Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Rolling Stone Rape Story

Columbia Journalism School has released its report on the Rolling Stone article about campus rape featuring "Jackie"'s story of a gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia. While the report outlines the original story and its problems and then discusses what Rolling Stone did wrong, it skirts the real reason why the story was published. Much of the reporting of the report and the fact that the fraternity involved is suing Rolling Stone give many reasons why the story was run and failed, but they seem to skirt around the real reason for the story.

Briefly, I think Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone anticipated fame and fortune. Ms Erdely started out wanting to write a story about the "rape culture" on college campuses. Jackie's account was perfect for her story:

  • Jackie reported a violent rape. Many college "rape" cases which have been in the news are easily labelled a change of heart afterwards or consensual acts which went too far. Jackie's description was of being forcibly held down.
  • The rape happened in a fraternity. Fraternities have long been blamed for excesses at colleges. It was additionally associated with initiation into the fraternity, further validating fraternity stereotypes.
  • Afterwards Jackie's friends were uncaring and more concerned with their social lives and not alienating the fraternities.
  • The university is more concerned with its own good name and not getting negative press than with Jackie.
So here is somebody giving the ideal story of the "rape culture." Awards, a Pulitzer, fame, and magazine sales beckoned. So when Jackie was difficult and when the story couldn't be independently verified, the lure of fame and fortune overrode any doubts. This wasn't a case of giving too much deference to the victim of a rape. It was not wanting to push too hard in case facts came out which contradicted the story.

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