Friday, July 10, 2015
|IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren blows triumphalist notes at Jerusalem's Western Wall, June 1967|
Like I.F. Stone, British historian Tony Judt was an ardent supporter of Israel, its insularity notwithstanding, until the Six Day War pried the scales from his eyes. Like Stone, Judt saw that victory in the Six Day War played to some of Zionism’s worst tendencies, leading to a disillusionment about Israel that would later find voice in controversial essays that supporters of the Jewish state found traitorous. Like "Holy War," Stone’s 1967 NYRB essay I posted about in April last year after the most recent round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks foundered, the essays Judt produced---for the New York Review of Books, for the New York Times and for Haaretz ---represented a powerful challenge to Zionist narratives, particularly the “moral case for Israel” that the American pro Israel community clings to so tenaciously.
In hindsight, the antagonism with which Judt’s enemies responded stands in direction proportion to the accuracy of his charges, with Judt's apprehensions about Israel’s future now “more cogent than ever,” as Jacob Heilbrunn just noted this week in a TBR review. In fact, though Judt was eulogized for the incisiveness of his historical interpretations, he was also a bit of a seer, presciently recognizing dark spots on the Zionist psyche that would throw long shadows across the coming decades.
Judt grew up in London’s East End, joining the Labor Zionist movement as a teenager at the encouragement of his parents who were themselves secular and apolitical. He was, he explained in an autobiographical essay for the NYRB, “the ideal recruit: articulate, committed and uncompromisingly ideologically conformist.” He spent three summers working on Israeli kibbutzim, and most of 1966 at Machanayim, a collective farm in the Upper Galilee, where he “idealized Jewish distinction, and intuitively grasped and reproduced the Zionist emphasis upon separation and ethnic difference.” The kibbutz was suffused with a shared sense of moral purpose: “bringing Jews back to the land and separating them from their rootless diasporic degeneracy.”
For the neophyte fifteen-year-old Londoner encountering the kibbutz for the first time, the effect was exhilarating. Here was “Muscular Judaism” in its most seductive guise: health, exercise, productivity, collective purpose, self-sufficiency, and proud separatism....
In time though he came to chaff at “how limited the kibbutz and its members really were” realizing “how little my fellow kibbutzniks knew or cared about the wider world—except insofar as it directly affected them or their country.
The mere fact of collective self-government, or egalitarian distribution of consumer durables, does not make you either more sophisticated or more tolerant of others. Indeed, to the extent that it contributes to an extraordinary smugness of self-regard, it actually reinforces the worst kind of ethnic solipsism…The care that left-wing kibbutz movements took to avoid employing Arab labor served less to burnish their egalitarian credentials than to isolate them from the inconvenient facts of Middle Eastern life…. I do recall even then wondering why I never met a single Arab in the course of my lengthy kibbutz stays, despite living in close proximity to the most densely populated Arab communities of the country.
Judt says he lived with “cognitive dissonance,” on the one hand believing in “the principled virtues” of kibbutz life, but actively disliking it at the same time.
Release from his “confusions” came by two different developments. One was an acceptance into Cambridge, which appalled his fellow kibbutzim for whom “The whole culture of “Aliya”—“going up” (to Israel)—presumed the severing of links and opportunities back in the diaspora.” The experience as a translator for the IDF on the Golan Heights after the Six-Day War was another.
There, to my surprise, I discovered that most Israelis were not transplanted latter-day agrarian socialists but young, prejudiced urban Jews who differed from their European or American counterparts chiefly in their macho, swaggering self-confidence, and access to armed weapons. Their attitude toward the recently defeated Arabs shocked me (testament to the delusions of my kibbutz years) and the insouciance with which they anticipated their future occupation and domination of Arab lands terrified me even then.
Judt said he could identify the very moment and the circumstances of his epiphany. “I was sitting around listening to young Israeli officers talking, and there was an inevitable macho: ‘Now we’re in charge, we’re the Jews with guns, and we’ve got all this land—and boy, we’re never going to give it back, and if they don’t like it, they can just leave.’ I was a 19-year-old left-winger, and I’d never heard this kind of language on a sustained basis.” Within a few weeks he had packed his bags and headed home. At Cambridge, he was immune to the “enthusiasms and seductions of the New Left,” and its radical spin-offs: Maoism, gauchisme, femino-Marxism. Labor Zionism had turned him into a “universalist social democrat,” with an enduring suspicion of “identity politics in all forms, Jewish above all.”
