Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Jackie's UVA Rolling Stone Rape Allegation Falls Apart

It should scarcely need to be said but obviously rape is one of the worst crimes a person can commit, second only to murder. So society should do its best to prevent rape and failing that, to punish rape harshly. You may recall that a while back we did a skeptical post on the fact that Rolling Stone magazine was forced to retract its story about a gang rape at UVA. Since that time the local police looked into the story. They did everything in their power to avoid saying that "Jackie", the alleged victim, was lying. What they did say is that there was no substantive basis to support her story. Similarly Rolling Stone outsourced an investigation of its journalistic process and procedures surrounding this story to Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The School recently released its report. The report wasn't good in the same way that someone who comes home with 6 F's and one D on her report card didn't have a good semester. You can read the very long Columbia report for yourself if you are so inclined. For those of you who do not have the time or interest to read through 12,000 words let's just say that the report calmly eviscerates the lax reporting, fact checking and editorial standards at Rolling Stone magazine. If Erdely had called Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock – their true names – to check their sides of Jackie's account of Sept. 28 and 29, they would have denied saying any of the words Jackie attributed to them (as Ryan would have as well). They would have described for Erdely a history of communications with Jackie that would have left the reporter with many new questions. For example, the friends said that Jackie told them that her date on Sept. 28 was not a lifeguard but a student in her chemistry class named Haven Monahan. (The Charlottesville police said in March they could not identify a UVA student or any other person named Haven Monahan.) All three friends would have spoken to Erdely, they said, if they had been contacted.

I always thought that "Jackie" was making stuff up. Let's say I said I'm going on a date. I show you a picture of my date and it's a 1970s picture of Pam Grier. I state that this woman is not Pam Grier but rather an old high school classmate whom I haven't seen in decades. You might reasonably conclude that I was lying through my teeth. This would especially be the case after you tracked down that old high school classmate and she told you that she hadn't talked to me since high school and had never dated me. 

Unfortunately similar to witch trials or child abuse accusations we have allowed the country and its institutions of higher learning among others to become infected with the feminist idea that to even question a rape victim's story is proof of a misogynistic and rape apologist mindset. If a story can't be questioned and can't be weighed against alternate explanations, then how can we have a justice system? An accusation should be enough. Whether we're talking criminal charges, civil suits or journalism, a small but healthy amount of skepticism is important to keep close at hand. When someone already has a strong pov about an issue as Sabrina Rubin Erdely clearly did, it's essential to watch out for confirmation bias and ensure that questions are asked which will challenge the hypothesis.

You may hear some people saying that we should automatically believe victims. Well that's well and good for people I know intimately. I will believe them if they tell me that X happened. But for everyone else I'm going to require some level of proof. And I would certainly expect that other people who don't know me or mine would feel the same way. I wouldn't be offended if you were non-committal in automatically believing something you were told by someone I knew well but you did not know at all. It's why we have society wide procedures set up to determine if someone was a victim in the first place. It's only after that critical fact has been determined when we can start "believing victims" or "helping victims find their voice" or so forth and so on. Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner has so far stood by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the freelance writer of the untrue article, as well as the other editors and supervisors involved in this nonsense. Erdely will continue to write for the magazine. No one will lose their job. This is of course completely ridiculous. It shows how deep the rot has gone in traditional media. Too many readers and viewers no longer care what the truth is. They just want to have their biases supported. Every event must be placed into service to one or another ideological goal, no matter how much fact-bending or "truthiness" must be deployed. Even though Jackie is an apparent liar some people are trying to place all the blame on Rolling Stone. They simply can't find it in themselves to say Jackie lied.

We all have biases. I am not overly fond of police officers. If I were on a jury where there was strong evidence of police misconduct, the accused had better hope God has mercy on him because I surely won't. But if there is equally strong or even stronger evidence that the person accusing the police officer of a crime is lying then I have to vote to acquit. It doesn't matter how much of a problem I think police brutality is in society. Truth is more important than "social justice". Women who lie about rape do a disservice to everyone. They should own that. The fraternity is apparently going to sue Rolling Stone magazine. I don't know how much of a case they will have. Legal experts can give their opinion. But if that is the only way to make Rolling Stone change its practices, then I'm all in favor. It's important that rape victims come forward. It's also important that liars and hoaxers be revealed as such.
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