Hey, remember that Rolling Stone article about the brutal gang on the campus of the University of Virginia that never happened? Well, Rolling Stone is officially retracting the story.
Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report on Sunday that concluded the widely discredited piece was the result of failures at every stage of the process.
The report, published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source, identified only as Jackie, described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
On Sunday, Ms. Erdely, in her first extensive comments since the article was cast into doubt, apologized to Rolling Stone’s readers, her colleagues and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”
Umm…notice anything strange about her apology? She apologized to her readers, her colleagues and to “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of [her] article.” Notice she did not apologize to the *only* actual victims in this story: the University of Virginia and, more specifically, the college students she made everyone think were rapists (In the interest of full disclosure, she has sort-of apologized to them in the past when she agreed to “re-report” the story).
But here’s the thing: This is mission accomplished for progressives. When it comes to something like this, Rolling Stone (and others) is much less concerned about honesty in journalism than it is activism through journalism. It’s all about the narrative. I don’t mean to suggest that the writer of this piece wanted the humiliation associated with writing an inaccurate piece. I’m saying that she didn’t bother to even question Jackie’s story because it fit her progressive, victim/oppressor worldview perfectly.
Still, Rolling Stone will have its defenders. The defense (much like other fake narratives like “hands up, don’t shoot!” or the one associated with the Duke Lacrosse scandal or any number of fake hate crimes all the way back to Tawana Brawley, etc) is always something to the effect of “yeah, it may have been fake but the cause is still just!” But here’s the problem with this line of reasoning: It literally creates victims. Real ones.
I know you find this analysis sensational and hard to believe. I get it. But some on the left are actually admitting this behavior. Check out this paragraph written by extreme lefty SJW Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig in the New Republic:
The right, on the other hand, tends to understand politics on the individual level, which fits in neatly with a general obsession with the capital-i Individual. Thus, the right tends to pore over the specific details of high-profile cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, concluding that if those particular situations were embattled by complications or mitigating factors, then the phenomena they’re meant to represent must not be real either. And if a few highly publicized rapes turn out to be murkier than first represented, then rape itself is not a crisis, just a regrettable and rare anomaly. The positive version of this approach is the elevation of people like Joe the Plumber, individual cases that purportedly show the value and effectiveness of conservative politics. It isn’t great reasoning, but it is very appealing on a sub-intellectual level.
Allow me to translate this: It’s annoying that “the right” is more concerned with the truth than false progressive narratives. Is this a joke? She accidentally admits that the narrative is more important than the facts. Unbelievable.
Look, it’s really quite simple. If innocent girls are being drugged and gang-raped by fraternity members on college campuses regularly in a real “culture of rape”, then we need to punish the perpetrators and change that culture immediately. And if it really is true that there is a “rape culture” then it should be easy to find real examples to hold up as a rallying cry for change. But if the media and the left continues to hold up phony victims as the poster children for their causes, how long is it before the public stand up and begin questioning the narrative?
In short, if a cause is a just one and requires a public example, we should be careful to ensure that the example we hold up actually happened. If no good example (or several examples that might suggest a pattern or “culture”) can easily be found, then there is no rampant injustice and the narrative becomes, at best, worthless and at worst, dangerous.
There’s nothing wrong with handling individual injustices on a case by case basis. Not everything has to be a “national conversation” or the latest political talking point. You can advocate for justice on behalf of an individual without assuming that you’re dealing with an epidemic that requires you to point fingers at your political enemies.
The left has a long, sordid history of using phony scandal and fake victims to further their causes. From Jackie at UVA to Sandra Fluke (who couldn’t find her way to the nearest Walmart to buy $5 birth control) all the way back to Norma McCorvey (aka “Jane Roe” from the infamous Roe v. Wade case), the left’s “war on women” narrative is littered with fake victims. But it doesn’t need to be this way.
How can we avoid media frenzy over fake stories in the future.
There is a tremendous danger in trying people in the court of public opinion before the justice system has had a chance to work. Our Founding Fathers set up due process intentionally, knowing that without it, innocent victims would be treated as criminals simply because of what direction the political winds are blowing. With that in mind, here are three practical steps we can take to avoid creating new victims out of the wrongfully accused.
- Always check the source of your information. The 24 hour news media needs a steady stream of new material to churn, so real journalism often gets replaced with regurgitating the politically motivated smear merchants of the world. Always try to find the original source of the story. If the story originated from a magazine or blog or politician with an obvious political slant (like Rolling Stone) that’s a good reason to be skeptical. That doesn’t mean that Rolling Stone can’t report true facts, but it certainly means that you shouldn’t just give them the benefit of the doubt.
- Consider the proposed “solutions” to the problem and who is proposing them. If the current media frenzy is being held up as a prime example for why we need some liberal pet cause, you can rest assured that you’re not getting all the facts. If you see Al Sharpton marching somewhere, you can rest assured that you’re not getting all the facts. If you see politicians using the story as an excuse to take away more of your liberty, you can rest assured that you’re not getting all the facts.
- Always, always, wait for the facts. Whether it’s the Rolling Stone debacle, “hands up don’t shoot,” or just the latest viral segment from John Oliver or the Daily Show, you should always wait for the facts. Don’t assume someone’s guilt until they are proven guilty. That’s not the way justice works. You may have your suspicions. You may voice your opinions even, but always know that the initial reports you hear from any news story may not actually be the facts of the case. If you get locked in to picking a side before the facts are all there, you’ve become a cog in the political outrage machine, not an advocate for justice.