Unlike Stone, who announced his apostasy fairly quickly after losing Zionist faith, Judt kept his anti Zionist powder dry for a long time. He only started to write about Israel in the year 2002, when he began to realize “that there was a sort of suffocating silence not only about what was happening in the occupied territories and in Israel and Israeli political culture, but also that the suffocating silence was largely focused on the illegitimacy of anyone speaking lest they be accused of anti-Semitism.” And when he did start writing about Israel, he did not include his Zionist youth credentials on his bio, implicitly rejecting the idea that his ethnicity, and his ethnic experience earned him any special ethic privilege.
Judt’s most controversial essay, "Israel: The Alternative" was published in the NYRB in 2003, in which he argued for a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Arabs and Jews would enjoy equal status in a secular state. To most Zionists, even liberal ones, this was anathema. In 2006, when Judt defended John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, authors of the Israel Lobby, the anti Defamation Leagure and the American Jewish Committee put pressure on the Polish embassy in New York to cancel a speaking appearance, prompting a minor public furor. Ridiculing Judt’s chagrin and the chain of angry emails it produced, New Republic editor Leon Wieseltier said that “what Judt was prevented from delivering at the Polish consulate was a conspiracy theory about the pernicious role of the Jews in the world,” on par with the thinking of Mel Gibson. Wieseltier maintained that Judt may not be an anti Semite per se, but his writing about Israel and about Jews was “icily lacking in decency.”
“The Country That Wouldn’t Grow Up,” a May 2006 feature essay in Haaretz, was not as controversial, at least on this side of the world. It is, however, probably Judt’s most devastating--and prescient, as the outlines of Israel’s status as an internationally isolated apartheid state grow more apparent by the day and the “moral case for Israel” collapses in a heap of contradictions and contrary facts.
Judt opened with a description of the atmosphere at Cambridge in the run up to the Six Day war in the spring of 1967 where the balance of student opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel “and in politics and policymaking circles only old-fashioned conservative Arabists expressed any criticism of the Jewish state.” Today, Judt lamented, “everything is different.” The victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered represented “a moral and political catastrophe” for the Jewish state.
Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country's shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, "targeted assassinations," the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish - which means that Israel's behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society - built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats - still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.
Today only a tiny minority of outsiders see Israelis as victims. The true victims, it is now widely accepted, are the Palestinians. Indeed, Palestinians have now displaced Jews as the emblematic persecuted minority: vulnerable, humiliated and stateless. This unsought distinction does little to advance the Palestinian case any more than it ever helped Jews, but it has redefined Israel forever. It has become commonplace to compare Israel at best to an occupying colonizer, at worst to the South Africa of race laws and Bantustans.
Such comparisons are lethal to Israel's moral credibility. They strike at what was once its strongest suit: the claim of being a vulnerable island of democracy and decency in a sea of authoritarianism and cruelty; an oasis of rights and freedoms surrounded by a desert of repression. But democrats don't fence into Bantustans helpless people whose land they have conquered, and free men don't ignore international law and steal other men's homes. The contradictions of Israeli self-presentation - "we are very strong/we are very vulnerable"; "we are in control of our fate/we are the victims"; "we are a normal state/we demand special treatment" - are not new: they have been part of the country's peculiar identity almost from the outset. And Israel's insistent emphasis upon its isolation and uniqueness, its claim to be both victim and hero, were once part of its David versus Goliath appeal.
Today the country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears to the rest of the world as simply bizarre: evidence of a sort of collective cognitive dysfunction that has gripped Israel's political culture. And the long cultivated persecution mania - "everyone's out to get us" - no longer elicits sympathy. Instead it attracts some very unappetizing comparisons: At a recent international meeting I heard one speaker, by analogy with Helmut Schmidt's famous dismissal of the Soviet Union as "Upper Volta with Missiles," describe Israel as "Serbia with nukes."
One problem Israel faced was that the Holocaust was losing its propaganda value. It could, in his words, no longer be instrumentalized” to excuse Israel’s behavior.
