In local Blue Ridge news, the Rolling Stone “Rape on Campus” trial is winding down. UVA Associate Administrator Nicole Eramo is suing the iconic rock magazine for 7.5 Million in a defamation lawsuit. Our little Cville courthouse has been hosting lots of Yankee traffic this week because Eramo, who was the person in charge of coordinating the school’s response to students claiming sexual assault or harassment, would like to prove the reporter and editors acted with malice.
“Actual malice is a legal standard, loosely defined in this scenario to mean that Rolling Stone knew that information they were publishing was false, but they proceeded to publish it anyway.”
Yesterday Sean Woods, an editor at Rolling Stone for 17 years, took the stand. And we learned that he meant to add an addendum to the original article, stating that the other witnesses refused to be interviewed in person for fear of reprisal (meaning their corroboration of “Jackie’s” statements after the alleged rape were hearsay). He really meant to add this, but he forgot!
This would seem unlikely. I might forget where I left my cellphone, but every editor I ever knew would never forget something like that. You must be a little OCD to be an editor; in fact, you may have to be certifiably OCD to do that kind of work. However, Woods stood by his criticism of the administrator, stating Eramo was a public figure and therefore subject to scrutiny…which is almost like saying, “Yeah we screwed up, but so did she, nah nah nah.” Oh and he also tried to resign, but they didn’t let him.
I wonder if being forgetful is the same as being malicious, only in a passive aggressive way?
Now y’all know I’m a card carrying feminist, a proud “nasty” woman, and if a woman cries rape, or “He kissed me against my will with a mouth full of Tic Tacs,” I will tend to believe her. But when the Columbia School of Journalism investigated this infamous rape on campus article and found it to be riddled with problems, I had to think twice. Or, as the Flapper always said, “Believe half of what you see and nothing of what you hear.”
The problem of confirmation bias – the tendency of people to be trapped by pre-existing assumptions and to select facts that support their own views while overlooking contradictory ones – is a well-established finding of social science. It seems to have been a factor here. Erdely (the reporter) believed the university was obstructing justice. She felt she had been blocked. Like many other universities, UVA had a flawed record of managing sexual assault cases. Jackie’s experience seemed to confirm this larger pattern. Her story seemed well established on campus, repeated and accepted. http://www.cjr.org/investigation/rolling_stone_investigation.php
Journalists everywhere have learned their lesson from this case. Just because someone sounds like they are telling you the truth and only the truth, and you want to be sensitive to a rape victim, you must still verify the story. Even though independent news outlets have been gobbled up by mega media corporations, and so many beat reporters have been eliminated from courthouses and borough halls, and the world of “putting to bed” a story at midnight in newsprint, has changed to an online rush of clicks and scathing comments…this one basic truth remains.
I was taught to get at least 3 corroborating interviews on any story. Fact checking is a basic technique that we the readers must demand, particularly considering our own confirmation bias, in this world of Trumped-up half-truths. I thought you might enjoy some of my old campaign buttons. http://www.poynter.org/2016/its-time-to-fact-check-all-the-news/426261/