I'm a U.Va. alum from '93 (Stock usedcarsalesman photo to the left notwithstanding). And I was in a fraternity, also, while at U.Va. And yes, I too was greatly alarmed by the famous (now infamous) Rolling Stone/UVA story, "A Rape On Campus," published November 19th, 2014.
But, of course, I also had specific and less-specific doubts about the story. The following are two comments I left with the article under a Disqus handle, three months ago:
- "U.Va. is fine. This R.S. story is N.Y. fiction -- probably a hit-piece instigated by Columbia grads to draw press away from the mattress-girl."
- "Grab its motherf**king leg." Yeah, I'm not buying "Jackie's" story here, people. There's exactly one person (sorry, "character") I've ever heard refer to a woman as "it" -- that would be "Buffalo Bill" from The Silence of the Lambs. You may recall the line: "It puts ('rubs') the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again." And of course the protagonist in Silence' was Jodie Foster as the U.Va. grad/FBI Agent also...So basically somebody at R.S. watched Silence' again and likely borrowed a thing or two for this hit piece...”
Now, of course, most know that, ultimately, the RollingStone/UVa story "fell apart." Evidence later strongly indicated that "Jackie," the female subject of the article and a first-year student, had fabricated her story in an effort to attract the affection of a first-year guy she had the hots for. Jackie has since declined to comment further...
But I'll have to admit, though, that when I first read "A Rape On Campus" I did have concerns that Jackie might be telling the truth. I chalked that up to the UVa Honor Code. I reasoned: "If Jackie really exists and she's telling a "yarn," she's probably going to get kicked out of U.Va. by the Honor Committee; and since most U.Va. students busted their asses in high school to gain admittance, nobody wants to get kicked out; Jackie is, therefore, very likely telling the truth, because she understandably doesn't want to get kicked out for telling a lie.
I did, however, also sense that Sabrina Rubin Erdeley, the RollingStone Reporter who wrote "A Rape On Campus" may have taken significant liberties with her reportage. Frankly, I thought the story she reported just seemed too "juicy," too "Hollywood," that it didn't "jive" with my experience at U.Va. as part of the greek system. My Disqus comments, above, attest to this.
And I also speculated -- wrongly -- that "Jackie" was actually a creation of Erdeley's -- a "composite" born of a combination of real or alleged stories at U.Va. and other universities over the last 30 years.
But I also had some self-doubt, i.e. that maybe I was behind the times. My thoughts along those lines went something like this: "You know, you graduated 22 years ago, dude. The web came on big in the 1990s, online porn is all over the place now, and maybe fraternity guys in some houses have long since crossed-the-line in to extremely criminal behavior -- ie. "Hey, we saw it on the web, we can do it here, but we just have to keep it quiet."
I even thought: "Maybe girls were in to that kind of thing these days; maybe "Belle Knox" of Duke University was a sort of "leading economic indicator" ("Knox" has been -- actually quite rationally -- paying her way through college as an adult film performer).
And I admit that that it didn't help my perspective that U.Va. has had some unprecedented criminal "issues" in the last 5 years:
- In 2009, the murder of Morgan Harrington, a student from Va Tech visiting University Hall at U.Va. for a concert
- In 2010, the murder of student, Yardley Love, at the hands of her boyfriend, a fellow student.
- In 2014, the murder of student, Hannah Graham (allegedly murdered by the same party that murdered Morgan Harrington)
I even attempted to analyze how RollingStone was going on to defend its story later. I figured that the magazine's editors might say something to the effect of: "Hey it's just "young-adult historical fiction" written in the interests of promoting sexual assault awareness at Universities world-wide; we're a music magazine and sometimes we get creative if we feel it will appeal to our readership; and frankly the fraternity in question was apparently the location of a sexual assault in the 1980s, so we decided to roll them in there also -- it's the least those guys could allow for in the interests of redeeming themselves -- ie. allow us to take a bogus swipe at them in the interests of raising sexual assault awareness, right? Hey Goldman Sachs didn't sue, right?"
I know, that part about the fraternity is a bad "stretch" on my part. But, I figured no major publication would expose themselves to that kind of RISK -- a major defamation suit from the affected entities including the fraternity-- unless they had at least some (no matter how weak) justification...
I overestimated RollingStone. Indeed, the Magazine, its editors and Erdeley seemed to "bank" on concepts that later turned out to be precarious:
- That the U.Va. Honor Code serves as a "check" against "tall-tales" from individuals within the U.Va. student body (Yes, it does, but there are exceptions. And Erdeley inadvertently found one of the "exceptions." That's why there's a U.Va. Honor Committee -- to review said "exceptions")
- That one should not question the sexual assault victim's story. His/her story is automatically a "monolith," impervious to all conventional criticism (Erdely probably could have prefaced her conversations with Jackie with: "I don't mean to offend you, but I'm a journalist, a professional at a major publication, and it's my job to ask you detailed questions in order to give our readers the most accurate story." More detailed questioning and additional research may have led Erdeley, herself, saying: I'm not quite buying this story; maybe RollingStone should hold off on this one.")
- That one should not effectively question the victim "indirectly," either -- i.e. by contacting the accused parties involved in the story and getting their sides (Erdeley likely had an understandable fear of getting called-out for "blaming the victim" if she did so. But her failure to question, or at least contact all parties named in the matter -- a reporter's job -- was obviously ill-advised).
- That U.Va., as a public University and therefore a "public entity," had no legal recourse to sue RollingStone for defamation (Maybe, maybe not. And even if not, U.Va. turned out to have plenty of other "defamed" entities on Grounds who COULD sue: U.Va.'s chapter of Phi Psi Fraternity, individual U.Va. administrators named in the story, and individual U.Va. students named in the story. And a bold lawyer might even suggest a class action suit vs. RollingStone, the plaintiffs being all current U.Va. students and alumni who, by their association with U.Va., can demonstrate that they were damaged by this story.
As of today, February 20, 2015 the RollingStone/U.Va. "business" is not over yet. I'm still alarmed by the RollingStone/U.Va. "business" but for different reasons than initially:
- I currently have no idea what legal actions U.Va. and associated entities are taking vs. RollingStone
- I don't know if Jackie is still on Grounds and attending classes.
But at least you know I don't know those things (a line Sabrina Rubin Erdeley might entertain using in the future when communicating with her readers).