Thanks to the passage of time, most Western European states have now come to terms with their part in the Holocaust, something that was not true a quarter century ago. From Israel's point of view, this has had paradoxical consequences: Until the end of the Cold War Israeli governments could still play upon the guilt of Germans and other Europeans, exploiting their failure to acknowledge fully what was done to Jews on their territory. Today, now that the history of World War II is retreating from the public square into the classroom and from the classroom into the history books, a growing majority of voters in Europe and elsewhere (young voters above all) simply cannot understand how the horrors of the last European war can be invoked to license or condone unacceptable behavior in another time and place. In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that the great-grandmother of an Israeli soldier died in Treblinka is no excuse for his own abusive treatment of a Palestinian woman waiting to cross a checkpoint. "Remember Auschwitz" is not an acceptable response.
Judt also noted that while “Israel and its supporters today fall back with increasing shrillness upon the oldest claim of all: Israel is a Jewish state and that is why people criticize it,” the charge of anti Semitism was losing its value. “If it has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years, that is because it is now the only card left. “
Claiming that the anti-Semitism card was a spent force in justifying Israel’s actions was one thing. But Judt was treading on real heresy when he argued that “Jews outside of Israel” pay a high price for the tactic of ‘tarring any foreign criticism with the brush of anti-Semitism. “ It makes diaspora Jews inhibit their own criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad company,” he maintained, and also “encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de facto collaborators in Israel's misbehavior.”
When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then responds to its critics with loud cries of "anti-Semitism" - it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don't like these things it is because you don't like Jews.
Anticipating the wave of anti Jewish violence that swept across Europe this year in the wake of last summer’s Israeli military operations in Gaza, and the punishment that would await those like the Yale chaplain dismissed for asserting such a link in a letter to the New York Times, Judt made the connection between Israel’s behavior and the rise of worldwide anti Semitism. Such a link was anathema to Zionists who believe that anti Semitism is an almost mystical force immune from simple cause and effect and regard such a causal connection as “blaming the victim.” Judt said that “Israel's reckless behavior and insistent identification of all criticism with anti-Semitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia.”
For tens of millions of people in the world today, Israel is indeed the state of all the Jews. And thus, reasonably enough, many observers believe that one way to take the sting out of rising anti-Semitism in the suburbs of Paris or the streets of Jakarta would be for Israel to give the Palestinians back their land.
Strong powers of denial were factors in the incapacity of Israel’s leaders to understand and respond to the meltdown of its international image, but Judt concluded
If Israel's leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is in large measure because they have hitherto counted upon the unquestioning support of the United States - the one country in the world where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still echoed not only in the opinions of many Jews but also in the public pronouncements of mainstream politicians and the mass media. But this lazy, ingrained confidence in unconditional American approval - and the moral, military and financial support that accompanies it - may prove to be Israel's undoing.
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
|IDF Chief Rabbi Shlomo Goren at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, 1967.|
“The war of 1967 casts a shadow still. As the Duke of Wellington said, the only thing worse than a great victory is a great defeat.”
This was David Remnick writing in a 2007 New Yorker piece marking the 40th anniversary of the Six Day War, which also marked the 40th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. We're coming up on the 48th anniversary of that war in early June, with the Economist noting that an end to the overall Israeli conflict with the Palestinians has “seldom seemed so far away.”
Remnick’s piece, which he called “The Seventh Day” in reference to the story of creation in Genesis, highlights the role that religious triumphalism has played in making the conflict so insoluble since then, the headiness it induced feeding a sense of messianic destiny, moral superiority, strategic advantage and political entitlement. “So profound was the Israeli national delirium in the days and weeks after the war,” Remnick explains, “that it was impossible for most Israelis to think straight about the long-term consequences of retaining conquered territory… In those early days of postwar euphoria, there were a few prominent Israelis who dared to warn of the moral and political degradation that would come with the occupation…A new kind of Zionist, one that fused faith and nationalism, replaced the old pioneers, the kibbutzniks.” As he explains:
After being told that the state was in mortal danger, Israel was now in possession of Biblical Israel—the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, all of Jerusalem, the Tomb of the Patriarchs, in Hebron, and many other such sites scattered throughout the West Bank. Once the Old City was secured, on the third day of the war, Dayan, the most theatrical of all Israeli commanders, flew by helicopter to Jerusalem and staged his arrival in the manner of General Allenby, the British general who took Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917. “We have returned to the most holy of our places,” Dayan declared. “We have returned, never to part from them again.”
