Friday, December 5, 2014

Rolling Stone: "Our trust in her was misplaced" -- another high profile rape case fizzles

Last month, Rolling Stone ran a massive story about a terrible campus gang rape that got national publicity -- it was perhaps the most high profile rape allegation in years -- but the publication did what too many news outlets do as a matter of course: it automatically believed the accuser; it reduced the accused (thankfully unnamed) males to vile caricature; and it expressed a rooting interest in the putative victim's story.

Now Rolling Stone has apologized. ". . . there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced."

This wasn't a correction of some erroneous facts, this was a company falling on its sword and telling the world it blew it in a very, very big way. Rolling Stone had no choice because it had to have known that the Washington Post was about to blow the lid off the story.

But everyone who follows these cases carefully knows that this, ladies and gentlemen, is par for the course. Will Rolling Stone and other publications watching this closely learn anything? Don't count on it.

Prof. Alan Dershowitz once wrote this about another high profile rape accusation: ". . . don’t assume anything until all the evidence is in. The story is almost never what it appears to be on first impression." That's darn good advice, but the news media never gets it.

How does this happen so often with the news media? It happens because the news media is far more enamored of the "rape culture" narrative than the more conservative general public. When it comes to rape, instead of being objective investigators, their stories are geared to advance that narrative. Even reporters you wouldn't suspect fall into it.  They are out to educate the unwashed general public they see as gun-toting, Bible-thumping hicks, racists and misogynists.

Enough, already!

Rolling Stone needs to step back and look at the mess it's created. This story hurt the community of the wrongly accused -- it "confirmed" a lot of people's prejudices about white, upper-middle class frat guys. (Any apology to the fraternity, Rolling Stone? I won't hold my breath.) No matter how much Rolling Stone says it lost trust in "Jackie," you can trust me on this: the usual suspects will continue to insist that "something must have happened." The narrative must be protected at all costs.

Beyond that, make no mistake, this story did no favors for rape victims, either. Every rape lie, every rape half-truth, undermines the credibility of real victims.

The truly disgusting part is that the news media does this all the time. Perhaps the most famous false rape case in recent years after Duke Lacrosse, the one at Hofstra University back in 2009, provides a good example -- read our very comprehensive post on it, it is truly horrifying. The media's rush to judgment in that case was grotesque (the worst example: a television news report that essentially said the four young men were awful rapists). We wrote this at the time the young men were cleared:
Is it too much for them to actually do their own investigations, to report whether the rape allegation is supported by any known evidence aside from the accuser's word, to offer the other side of the story (e.g., the fact that the stories of the four accused men in the Hofstra case were consistent, and that the story of the accuser was riddled with inconsistencies)? What we saw here was a vicious smear, a wholesale destruction of four young nobodys, their scared and callow faces displayed so that the world could scorn them and titillate to their humiliation.
In the aftermath of the Hofstra debacle, Carol D’Auria of 1010 WINS said this: “We need to move slower." She added: “But I don’t see that happening.”

I didn't see it happening then, and now, more than five years later, I still don't see it happening. If anything, it's worse than ever.