The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued a scathing report Sunday on the editorial breakdown at Rolling Stone magazine that allowed publication of a story about a purported gang rape of a woman named “Jackie” at the University of Virginia that never really happened. The magazine said it considers the whole affair “an isolated and unusual episode.”
And once again, we’ve learned nothing from yet another in a long line of high profile rape accusations that imploded under the weight of its own prevarications. The fact that “Jackie’s” outlandish rape tale was so readily believed by the article’s author, by Rolling Stone’s editors, and by vast segments of the American public wasn’t “an isolated and unusual” phenomenon. It was business as usual in our culture. If you can stomach an example, read the chilling transcript of Bonny Ghosh’s television news report about the Hofstra “rape” case shortly before it imploded. (It’s little wonder that after Danmell Ndonye swore under oath that she lied about the rape, the falsely accused young men were booed on a national television program.)
The real lesson of the UVA “gang rape” that never really happened isn’t about Sabrina Erdely, Rolling Stone or its lax editors. It isn’t about reporters who take liberties with the facts, and it’s not about “editorial breakdowns.” And it isn’t about “expert fabulist storytellers” who tell rape lies but who seem like credible people. Those are pieces in a much larger puzzle.
The real lesson of the “gang rape” at UVA that never really happened is about a culture happy to reduce an entire gender to vile caricature any time an allegation of a sex offense is made. The usual suspects who write for news outlets and popular websites do it routinely. It’s about a culture that happily rushes to judgment and assumes that men and boys accused of sex offenses are guilty by reason of penis without considering even the possibility that it may not have happened the way the accuser said. It’s about a culture where keeping an open mind about a rape allegation is branded “victim blaming” and “rape culture.”
Read this and you’ll understand where the Rolling Stone article came from–you can see example after example of the twisted mentality that led that article to be written and believed every day of the week in newspapers, magazines, and on popular websites.
The sneering mob at the hanging trees of the Old South never really left us. They became the sneering mob quick to believe Ruby Bates and Victoria Price, Tawana Brawley, Crystal Gail Mangum, Wanetta Gibson, Danmell Ndonye, and too many others to chronicle. Sometimes, as at Duke University, the sneering mob gussies itself up with PhDs and tenure and assumes guilt because the accused penises are attached to white, “privileged” lacrosse players. The sneering mob invariably rationalizes its rush to judgment by citing wildly inflated statistics and pointing to other, unrelated cases and insisting that since it happened there, it must have happened here, too.
It’s too easy to cluck our tongues and tsk-tsk Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone and pretend what they did was “isolated and unusual.” The real lesson of the Rolling Stone debacle is that it’s neither. It’s business as usual.