General Shlomo Goren, the chief rabbi of the I.D.F., blew a shofar at the Western Wall and advised his commanding officer, Uzi Narkis, that now was the moment to blow up the Dome of the Rock, the mosque that sits on the Temple Mount. “Do this and you will go down in history,” Goren said. “Tomorrow might be too late.”
Narkis refused the lunatic suggestion and even threatened the rabbi with arrest. Nevertheless, the national poet, Natan Alterman, was accurate in declaring, “The people are drunk with joy.” A photograph of a weeping I.D.F. soldier at the Western Wall was published all over the world and seemed to embody the new conflation, for many Israelis, of the state and the sacred, the military and the messianic. The song “Jerusalem of Gold” displaced, for a time, the traditional anthem “Hatikvah.” In the daily Ma’ariv, the journalist Gabriel Tzifroni described the “liberation” of the capital in terms rarely used in traditional news reporting: “The Messiah came to Jerusalem yesterday—he was tired and gray, and he rode in on a tank.” When the fighting broke out, Ben-Gurion had written in his diary, “There was no need for this. I believe it is a grievous mistake.” But now Ben-Gurion was suggesting that the walls of the Old City be destroyed. Eshkol himself, posing the question of how Israel was going to rule a million Arabs, briefly considered a plan of transferring hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to Iraq and elsewhere.
Since 1949, there had been talk of “recapturing” the holy sites of the West Bank and Jerusalem––most Israeli generals still considered 1948 to be unfinished business, just as their Arab opponents did––but permanent conquest had never been, as policy, the goal of the war. Occupation was to be temporary. And then it wasn’t. Under the bizarre and often harsh leadership of Moshe Dayan––“the mysterious Cyclops of Israeli politics,” in the words of the distinguished historian and journalist Amos Elon—the Israelis thought of themselves as “enlightened occupiers,” and yet in time they resorted to many of the methods employed by the British colonials during the Mandate period: collective punishment, torture during interrogation, the demolition of Arab homes. Israel also expelled entire Arab communities and destroyed villages; around two hundred thousand Arabs fled the West Bank for Jordan. Israeli forces destroyed the villages of Beit Mirsim and Beit Awa, in the southern West Bank; nearly a third of the city of Qalqilya was razed before the U.N. and the United States demanded that Dayan stop and rebuild. In the meantime, religious Zionist leaders such as Zvi Yehudah Kook, of the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, in Jerusalem, and Moshe Levinger, a founder of the Gush Emunim settler movement and the settlement in Hebron, went from being marginal dreamers to armed prophets and politicians.
The Israeli leadership could not conceive of itself as anything less than benign, and even persuaded itself that a subjugated Arab population would come to appreciate its overlords. “The situation between us,” Dayan creepily informed the Palestinian poet Fadwa Tuqan, “is like the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the young girl he has taken against her wishes. But when their children are born, they will see the man as their father and the woman as their mother. The initial act will mean nothing to them. You, the Palestinians, as a nation, do not want us today, but we will change your attitude by imposing our presence upon you.
The most complete book on the war’s aftermath––the “seventh day”––is the journalist Gershom Gorenberg’s riveting and deeply depressing The Accidental Empire, which describes how, in the decade following the war, the mainstream Labor governments of Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, and Yitzhak Rabin either feigned ignorance of the growing settlements or blatantly encouraged them. As a result, they helped to legitimatize the settlement ideology of their right-wing successors Menachem Begin, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon. Gorenberg makes clear that, though the Israelis at first designated the early settlements “temporary” military outposts, in order to avoid violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “the purpose of settlement, since the day in July 1967 when the first Israeli settler climbed out of a jeep in the Syrian heights, had been to create facts that would determine the final status of the land, to sculpt the political reality before negotiations ever got under way.” Here the project of revisionism was neither scholarly nor benign; the creation of “facts on the ground” was a political attempt to rewrite, with bricks and mortar, the contours of one nation at the expense of another.
