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Taibbi on the Rolling Stone/UVa debacle

(Yes, I think "debacle" is fair to say when you publish a story on rape culture with poor sourcing and undisclosed agreements with the sources used, thereby enabling messengers to be shot and real problems minimized. Just ugh. What were they thinking?)

Anyhow, here are portions of a Taibbi twitter thread on that topic. Here's the one that caught my eye:

The thread begins:

Yep.

Obligatory.

In other words, it's not a "discrepancies" issue, it's an editorial judgment issue. (I don't buy the "discrepancies" issue, at least not on a first reading, even leaving aside the traumatized victim argument; they were all drunk, which is the whole purpose of this fraternity events and party culture generally. I'd be a lot more suspicious of all the details cohered.)

Rather like the old New Yorker.

Not sure I like the lack of agency in "a deal made," but Will Dana seems to have owned up.

CJR has a nice summing up on confirmation bias, which kicked in for me here, because I live in a university town, and I see the damage party culture does, and I hate and fear it:

But the question remains: Why should Erdely [the Rolling Stone reporter] have tried to speak with the alleged rapists? After all, as several people wrote me, it’s not as if the men would have actually talked to her. The obvious reply is that one of them might have been stupid enough to try to give his side. What’s more, if she’d dug up some names, she could have run a Web search and started calling around about the men. She could have tried to find out whether any of them had a history of sexual misconduct. She could have located some of their friends and asked them what they might know. She could have determined whether there indeed was a party at the fraternity that night.

But there’s another argument that needs making. It comes from the philosopher Karl Popper. In a famous 1963 paper called “Science as Falsification,” Popper set out to estimate the scientific value of popular theories—Freudianism, Marxism—that huge numbers of his peers held to be true, because these theories had the power to explain almost everything. Their truths “appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refuse to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions.”

The problem with these thought-systems, Popper decided, is that they were too true. They explained too much. “It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness,” he wrote.

What Popper had stumbled on was what psychologists would later call “confirmation bias”—our innate urge to see only evidence that confirms beliefs we hold to be self-evident, and dismiss facts that challenge those convictions. Erdely told Rosin that she’d gone all around the country looking for rape survivors and was delighted when she stumbled on Jackie. She was obviously traumatized, and her story illustrated everything Erdely knew to be true—that frat boys rape girls and universities are indifferent to rape survivors.

Not only what "Erdely knew to be true," but what is in fact true, at least to the best of my knowledge, making the story all the more sad. (I suppose it could be true that the various administrators and self-help groups are all somehow deluding themselves; it certainly doesn't seem likely.) If Rolling Stone is permanently damaged by this, that would be bad; Taibbi's done good work there.

NOTE The Intercept: "Ask yourself, soldier, is the cause of equality so weak that statements made by the frat boys would destroy it?" Sensitivity as a value is a lot like sincerity...

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Notorious P.A.T.'s picture
Submitted by Notorious P.A.T. on

"it’s not as if the men would have actually talked to her"

Really? How do we know that? And even if they said nothing, how do you trust someone who tells you not to verify what they say?

Also, when someone tells you something happened that took place at a party on a specific date, it wouldnt be a bad idea to see if a party did, in fact, take place on that date.

Lazy, inaccurate journalism must be stopped. Thomas Jefferson didnt write “If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter" so sensationalists could grab headlines.

Submitted by lambert on

They quote it, in order to refute it.

I don't think it's "lazy," per se, but a combination of confirmation bias and an bad editorial judgment.

Submitted by lambert on

So far as I can tell (and I haven't mastered the detail on this one) RS has managed to throw the source under the bus while not retracting the story. Which is a neat trick. This paragraph:

Comment: Does this new information prove that 'Jackie' was not raped and the assaulters are innocent? Are we supposed to believe that Rolling Stone publishes articles without verifying the accuracy of the details? Are we expected to believe that the powerful fraternity will simply allow the rapist to confess? Why didn't Rolling Stone wait to complete its interview with the assaulter(s) and find out the truth before apologizing?

I didn't know there was an interview with the assaulter(s) in the works. Is there?

Again, I'm leery of the "discrepancies" argument for reasons stated; the story was apparently good enough for the UVa administration. But I'm also leery readers (like me) didn't know about special arrangements with the source that prevented such interviews. The whole thing is iffy. I'm not a truthy kind of guy, so I don't buy the argument that "the larger good" was been served here, if that's your point. Policy Mic:

Rolling Stone's expose certainly may have some truth to it, but the poor reporting and fact-checking of Jackie's narrative, the emotional core of the story, will cast a shadow over virtually every similar testimony to follow. That's not just terrible for Rolling Stone the fraternity if it was falsely accused, but also for virtually every woman who has experienced sexual assault on a college campus — or may want to speak out in the future.

One answer would be more stories like this, not less, and properly reported; I recall another horror story in the Times about a similar incident at an upstate NY school in the last six months; same situation, where a naive female freshman goes to a party and something awful happens (but too lazy to find the link). But not my call to make.