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.)

My Sentiments Exactly

Posted on January 9th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

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A UVa Tick-Tock from New York Mag, and Some Thoughts of My Own

Posted on January 5th, 2015 in Uncategorized | 30 Comments »

Okay, it takes a little chutzpah for the magazine that published Jessica Pressler’s fake story on the teenage stock wiz to do this wrap-up on Rolling Stone’s UVa rape story.

That said, NYMag does a pretty good job with it, pulling a lot of confusing information together in one place.

My only quibble: They refer to me as a “former editor,” which is not true; I’m the editor-in-chief of Worth magazine. This blog is just something I do on the side.

Meanwhile, where do we stand with Rolling Stone, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and UVa?

Something like this.

1) Sabrina Rubin Erdely has gone into hiding—probably, as several posters here have suggested, because various lawyers want her to. This blogger continues to be of the opinion that this moral silence is a shameful act, and that it would be possible to release some sort of statement acknowledging some fault without increasing one’s legal vulnerability. And also that, even if doing so did increase your legal vulnerability, releasing such a statement would be the right thing to do—the kind of action by which a person’s character is defined (or not).

2) Jackie, the self-alleged victim, is…well, I have no idea. Is she still at the University of Virginia? Has she taken leave?

There remain diehard Jackie defenders, but it is hard to take them seriously. They just don’t make any decent arguments about why Jackie continues to deserve the benefit of the doubt here. Their arguments seem to be, “well, she’s pretty messed up, so something must have happened to Jackie.” Or: “Well, one in five/four/three women on campus are sexually assaulted”—numbers no non-ideological person continues to believe—so something probably happened to Jackie, and even if it didn’t, it could have, so that’s what counts.

3) Rolling Stone has asked the Columbia Journalism School to investigate its editorial process. It will at some point release a report which I can summarize in advance: Don’t become so ideologically invested in a story that you abandon basic principles of journalism. If anything, when you have a story that you want (for reasons both principled and material) to believe, be extra aggressive about confirming it.

4) It doesn’t appear that, at UVa, the matter will go away anytime soon. In the Richmond Times-Dispatch the other day, UVa professor Robert Turner and his son Thomas, a student at UVa’s school of leadership and public policy, call on university president Teresa Sullivan to apologize for closing the school’s fraternities in response to the Rolling Stone article. They write:

This tragic matter, obviously, should not affect the university’s desire to prevent sexual abuse. But, hopefully, it will remind us that even disfavored organizations and individuals deserve due process of law.

Hear, hear. Sullivan made a huge mistake on this one, and I think she needs to apologize for it; if she does, people will understand that she reacted out of good intentions and get over it. If she doesn’t, they’ll resent her for it indefinitely.

5) Regarding the general topic of sexual assault on campus, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s horrific article has had some interesting consequences, if perhaps not the ones she expected. It has really prompted a pushback against the dogma that sexual assault on campus is a ubiquitous phenomenon and a reexamination of some of the highly dubious statistics to this effect that have been in circulation. The fact that Jackie’s story is false doesn’t seem to have silenced women; in fact, it’s sparked a wave of “whatever happened to Jackie, I was raped” confessions. But it’s also meant that those memoirs are not automatically assumed to be true—and I think that’s generally a healthy thing. (Should we really take Lena Dunham’s word for it?)

5) As for me, I’m going to keep watching.

Gawker Names Lena Dunham’s Alleged Rapist

Posted on December 31st, 2014 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

Apparently in an attempt to prove that he actually exists.

Where is Sabrina Rubin Erdely?

Posted on December 30th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

It has now been a month since she made any public statement regarding her Rolling Stone fiasco—and her last statements on the story were defending it and angrily charging doubters of missing its larger import.

How, I keep thinking, does any self-respecting human being do this? How do you put your name on something, promote it, revel in the positive attention it’s getting…and then just run and hide when it turns out that you were wrong?

This is not exactly a profile in courage we’re talking about.