Forty years later, a quarter of a million Israelis live in a hundred and twenty officially recognized settlements; an additional hundred and eighty thousand live in annexed areas of East Jerusalem, and sixteen thousand in the Golan. In the years before Israel was established, settlers argued that the more land they bought or seized, the greater their security. The settlers of “Greater Israel” and their supporters, who regarded the old borders as “Auschwitz frontiers,” refused to see the peril in their policy. The worst consequence of occupation, of course, has been the terrible privations, physical isolation, and psychological disfigurement that it has imposed upon the Palestinians. For the Israelis, occupation has been, as Gorenberg describes, a grave security hazard and source of moral corrosion.
|Moshe Dayan, with Palestinians on the West Bank.|
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
The Columbia Journalism School’s report on the Rolling Stone UVA campus rape fiasco weighed in at 13,000 words and has been credited with being exhaustive in its attention to detail and sophisticated in its appreciation for nuance. It probably offers far more information on RS author Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s faulty reporting methods and shortcomings in RS editing and fact checking processes than anybody would really ever want to know.
Somehow though the report doesn’t quite convey the magnitude of the hoax that was involved, nor a sense of just how clever Jackie was in constructing it and how credulous Sabrina Rubin Erdley was in falling for it. In fact, the “nutshell” summary actually captures what was really going on in a much more forceful, even mind blowing manner. In its most distilled form, what we finally have is:
A horrendous three-hour gang-rape that never happened
Described with details that were forensically impossible
Committed by seven men who were never identified
At a party that never took place
In a fraternity house the victim never entered
After a dinner date she never went on
With an upperclassman who was wholly imaginary
Whose picture had been downloaded from the internet
To fool three friends who came to the victim’s rescue
Whom the victim would later defame.
The episode made for some serious Big Trouble. But in trying to understand its central essence, less offers more here and cuts closer to the quick. The crimes involved in the fraud that was perpetrated at UVA are both real and journalistic. Yet they have less to do with the epidemic of "campus rape" than with its fraught politics. The void at the center of this case was filled with many things, facts and real people not foremost among them.
Monday, April 20, 2015
Some Of The Many Things That Rolling Stone's Sabrina Rubin Erdely Probably Wishes She Never Said In & About Her Bogus UVA 'Rape' Story
Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s thoroughly debunked Rolling Stone story on the “rape culture” of UVA has been taken down from its website following its official retraction. But since nothing ever dies on the internet, it lives on in infamy, with a little help from the Way Back Machine for anyone who wants to read it.
Far easier to find though are the arrogant, deceptive and misleading things she said in the course of publicizing her fraudulent piece. Likewise the things she said while defending it from challenges from reporters with far more professional skepticism than she had, especially in assessing the credibility of a three hour gang rape that never in fact happened by 9 UVA frat boys who never in fact existed.
There’s also her Linked in account, as well as a dozen or more examples of her past work---for RS, for Philadelphia and for a number of women’s magazines---which seem to have credibility problems much like her UVA piece.
The main problem with Erdely is not that she brought herself low on just on one piece but that much of her oeuvre is problematic. It’s filled with stories taking cheap shots at “patriarchal” institutions like the Catholic Church, the military and the evangelical Christian movement, and using suspicious pseudonymous, anonymous sources to do so, along with quotes too good to check and descriptions of circumstances far more politically, culturally and legally complicated to make the simpleminded, reductive conclusions she makes about institutional misbehavior.
As filled with damning evidence as the Columbia Journalism School report on the episode was, I think it SRE off easy, which in turn made it easy for RS owner Jann Wenner to announce, even before J School Dean Steve Coll had given his press conference to answer questions about the report, that no one at RS wd be fired, and that SRE would continue writing for the magazine. (Later that day someone at RS told the Times that SRE was actually already at work on another assignment.) Appalling. If she were a doctor or a lawyer engaged in such professional malfeasance, if not malpractice, at the very least her license would have been suspended.
SRE released a short apology that did not in the least begin to acknowledge the many individual parties she had victimized, omissions no doubt tied to the libel suits she and RS will face. In such dicey legal conditions, an allocution that acknowledged her specific journalistic transgressions would be even more unlikely. It would also not be in keeping with the spirit of the J school post-mortem, and Steve Coll’s declaration that "We're not the DA's office. We're not a special prosecutor."
