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Untrue? So What; It’s Useful

A University of Virginia student doesn't much care if the Rolling Stone rape story is true

Consider this amazing passage from a Politico essay by UVA student Julia Horowitz, who is — get this — the assistant managing editor of the campus newspaper:

This is not to say that it does not matter whether or not Jackie’s story is accurate. There is now a police investigation into the incident. Brothers of Pi Kappa Psi were moved out of their house after students threw bricks through the windows. Dean Nicole Eramo has received death threats. And it is becoming increasingly clear that the story that blew the lid off campus sexual assault has some major, major holes.

Ultimately, though, from where I sit in Charlottesville, to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.

Re-read that last sentence. It was written by a senior campus journalist, someone in training now to become a professional journalist. And she doesn’t think facts are of primary importance in the narrative. Only what is useful to the cause, it would appear.

Consider that the lies Jackie told and that Rolling Stone publicized have resulted in fraternity men having to move out of their house because it was being physically attacked, and a college dean having to deal with death threats. Sabrina Rubin Erdley has destroyed her own career with this story, and Rolling Stone should fire every editor who approved her reporting. And yet, this journalist-in-training still has the utter lack of professional self-awareness to write that “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”

Heaven help anyone who gets in Julia Horowitz’s professional crosshairs. And heaven help any newspaper or magazine that hires a journalist more committed to ideology than to truth and fairness.

Here’s a strong blog entry by Washington Post media writer Erik Wemple, who calls Rolling Stone’s story a case of “real media bias”. Using a quote from an interview Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter, gave to Michael Smerconish, Wemple shows that her malice towards the fraternity men was toxic:

Under the scenario cited by Erdely, the Phi Kappa Psi members are not just criminal sexual-assault offenders, they’re criminal sexual-assault conspiracists, planners, long-range schemers. If this allegation alone hadn’t triggered an all-out scramble at Rolling Stone for more corroboration, nothing would have. Anyone who touched this story — save newsstand personnel — should lose their job. The “grooming” anecdote indicates not only that Erdely believed whatever diabolical things about these frat guys told to her, she wanted to believe them. And then Rolling Stone published them.

Wemple rightly praises Post education reporter T. Rees Shapiro, who destroyed the devastating RS story by doing basic gumshoe reporting. Says Wemple:

After the Rolling Stone piece began to surface fissures, Washington Post local staff deployed to familiar turf, seeking out the folks that Rolling Stone had bypassed. The effort called on a week’s worth of reporting by Shapiro, the work of two researchers and the oversight of two editors. If Erdely had chosen some other campus, perhaps her skewed reporting wouldn’t have attracted such scrutiny.

Shapiro ought to get a Pulitzer for Local Reporting for his work here. He continues to bounce the Rolling Stone rubble, reporting tonight (thanks Ryan Booth for catching this) that he’s found a second of Jackie’s friends, who, according to Rolling Stone, told her not to report her rape to police because it would hurt her social life on campus. From the latest WaPo report:

“It was not anything like what happened that night,” said the friend, who is identified in the story as “Cindy” and spoke anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject. “That night was not very significant. I remember it, but it was not very dramatic.”

She said the students met Jackie near the U-Va. dorms, more than a mile from the campus fraternities.

“Cindy” said that Jackie appeared distraught that night but was not hurt physically and was not bleeding. The student said Jackie made no claims of a gang rape and did not identify the fraternity where she said she had partied. “Cindy” said Jackie told one of the friends there that a group of men had forced her to perform oral sex.

The student said there was never any discussion among Jackie and the group involving how their reputations or social status might be affected by seeking help.

The student said that when she read the Rolling Stone account, she felt betrayed. “It’s completely false,” she said, noting that she was not contacted or interviewed by a Rolling Stone reporter.

Jackie, in several recent interviews with The Post, stood by her account that she was gang raped at Phi Kappa Psi after she attended a party there with a date. Her version of events during those interviews was substantially similar to the Rolling Stone account.

Not contacted or interviewed by a Rolling Stone reporter. Unbelievable. And yet, the lesson Julia Horowitz takes from this horrifying episode of journalistic malfeasance is that fact checking ought not to define the narrative. No wonder people hate the media.