To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rolling Stone’s UVA Rape Hoax, In A Nutshell

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.   

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