Last month, Rolling Stone published a story wherein a woman named “Jackie” recounted her rape inside a frat house University of Virginia. She claimed seven men raped her, brutally. Earlier today, the Washington Post ran an investigative piece casting the rape claims into serious doubt, and Rolling Stone released this note to their readers:
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced… Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility.
And, incredibly: “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault.”
Here’s something that’s also sort of “unfair:” not talking to seven unconvicted, alleged criminals about their involvement in a purported horrendous crime! It is not rude, shaming, or belittling to seek quotes from alleged rapists. Actually, it is what a responsible journalist does, even when it makes said journalist’s source uneasy. And if making a source uneasy makes a journalist uneasy, it’s time for the journalist in question to find another profession.
If the reporter behind the Rolling Stone story, Sabrina Erdely, would have spoken to the seven alleged rapists about their version of events — or even just a couple of them! — the magazine could have avoided airing “Jackie’s” strange, hard-to-believe, increasingly doubtful story. Or if one of her assailants said, “HELL YEAH WE DID AND SHE WANTED IT!”, that would have been good to know: that guy is a pig. Or maybe one of the seven accusers attempted to stop the assault? Or tried to help Jackie? Or fled the room for help? Maybe we should talk to that guy?
There is a horrendous, hidden bias in Rolling Stone‘s reporting: the premise that none of these guys would tell the truth if asked. Whether it’s because they are white, or in a frat, or were even possibly directly involved in the act, the notion that the only things these men would say are lies is a stupid and cowardly assumption.
If you are a front-line warrior in the war against patriarchy, know this: facts, no matter how complicated or unpleasant, should not be obscured because they “help the other side.” Ask yourself, soldier, is the cause of equality so weak that statements made by the frat boys would destroy it?
A few paragons of the feminist left have condemned Rolling Stone‘s statement for discrediting their source. As well as brushing off inconsistencies in Jackie’s story as exposed by The Washington Post. “It’s as if survivors are expected to go to victim finishing school,” tweeted Durga Chew Bose. Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, added, “My next book will be Bad Victim.”
But they conspicuously have not chastised Rolling Stone for their unwillingness to fact check Jackie’s story and enter into a losing bargain with a source who refused to have her severe accusations scrutinized.
It is remarkable and depressing how many SlutWalkers, members of The Progressive Internet, and Earnest Feminists, believe that good reporting somehow equates to victim shaming. If you believe that putting the screws to alleged rapists is somehow anti-feminist then you are an intellectual dwarf.
Then there are those who bemoan that Rolling Stone‘s statement today will prevent other victims from coming forward. But that’s an incomplete thought… coming forward to national pop culture magazines? There are a couple naive assumptions in that lament.
1) There are few industries as cynical and craven as magazine publishing. They love a good sex scandal or true crime story. You can watch out for the next longform piece of a college campus rape story that’s corroborated. Do not believe for A SECOND that Rolling Stone did not speak to alleged rapists because they were trying to be “sensitive”. It was because they were abiding by a bad promise they made to “Jackie” to not contact her alleged assailants. If they did contact those supposed assailants, they would lose a sensational and lurid first person account of a gang rape. If Jackie rescinded her claims, then the magazine would lose its hook to lure readers into a story about the much-reported — and possibly inflated — “epidemic” of sexual assaults on campus.
2) Magazines are not the best apparatus for justice-seeking victims. That is not what publishers are in the business of doing. They sell advertising, collect subscription revenue, and hopefully turn a profit. If some justice is meted out along the way, terrific. But a victim support group leader is very different from a cop is very different from a journalist. Jann Wenner is not the best rape counselor.
3) Men will continue to take advantage of women regardless of what Rolling Stone or any other magazine publishes. And perhaps the best venue to combat that sort of violence is not in a magazine run by flinchy editors, or even at a Student Affairs Board accustomed to dealing with small-fry crime like plagiarism. Maybe the best place to deal with sexual crime would be a court of law, where felonies are not treated as fuel for pageviews.
Photo: Steve Helber/AP