Re: The UVA Rape Story


Shorter this post: unflogged isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 04- 5-15 9:28 PM
horizontal rule

this, from Erdely, is kind of weird utter bullshit.

She's been reporting on this stuff for two decades. If she didn't know how common the fabulists are she's either an idiot or a liar.

Posted by: gswift | Link to this comment | 04- 5-15 10:01 PM
horizontal rule

What she seems to be saying - appropriately, given the subject - is "you fucked up. You trusted me."

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 1:47 AM
horizontal rule

It really is a very comprehensive look at the reporting on the story--it appears to be pretty much full open kimono*, which is an indication of the seriousness of the situation for RS (although there "well we fucked up just this one time, not changing a thing" response seems to belie that). Jay Rosen has some insightful notes and comments notes on the report. A couple of his key points which I agree with are:

Asking "how could this happen?" is not the same as asking, "what could have prevented it?" The authors chose to focus their study on prevention -- steps not taken that would have avoided disaster -- rather than tracing those mistakes to their origins, which might include, for example, bad ideas or rotten assumptions
The most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was made at the beginning: to settle on a narrative and go in search of the story that would work just right for that narrative. The key term is emblematic. The report has too little to say about that fateful decision, probably because it's not a breach of procedure but standard procedure in magazine-style journalism.
"Narrative," the original sin of so much of journalism and the stories we tell ourselves.

*Rosen notes it would be nice to see something similar from other nominally serious media outlets with regard to their major screw-ups like the 60 Minutes Lara Logan Benghazi fiasco. (And when CBS did have an "independent" review of the Bush Nat'l Guard letters the report was an ass-covering political hack job that had less truth in it than the original flawed Rather reporting.)

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 4:19 AM
horizontal rule

And speaking of journalistic narrative, Judith Miller had an incredibly aggressive defense of her Iraq War reporting in the WSJ this this weekend. "I *was* fucking right! I was! I was!"

And Jason Zengerle had a howler of an article on Hillary Clinton and the press in New Yor magazine. Included every hackneyed media trope about Clinton you could think of, but also probably a pretty accurate account of how things are going to go down on that front.

In the end, the strength Clinton will need most, and on which the fate of her campaign may rest, will be her ability to make us stop dwelling on her weaknesses.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 4:27 AM
horizontal rule

5: The Miller piece is here.

Obviously, it's full of nonsense, but this was particularly weird:

Their expertise informed articles and another book I co-wrote in 2003 with Times colleagues about the danger of biological terrorism, published right before the deadly anthrax letter attacks.

The anthrax attacks were in 2001. She didn't anticipate them in 2003.

Posted by: | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 6:29 AM
horizontal rule


Maybe the WSJ should have Columbia do a review.

Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 6:51 AM
horizontal rule

My modest proposal (which I assume is covered in Journalism 101) is that every story* (and its supporting elements) be treated as a hypothesis concerning a potential truth about the world, and that would then be tested to the extent possible. The apparent credibility of people making strong claims is certainly one aspect of that (internal consistency etc.), but fraught with danger. Even the people making financial advisor commercials (the one where the guy is actually a DJ) are on to that.

No idea why I thought that was worth typing up, but it does strike me as nice simple framing of the task of vetting a story.

*Or maybe even the whole narrative of which the story is a part...

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:19 AM
horizontal rule

4.footnote -- Man, that whole scenario remains incredibly weird to me. It's a little too Xanatos Gambit to assume that Karl Rove, who is not nearly the all-seeing evil genius he might have seemed in 2004 actually sought to poison the well by leaking fake evidence of a mostly true story, particularly because they were not particularly good fakes, but it sure did a nice job of shutting down any discussion of the huge gaps in the documentary record around his late TANG service.

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:25 AM
horizontal rule

Fuck. I blame Batman.

Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:26 AM
horizontal rule

Jessica Valenti on the unseemliness of the RS response to the investigation, putting almost all of the emphasis on the misleading parts of what "Jackie" told them rather than their own fundamental errors of reporting and fact-checking.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:34 AM
horizontal rule

9: Yep. As you may recall, the loose cannon Texas Democrat (Burkett) made the Kerry campaign aware of the documents (I think Joe Lockhart had looked at them) but they either wanted nothing to do with them (or maybe quietly passed them on to someone at CBS, I forget). So if he was going for it, I suspect he wanted the Kerry campaign to be more directly implicated in raising the "fake" story. (Was there not some reason to think that Rove did something preemptive like this with Bush's cocaine/drunk driving year in 2000?) It does stretch credibility, but the part that resonates with me is that the guy who first passed on information from a "font expert" was a commenter with the handle "Buckhead" who was (per Wikipedia) a username of Harry W. MacDougald, an Atlanta attorney who had worked for conservative groups such as the Federalist Society and the Southeastern Legal Foundation and who had helped draft the petition to the Arkansas Supreme Court for the disbarment of President Bill Clinton. As I recall he was also positively identified as being part of the "Brooks Brother riot" in 2000 and associated with Roger Stone.

