When Will Cooler Heads Prevail: The Rolling Stone Debacle

–Richard E. Vatz

Weeks ago, Rolling Stone, in a model of unsophisticated and unprofessional reporting, printed a completely unresearched libel against a University of Virginia fraternity. The piece, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, claimed that a woman named Jackie had been brutally raped and imprisoned by over a half-dozen members of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia.

I shall not detail all of the immediate panicky overreactions taken by the administrative personnel at Virginia, including punitive actions against all fraternities there, or the comparable protective actions taken around the country. Some of them — some of them — constitute good policy changes irrespective of a bogus charge being irresponsibly handled.

I just want to say a few words about Rolling Stone’s pseudo-journalism:

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The outrageousness of a story’s subject never justifies short-cutting responsible journalism. To accede to Jackie’s request that none of the perpetrators be interviewed is just one component of the journalistic failures of this once well-respected journal.
A couple of reasons that even a magazine’s neophyte reporter would have insisted on more responsible reporting, although all stories deserve such:
— Indisputably, a certain portion – but only a tiny portion — of college fraternity are miscreants who abuse and rape women, especially if rape means that they have sex with a drunken women who are either chemically compliant or nearly passed out.

— The description in the Rolling Stone story, and we don’t know how much of it is disproved as of now, is just utterly impossible to believe: fraternity men forcibly and premeditatedly raping a woman with no evidence that they have done so before; their referencing the woman as “it;” and their speaking and acting subsequently in a generally unbelievable style. These are caricatures. And much, much more…

How irresponsible could Rolling Stone be to not pursue any witnesses or alleged perpetrators?

The is yet another case of smart people not doing their jobs — utterly indefensible journalism by a major magazine.

All that said, women and men must be protected against sexual assault, but you cannot protect everyone from all ambiguous situations. Moreover, sexual assault is a criminal act, properly left to the criminal justice system.

When your motive is to stave off all potential criticism, you overreact, avoid contemplative deliberations and criminalize not just criminals, but also non-criminals. And, finally, you add to the difficulty of genuine victims of sexual assault coming forward and being believed.

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