Getting the story so completely wrong in the first place was a disastrous mistake, but I don’t think that it alone should or would have ended Erdely’s career. None of us would want to live in a world without second chances.

I do think that her behavior since then should have that consequence. There is no place in journalism for someone who points a finger of accusation—at men, at administrators, at an institution—and then runs away when she is found to be wrong. The real question is not where is Sabrina Rubin Erdely. It’s, where is her honor?

My Gripe with the Barrymore Theater

Posted on December 30th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

Last night my wife and I went to see The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a wonderful play based on a wonderful book, at the Barrymore Theater. It was a big night out for us; we have two young kids and don’t get as much culture as we used to.

So we were disappointed to learn that the two most important parts in the play—that of Christopher Boone, the autistic boy at the heart of the story, and his father—were to be played by understudies. Particularly disappointing was the news that Alex Sharp, who plays Christopher, would not be performing; when that was announced just before the curtain rose, the entire audience gasped in surprise and disappointment. He’s been getting amazing reviews, and, no offense to his understudy, he’s clearly the star of the show.

So this morning I called Telecharge to say, I went to see a play last night where the two biggest roles were played by understudies. That doesn’t seem right. Can you do anything about it?

They asked me to write an email. I did. I explained that Alex Sharp was a big reason we’d gone to see the play, that the Times’ Ben Brantley had singled Sharp out for praise, and that it really did make a difference to us that we saw a performance that was not what I had bought tickets for. And even though they were relatively cheap seats, at $100 a ticket, the seats weren’t that cheap. I didn’t ask for a refund, I just said, if there’s anything you can do to redress the situation, I’d appreciate it.

A few hours later, a guy from Telecharge wrote back. He said that he’d spoken to the theater and that the producers considered the two actors equal. Because they could and did both play the part, the understudy was not, in fact, an understudy. Therefore, too bad.

This is when I started to get cranky.

I wrote back to the man, pointing out that the idea that both actors were considered equal and Alex Sharp did not have top billing was pure bunk. The Playbill write-up speaks of Alex Sharp’s Broadway debut and features an interview with Sharp titled “How Alexander Sharp was Plucked from Obscurity to Star on Broadway“; it does not mention his understudy. Every single review of the play mentions Sharp; none mention the understudy. The play’s website features an extensive gallery of images from the show. Every single one features Alex Sharp as Christopher; none feature the understudy. Broadway.com has a video: “Watch Alex Sharp Solve the Curious Case of the Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Judging from its reaction to the loudspeaker announcement that Sharp would not be performing, the audience as a whole was expecting him.

I asked if he could connect me to the people at the theater, so that I could talk with them.

I have not yet heard back.

This raises an interesting issue. Yes, theater is a human art, and human beings can’t always go on stage. They get sick, they lose their voice, whatever.

But if you are heavily promoting a play based on the performance of one young actor, and people buy tickets in large part to see that performance, and without warning he does not appear in the play, are theatergoers not owed a refund if they want one?

I think they are—or, to be more precise, we are. If the star of the play can not perform for some reason, well, I hope he feels better soon. But that does not mean that I should suffer for lack of his art.

I’ll let you know how it turns out….but I’m not optimistic.

David Carr Mails It In

Posted on December 29th, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Times’ peripatetic media critic weighs in with a classic “do I have to write this it’s the holidays” column today—his second in a row—looking at media figures who are facing challenges in 2015. Carr’s list of usual suspects includes Deborah Turness of NBC News, Joe Ripp of Time Inc., and MSNBC president Phil Griffin. This will not be news to anyone who reads a media column. David Carr’s media column, for example.

I grant you: There’s not a lot of media news between Christmas and New Year’s, and Carr can write this sort of thing as entertainingly as anyone.

But still—this is the kind of column that Carr could write in his sleep, and we could read in ours, and neither party would be any worse for it.

And notice, again, as I have pointed out about Carr’s work previously, the utter lack of reporting….