December 8, 2014

MARGARET TALBOT ON THE RESPONSE TO Rolling Stone’s UVA Rape-Tale Debacle:

There are people who will argue that if Jackie was assaulted at a fraternity that night, it doesn’t matter if the specific details are wrong, or uncertain. Erdely herself seemed to be gravitating toward that point when she said, on Slate’s DoubleX podcast, “Given the degree of her trauma, there’s no doubt in my mind that something happened to her that night. What exactly happened—I don’t know. I wasn’t in that room. I don’t know.” As Rosin and Benedikt point out, that’s the nature of reporting: the reporter is almost never in the room. But the specific details of an accusation do matter. Erdely must have chosen this case, among all the other campus sexual assaults she could have reported, precisely because its details were so horrible that she knew it would get our attention. . . .

That isn’t exactly journalistic due diligence in a case where such extreme allegations are being made.

Plus, a key point:

More than a decade ago, I wrote about the McMartin preschool case, and other satanic ritual child abuse accusations that turned out to be false. Back then, the slogan many supporters of the accusations brandished was, “Believe the Children.” It was an antidote to skepticism about real claims of child abuse, just as today, “Believe the Victims” is a reaction to a long history of callous oversight of rape accusations. “Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

Yes. And if people don’t want the truth, I am suspicious of whatever else they do want.

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