December 3, 2014

DID SHE EVER EVEN MEET DASHIELL HAMMETT?:

Rolling Stone Never Gave the Villains of Its Gang Rape Story a Chance to Defend Themselves (Judith Shulevitz, 12/02/14, New Republic)

Last week, writer Richard Bradley published an essay essentially applying the criteria of dissimilarity and embarrassment to the by-now world-famous Rolling Stone story about a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity. Bradley, who as editor of George was duped by serial fabricator Stephen Glass, says the lesson he took away from that experience is that "one must be most critical, in the best sense of that word, about what one is already inclined to believe." In other words, if a story plays to rather than challenges your biases, you should subject it to tougher scrutiny. It has become a truism that campus rape has reached epidemic levels. The issue is given unflagging attention in the news, by the White House, and even by Congress. Because the story so soundly affirms the prevailing assumptions of our time, writes Bradley, he's inclined to doubt it.

Should he? This morning Reason's Robby Soave went further, asking whether the entire story is a "gigantic hoax," like the infamous Duke case. Bradley and Soave home in on some clear deviations from journalistic norms evident in the Rolling Stone article. First, the saga of the extraordinarily violent gang rape, described in excruciating detail in the first ten paragraphs of the piece, relies wholly on the testimony of one woman, identified only as Jackie in the piece. (It is her real first name.) Second, the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, allowed herself to be bound by a vow she made to Jackie not to contact the alleged rapists, especially the pseudonymous Drew, said to have lured her into the room where seven men raped her. Erdely may not even have tried to identify them. According to a Washington Post profile of Erdely published this weekend, "She won't say, for example, whether she knows the names of Jackie's alleged attackers or whether in her reporting she approached 'Drew,' the alleged ringleader, for comment. She is bound to silence about those details, she said, by an agreement with Jackie, who 'is very fearful of these men, in particular Drew.'" During an interview on Slate's DoubleX podcast this weekend, Atlantic staff writer Hanna Rosin tried to press Erdely on whether she knew who the boys were or ever tried to contact them, but Erdely evaded the question. On Monday evening, The Washington Post published a follow-up piece confirming Erdely's failure even to try to talk to the accused; it observed, "News organizations typically seek comment from those accused of criminal acts or from their attorneys as a matter of fairness and balance, as well as to confirm that the individuals exist."

Posted by at December 3, 2014 1:47 PM
  

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