But it might be more satisfying and revealing and in point of fact Erdely was a cooperating witness against herself, and cooperating witnesses often have to recite their wrongs for the record in order to receive leniency from the court.
Coll’s report is long and detailed, but it buries its own lead by failing to connect the dots between obvious journalistic dishonesty on SRE’s part---including lying, either directly and by omission--- and her overall journalistic integrity and fitness. In short, the report says SRE doesn’t deserve to be fired because she didn’t evince the kind of dishonesty--“lying to colleagues, lying to your boss" that would be required to do so even though the report bears evidence of exactly that. Strange, inexplicable really, especially coming from someone ike Steve Coll whose tenure as ME of the Washington Post was not lacking in tough-mindedness, both in his own investigative journalism and in the star chambers he conducted in the cases of Post reporters who screwed up. I put some questions to him about that and he wouldn’t take them.
The list I’ve put together below, of things Sabrina Rubin Erdley probably now wishes she never said or wrote, annotated for context, might be a component of that allocutional accounting. In fact, maybe she should keep the list of these howlers taped next to her bathroom mirror and be required to read it every day as a stay against the pathological narcissism that plagues her work, her professional comportment and her own self awareness. With the CJS report, SRE may no longer be professionally radioactive, but her professional sensibility is toxic. Rolling Stone allows her to write again at their own peril.
* The description of “Jackie’s” gang rape.
“Shut up," she heard a man's voice say as a body barreled into her, tripping her backward and sending them both crashing through a low glass table. There was a heavy person on top of her, spreading open her thighs, and another person kneeling on her hair, hands pinning down her arms, sharp shards digging into her back, and excited male voices rising all around her. When yet another hand clamped over her mouth, Jackie bit it, and the hand became a fist that punched her in the face….
"Grab its motherfucking leg," she heard a voice say. And that's when Jackie knew she was going to be raped.
She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more – her date, Drew, and another man – gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on.
As some early skeptics pointed out, the grab it’s leg” quote is from Silence of the Lambs, the shattered coffee table was probably borrowed from Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl. A full-on punch in the face like Jackie said she received would have broken her nose and possibly caused a concussion. Forced intercourse with seven men over three hours, one of them using a coke bottle, would very likely render a victim unable to walk. Both Erdley and the RS fact checker showed incredible lack of professional skepticism in accepting this account, just on the physical details alone. Had they consulted a sex crimes investigator or prosecutor instead of experts in the psychology of “trauma,” they would have been told that the forensics involved here are simply physically impossible.
* Description of UVA’s apathetic, apoliticized culture:
Four weeks into UVA's 2012 school year, 18-year-old Jackie was crushing it at college. A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she'd initially been intimidated by UVA's aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings, hurrying to classes, clubs, sports, internships, part-time jobs, volunteer work and parties;
Genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. (It) isn't an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch… At UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.
A phrase like “toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blonde” is a clear indication of anti WASP cultural and intellectual prejudice. Use of the term “patriarchy” shows an obvious feminist ideological bias. In the end, the evidence Erdely cited about UVA’s preoccupation with protecting its repuation over protecting its students was erroneous, again reflecting an agenda but also her own journalistic ignorance of the limitations that federal guidelines place on universities in making public internal efforts to adjudicate campus sexual assaults.
* Rubin Erdley on UVA being known as “the rape school.”
Asked why UVA doesn't publish all its data, President Sullivan explains that it might not be in keeping with "best practices" and thus may inadvertently discourage reporting. Jackie got a different explanation when she'd eventually asked Dean Eramo the same question. She says Eramo answered wryly, "Because nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school."
The dean in question here, Nicole Eramo, never gave an interview to Erdley so quoting her on this point is journalistically dubious. Most likely the quote to Erdely as hearsay, through Jackie and was never verified. Eramo will have the laugh word, probably in a libel or defamation suit, as an email she wrote to Columbia seems to suggest. Rolling Stone, she wrote through her lawyer, "made numerous false statements and misleading implications about the manner in which I conducted my job as the Chair of University of Virginia's Sexual Misconduct Board, including allegations about specific student cases…
…contrary to the quote attributed to me in Rolling Stone, I have never called the University of Virginia "the rape school," nor have I ever suggested — either professionally or privately — that parents would not "want to send their daughter" to UVA.
