Wait–Obama Said What About Rolling Stone's Journalism?

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 01, 2016 3:00 PM
Wait–Obama Said What About Rolling Stone's Journalism?

Cortney wrote about the Rolling Stone interview with President Obama, where the outgoing president pretty much blamed Fox News for the Democrats’ 2016 loss this past election, which is ludicrous to say the least, given that Hillary Clinton was a terrible candidate who ignored large swaths of voters in the hopes of maximizing support in the cities and with the coastal elites. That failed miserably, as the Clinton campaign didn’t consider one thing: people turned out for Obama because he was charismatic, young, and cool; Hillary was old, untrustworthy, and a liar (according to the exits through the campaign). The Obama coalition (shocker) liked Obama. That energy was not going to be transferred to Lady Macbeth, but enough about old, sick Hillary. Let’s get to this nugget about journalism that Obama mentioned in the interview [emphasis mine]:

We were talking about the issue of a divided country. Good journalism continues to this day. There's great work done in Rolling Stone. The challenge is people are getting a hundred different visions of the world from a hundred different outlets or a thousand different outlets, and that is ramping up divisions. It's making people exaggerate or say what's most controversial or peddling in the most vicious of insults or lies, because that attracts eyeballs. And if we are gonna solve that, it's not going to be simply an issue of subsidizing or propping up traditional media; it's going to be figuring out how do we organize in a virtual world the same way we organize in the physical world. We have to come up with new models.

Excuse me? The Rolling Stone is doing great work…in journalism? Did the president miss that major episode where the magazine straight up lied about an alleged gang rape that occurred on the campus of the University of Virginia? You know that story about “Jackie,” who was lured by “Drew,” who turned out to be “Haven Monahan,” who turned out to be a made-up person, who led “Jackie” into a room at a party held by Phi Kappa Psi, where she was attacked. The problem was, again, a) “Haven Monahan” doesn’t exist; b) the fraternity in question didn’t have a party that night; and c) the writer of the Rolling Stone piece on UVA, Sabrina Rubin Erdely didn’t even contact the alleged attackers. The latter was the first red flag. Second, was the fact that Erdely didn’t even contact “Jackie’s” friends that Poynter noted “includes scenes with verbatim dialogue attributed to them.” Poynter listed The Rolling Stone story as the Error of the Year. The Columbia School Of Journalism listed the magazine’s UVA story as the winner of the 2014’s media-fail sweepstakes, adding in their brutal analysis of the piece that it was a preventable failure.

One of the focuses of Erdely’s discredited piece was that UVA doesn’t help rape victims. UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo, who was removed from her original duty of overseeing sexual assault allegations and working with students. She filed a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone and Erdely (via WaPo):

In her lawsuit, Eramo alleges that the 9,000-word Rolling Stone account cast her as callous and indifferent to rape survivors, including Jackie, the main subject of the article. Jackie described being gang-raped by seven men in a fraternity house near campus during her freshman year in 2012; the article alleged the university mishandled the case. The magazine later retracted the article, written by journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely, after Jackie’s allegations unraveled as a result of reporting in The Washington Post and a Charlottesville Police investigation.

In the end, a jury found that Rolling Stone and Erdely had defamed Eramo and awarded her $3 million in damages ($2 million from Erdely, $1 million from Rolling Stone). Erdely acknowledged faults with the story, but noted that she stood by everything she wrote…except anything that Jackie told her, which formed the foundation for the entire piece.

At the time, Alex Pinkleton, a rape survivor and activist, who Erdely had tried to use to contact Jackie’s friends said that UVA did provide her resources after her attack, and that Erdely didn’t verify the story, which was her job as a journalist (via Mediaite):

Pinkleton disputed Erdely’s suggestion that the UVA administration refuses to help students who have been raped. “The university’s response is not, ‘We don’t care,’ ” Pinkleton said. “When I reported my own assault, they immediately started giving me resources.”

Responding to Erdely’s apology on CNN Monday, Pinkleton said, “I think her apology could have been better for sure. I think what she pointed to as her mistakes were she put so much trust in this one source. I don’t think that should have been part of what she called a mistake because it’s not a mistake to believe someone that says they’re sexual assaulted. It’s not a mistake to want to protect them at all. The mistake is she’s a journalist and didn’t verify the story and that’s really where she went wrong.”

The entire fiasco ruined lives and reputations over a fake story. It was disgraceful; a total disaster that didn’t need to be. And it proved yet again that the media is totally incapable to reporting on sexual assaults with accuracy. Almost every single high-profile rape case the media has played judge, jury, and executioner on has ended with them being left with egg on their face. The UVA fiasco proved no different. So, please, Mr. President—spare us the hat tip to a music magazine that didn’t know that contacting the alleged attackers and friends of an alleged rape victim should be number one on the to-do list when reporting about sexual assault. If they had, a lot of their problems could’ve been avoided and careers could’ve been saved.