinction. But Faust disagrees with that assessment of the Founding Fathers:

This is a portrait of the founding fathers not as masters — which so many of them actually were — but as captives of slavery. In connecting them to Lincoln, Brook­hiser makes them seem part of a long antislavery tradition, liberating them from a recent and powerful historiography that has detailed sharp and troubling contradictions between their rhetoric of freedom and the realities of everyday lives lived close to the darkest aspects of human bondage and exploitation. Yet, one wonders, what would Lincoln have thought about Sally Hemings?

Is this fair? Again, with the caveat that I haven’t read Brookhiser’s book (I have read Faust’s latest, and found it oddly flat and much overrated), I don’t think so. If Brookhiser makes the FF’s seem “part of a long antislavery tradition,” that would indeed be overstating the case. On this subject, they were generally conflicted and conservative. As Faust points out, many of them were also hypocritical. But hypocrisy does not disqualify them from sincere belief that slavery was a profound moral wrong. It just means they couldn’t always practice what they preached.

(Of all the Founding Fathers, probably John Adams most wrestled with bridging the gap between daily living and revolutionary idealism, and while it made him admirable and admired in many ways, it also caused him enormous psychological stress—particularly when he felt he had failed to live up to his own words.)

It is also true that the Founding Fathers who opposed slavery in theory—most of them, I believe—did not know how to end it in reality. They were racist, as was the norm at the time, and they could not imagine black Africans living self-sufficiently in the new country; one of the reasons that Washington didn’t free his slaves until his death was that he did not believe they would survive on their own. This is, from a modern perspective, an appalling thought. That does not make it an insincere one—and in fact Lincoln himself went through a phase in which he was inclined to believe that freed slaves would have to be returned to Africa. (If memory serves, Jefferson had considered the same thing; which would make an interesting connection between Lincoln and the Founders.) If you take seriously the Founders’ racism—and there’s no reason not to, they were perfectly upfront about it—it’s perfectly possible for the Founding Fathers to have been both “masters”—a term Faust uses literally—and “captives” (she makes this figurative) of slavery.

So while Faust writes with a great deal of well-earned confidence about Lincoln and the Civil War, she does not inspire (in me, anyway) a great amount of confidence in her understanding of the Founding Fathers. Her book review feels a bit to me like the work of a president who has repeatedly and convincingly said that the downside of being president of Harvard is the fact that she can no longer practice the writing of history. It lets her keep her toes in—while other muscles deteriorate.