* Erdley’s reporting on the “Three Friends” who Jackie called after the “attack” and the answers she gave to skeptical reporters who challenged her about them.
Greek life is huge at UVA, with nearly one-third of undergrads belonging to a fraternity or sorority, so Jackie fears the backlash could be big – a "shitshow" predicted by her now-former friend Randall, who, citing his loyalty to his own frat, declined to be interviewed.
In fact, Erdley never contacted any of the three friends to corroborate Jackie’s account, and so quoting the one she pseudonymously calls Randalls is journalistically dishonest and the statement that he declined to be interviewed out of loyalty to his own frat is simply a lie, on Jackie’s part but on Erdely’s part too.
* Derogatory reference to one of the “Three Friends” that RS called “Cindy.”
(Jackie) was having an especially difficult time figuring out how to process that awful night, because her small social circle seemed so underwhelmed. For the first month of school, Jackie had latched onto a crew of lighthearted social strivers, and her pals were now impatient for Jackie to rejoin the merriment. "You're still upset about that?" Andy asked one Friday night when Jackie was crying. Cindy, a self-declared hookup queen, said she didn't see why Jackie was so bent out of shape. "Why didn't you have fun with it?" Cindy asked. "A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?" One of Jackie's friends told her, unconcerned, "Andy said you had a bad experience at a frat, and you've been a baby ever since."
According to the Washington Post who actually interviewed her, Cindy never said anything like this to Jackie, much less openly referred to herself as a “hook-up queen.” Reports speculating on the likelihood of libel actions stemming from the RS piece have not focused on actions that Cindy could bring, but it’s hard not to think she’s might have a case against Erdely for making her look so callous and for erroneously depicting herself as a slut.
* Erdley to CJS on never contacting the three:
“They were always on my list.”
This one would be funny of it weren’t so indicative of Erdley’s lack of journalistic rigor and lack of professional ethics. Corroborating Jackie’s account of the rape, as well as the derogatory nature of the discussion they had after being called by Jackie in the middle of the night, was central to the reporting, and not an afterthought as this lame statement seems to suggest. Finding and interviewing them was something Erdely, who the Columbia report depicted as an investigative reporter with 20 years of experience, should have done first before proceeding to anything else, not leaving it on a checklist of other tasks she just didn’t get around to.
* Erdely on being poorly supervised:
“In retrospect, I wish somebody had pushed me harder.”
At the very least, this is Erdley not taking personal responsibility for her own reportorial lapses and putting the blame on someone else, i.e. her editor Sean Woods. But in fact it is a lie. According to the account Wood gave CJS, Woods says he recalls have more than one conversation about this and did press Erdley on contacting the “three friends.” The report says Woods only relented after Erdley gave him the impression that she had “exhausted” her efforts to find them.
* Erdley’s evasive responses to journalists who asked if she knew who the fraternity attackers were and whether she had reached out to them for their side of Jackie’s gang rape.
Slate: Did you try and call them. Was there any communication between you and them?
SRE: “I reached out to them in multiple ways…. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an email, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.
SRE: “I don’t want to say much about them as individuals but I’ll just say that this particular fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi — it’s really emblematic in a lot of ways of sort of like elitist fraternity culture.
* Responses to the Washington Post’s Paul Farhi who also asked about identifying Jackie’s attackers.
“She asked me not to name the individuals because she’s so fearful of them. That was something we agreed on.” Erdely would not say, however, whether she knew who they were. “I can’t answer that,” she told the Post. “This was a topic that made Jackie extremely uncomfortable.”
Here, Erdley dodges the question of whether or not she knows who the attackers were by implying that she had some kind of agreement with Jackie which barred her from even trying to uncover who they were. In fact, there was no such agreement. Erdley can’t identify the attackers because her reporting was so shoddy she never even learned their names, much less established they existed and that the rape actually happned. CJS said Erdley shouldn’t be fired because they didn’t find any “lying to colleagues,” “lying to peers.” But the interviews she conducted with reporters from other publications, especially after she learned on Nov 26 that something was amiss and was frantically trying to discover exactly what sre studded dwith lies of omission and evasion.