If it was intentional, it went off like a bomb...

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:50 AM
horizontal rule

The link in 11 is broken for me.

Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:51 AM
horizontal rule

Me too. Try this.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:55 AM
horizontal rule

12: I am somewhat leery of being the kind of person who laid out the string of stuff in 12. But there really are two dead ends to the story (which was a big story). They received unequal press treatment but both remain dead ends as far as I know.

1) Burkett receiving the documents from "Lucy Ramirez."
2) Buckhead having esoteric font analysis at the ready.

And the Thornburgh commission was mostly an exercise in corporate ass-covering.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:08 AM
horizontal rule

Part of the problem is that the Rolling Stone article was attempting to blame UVa for not acting as if the stories told by Jackie were true. She told the administration and they basically said "what do you want to do?" rather than "we need to stop the horrific and ritualized crimes committed by one of our fraternities". Skepticism was UVa's alleged moral failure, so for anyone involved in the process of writing or editing this story to be skeptical would be tricky.

Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:14 AM
horizontal rule

Jessica Valenti should probably take a few moments for quiet contemplation.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:14 AM
horizontal rule

Valenti link..

I'm not persuaded by the thrust of Valenti's argument:

It wasn't Jackie's job to get the details of her rape correct. It was Rolling Stone's.

No. Jackie had a responsibility here, too. Any narrative about this incident can't help but recount the false statements made by Jackie. And it's impossible to recount falsehoods on that scale without making the liar look bad. That's not Rolling Stone's fault.

Valenti quotes the report:

"Erdely's reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie had made no request that they refrain."

In fact, the report notes that while Jackie didn't make any explicit requests in some matters, she stopped cooperating when Erdely took certain actions.

Erdely was clearly afraid of losing her story - and rightly so. I think that's the heart of the Rolling Stone error. You have to give up a story if you can't check it.

But it's also pretty clear that the magazine approached the matter the way it did, in part, out of misplaced deference to the source. Erdely unambiguously came into the story with a prepackaged narrative about rape and rape victims that didn't hold up well in this instance.

Posted by: politicalfootball | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:19 AM
horizontal rule

The anthrax attacks were in 2001. She didn't anticipate them in 2003.

I assume she means that the articles were published prior to the anthrax attacks.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:30 AM
horizontal rule

I don't know who this guy is and Steve Sailor is one of his regular commenters, so beware, but he sure nailed the RS story; his post reads like a rough draft of the CJR report.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:34 AM
horizontal rule

15. 2). It really didn't take "esoteric font analysis" to see that the documents were fakes. It just took being old enough to remember real typewriters and be moved to compare the fakes to documents produced on them.

That contrasts with the UVA rape story, which was at least potentially true, if implausible once you looked closely.

Posted by: DaveLMA | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:47 AM
horizontal rule

20- Maybe Jackie tipped him off ahead of time to ratfck RS... um, wait a minute...

Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 9:10 AM
horizontal rule

The frat has said it'll sue Rolling Stone... how feasible is this?

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 10:08 AM
horizontal rule

You know what popped out for me a bit, is that Rolling Stone's excuse for not having done the necessary fact checking was not wanting to be skeptical about her story. But one part of the undone checking that would have caught the problems wasn't about the central facts of her story, but the conversation with her friends. And that conversation was really pretty facially implausible in detail; not in a way that made me doubt the central rape story -- the things that seemed unbelievably bizarre about the conversation also seemed like the sort of thing a traumatized person might have confabulated due to upset.

I mean, one of the friends was quoted as saying that a downside of reporting the rape would be that none of them would be invited to frat parties anymore. And while it's not unbelievable that someone might feel that way, and I could probably believe that someone might say something hedging that could be interpreted that way at some time long after the event, the possibility that someone said that to an injured friend as she's telling you about having been gang-raped that same day? That's pretty much unbelievable, and I don't understand why it didn't remind the writer that she really had to do whatever checking was possible.

Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 10:19 AM
horizontal rule

9: Republican operatives are selected for ratfucking ability.

Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 10:28 AM
horizontal rule

I remember you being skeptical of that bit at the time, LB. The "...because we're feminist!" excuse from the RS crew is pathetic. Just admit you fucked up because you thought you had a great story and didn't want to look at too hard.

Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 10:33 AM
horizontal rule

The obligation to take an assault victim at her word is, in any case, not the same for everyone involved. The appropriate balance of sympathy vs skepticism will be one thing for a counselor at a crisis clinic, another for a jury in a courtroom, and another for a journalist investigating the planned cover story for a national magazine.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 10:52 AM
horizontal rule

27: exactly. You can't live your entire life beyond reasonable doubt.

Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 11:08 AM
horizontal rule

Just admit you fucked up because you thought you had a great story

Yep. That detail was too delicious to fact-check. Is a friend really going to confirm that they said that?!? Of course not.

The horrible reaction from the friends resonated with UVa haters. Confirmation bias at work.

Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 11:28 AM
horizontal rule

21: It really didn't take "esoteric font analysis" to see that the documents were fakes. It just took being old enough to remember real typewriters and be moved to compare the fakes to documents produced on them.

Sure. In the end that was clear, but this lawyer was right on top of it right out of the chute (within minutes) with a bunch of specific, detailed information. There is of course a chance that someone professionally inclined or qualified to notice that did so and then thought to pass the information on to their friend/online acquaintance who they knew was involved in politics and would be interested in help debunking the report. I would only ask that the media ask the guy in question if something like that were the case, or even think that he might volunteer that information to help allay any doubts as to what led him to be ready with the information. Instead, crickets.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 1:16 PM
horizontal rule

From what I can recall it was literally "When Dan Rather held up that piece of paper on the news I saw that the proportional spacing on the letters was wrong therefore it's a forgery by the left wing media". I mean, it was that fast and blatant, which is why at least the lefty blogs were baffled about it and/or had trouble taking it seriously for a while.

Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 2:02 PM
horizontal rule

I have mentioned this before, but I recall telling a friend working on the online side for the relevant news program on the relevant television network, on the evening of the broadcast, that they really had to put the NG documents online. The words "in this day and age" may have been mentioned.

I continue to blame myself for all that ensued.

Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 7:57 PM
horizontal rule

Sorta to 4: One of the things that has bothered me about all this is the overly facile aspects of creating this particular narrative: "Frat boys get drunk and gang rape a female student" is hardly man-bites-dog, but it's also hardly emblematic of rape on campus. From my readings and anecdotal evidence (i.e. reports by friends), most all the rape on campus is one-on-one, date rape-type rape. It's not marihuana-crazed black men from the surrounding community jumping out of the bushes, and it's rarely premeditated, ritualized gang rape. It's people you know, people you're friends with, doing something awful because of a combination of bad values, entitlement and usually alcohol consumption on the part of the perpetrator. Take away all the frat party gang rapes, and I doubt you'd cut the problem by more than 1%.

Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 04- 6-15 8:13 PM
horizontal rule

33 reflects my experience as well. I don't know anyone who was assaulted in the manner described in the article, but I do know people who were assaulted by 'friends' and acquaintances. One person I know was slipped something in a drink at a party, but again that was a single attacker and it was a friend of a friend. Anecdata!

I also know someone who did the attacking (I quit my friendship with him when he revealed what he had done). That was yet another entitlement+alcohol+misogyny fueled assault. From knowing the guy I think he knew what he did was wrong (and knew it while he was doing it - he was not that drunk he didn't know up from down), but he also didn't believe it was that big of a deal to the victim. I think if he'd realized just how devastating his actions potentially were he would not have done what he did. When activists talk about teaching men not to rape I think of him - if he had been exposed to accurate information he likely would not have raped.

Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 5:06 AM
horizontal rule

Clay Shirky's proposed "shorter CJR" is actually pretty good:

We investigated the matter thoroughly. We found no extenuating circumstances. The writers, editors and fact-checkers at Rolling Stone abdicated the skepticism required by their profession.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 8:06 AM
horizontal rule

5,6: Best response to the Judith Miller thing.

Dear Judy,
No one is crediting you with starting the Iraq war. We know you were not actually on the team that took us into the biggest, most tragic US foreign policy debacle ever. You were just cheering from the sidelines. Your attempt to re-write history is both pathetic and self-serving.
Valerie Plame

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 11:21 AM
horizontal rule

most tragic US foreign policy debacle ever


Posted by: Opinionated Vietnam | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 11:38 AM
horizontal rule

Yeah, a bit hyperbolic.

Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 12:56 PM
horizontal rule

34.last: I think a guy who stalked me was like that, and he emailed me somewhat self-awarely years later after reading something I'd written about rape. He honestly thought he was being romantic by leaving flowers, standing outside my building and refusing to leave, etc., but eventually he understood the problem. I just don't want to have to be the one to teach that even though it needs to be taught.

Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 1:03 PM
horizontal rule

Maybe somebody could remake Say Anything, except having both John Cusack and John Mahoney go to jail.

Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 1:09 PM
horizontal rule

40: If Say Anything is going to be remade at all, it should obviously be made using muppets.

Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 04- 7-15 1:18 PM
horizontal rule