* The dodgy, snotty email she sent to Farhi after reporting performed by journalists from other news organizations had impeached her central anecdote and the dubious forensic details Erdely described in her account.
As for your list of new questions, I could address many of them individually….But by dwelling on this you’re getting sidetracked.
As I’ve already told you, the gang rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie – a person whom I found to be credible – told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way – i.e., the overarching point of the article. THAT is the story: the culture that greeted her and so many other UVA women I interviewed, who came forward with allegations, only to be met with indifference.
That I’ve received so many emails from other women saying similar things just further makes the point.) The point holds true whether or not you personally believe Jackie’s account, which it sounds like you don’t. You’re entitled to your opinion.
Here, Erdley is doing nothing less than trying to gaslight Farhi, and insult him for being obtuse in the process The email exchange between them took place several days after Erdely had started to doubt her own account, as per the Nov 26 phone call she had with Jackie that tripped off alarm bells and begun the week long process that finally led Erdley to realize that Jackie was unreliable. She’s not only not answering Farhi’s question, she’s basically saying that whatever factual problems her account of Jackie;s rape might have, the larger truth about campus rape is true, and that Farhi is a dunderhead for not seeing that. Why someone whose reporting was so undependable would try to “diss” the media reporter of the Washington Post is beyond me, but I guess that’s how some reporters roll when they’re cornered.
* Erdley’s reply to Farhi’s questions about the bottle throwing attack that Jackie suffered in response to her campus activism against sexual assault. The report prepared by the Charlottesville Police Department said that the bruises Jackie said she incurred were not consistent with a blunt object like a bottle and left the clear impression that the incident may have been invented.
“No one ever said this never happened,” Erdely told Farhi. “So that’s the conclusion I came to. It was the closest I was able to come [to confirming it].”
Great journalistic standard here and logic: If no one tells you something did not happen, that means it did?
* A statement Erdley made about UVA’s repeated efforts to “stonewall” her, in investigating Jackie’s story, in obtaining statistic about sexual assault at UVA and in her inquiries about UVA’s policies and procedures for handling such cases.
“At first, I thought they were just incompetent,” she said. “But when I realized that they were not cooperating and there was no transparency at all . . . it occurred to me that they were stonewalling. All they cared about was [protecting] their reputation.”
According to the Columbia report, UVA never responded with any specifics to the account of Jackie’s rape because Erdely never asked them about it. And given the documented incompetence of her own reporting, it’s rich to hear her to talk about someone’s else, especially in connection with responding to information they did not have in their possession at the time because Erdely withheld them from it in flagrant disregard for the journalistic custom of “fair comment.”
* Grandiose declarations she made on public radio about the significance that her story has in the larger public discussion of sexual assault in America.
“What’s happening at UVA is what’s about to happen everywhere. What’s different now is that we are at a cultural moment when for the first time rape victims are being believed….That’s why we are seeing so much discussion now about rape in the military, rape on college campuses, Bill Cosby. It’s all coming together now because for the first time we are allowing ourselves to have a general discussion of the problem. Because we are giving rape victims some credibility.”
* Her risable self-description on LinkedIn.
I’m a feature writer and tireless reporter whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Philadelphia, The New Yorker, GQ, Reader’s Digest, Mother Jones, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Men’s Journal, Glamour, SELF, O: The Oprah Magazine, Us Weekly, Harper’s Bazaar, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health, and possibly some other publications that don’t come to mind right now.
I specialize in narrative nonfiction, with a particular focus on crime, health & society -- and anything, it seems, that requires about a thousand interviews. My work has won an armload of prestigious awards…. I love what I do.And we love you for it. Especially the women whose credible accounts of sexual assault will be more difficult to believe --and act upon--- in the aftermath of Erdely’s stupendously implausible account. The Linked In page is also noteworthy for boasting about winning Rolling Stone’s 1993 College Journalism award. During an interview at her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, Erdely actually admitted plagiarizing the article she wrote for that award, which was a profile of Christian rocker Michelle Shocked. Even then, Rolling Stone should have known.