December 9, 2014

EUGENE VOLOKH: A TIME.com article discusses the Breitbart investigation of Lena Dunham — and seems to miss the basics of how factual claims are investigated. Yeah, they don’t care about that. They just don’t want people challenging the narrative of a Designated Voice Of Her Generation.

More from Eugene:

It thus seems that the TIME.com account isn’t quite fair to Nolte and Breitbart.com here. But my concern is much broader than that: The dig at Breitbart seems to me to reflect a dangerous attitude towards journalism. The implication, as I read the first quoted paragraph, is that an investigation of a story is hopeless — and thus pointless and even suspicious — as long as all one can prove is that some parts of the story are false. So long as Dunham might have been sexually assaulted (and she certainly might have been), something that of course can’t be proved or disproved at this point absent someone’s confession, what’s the point of checking into whether particular factual allegations are accurate? Details, details.

But it seems to me that a basic tenet of journalism is that details matter. First, they matter to people’s reputations. Maybe the fact that Dunham’s alleged rapist wasn’t named “Barry” is irrelevant to those who care about “sexual assault on college campuses.” But they matter to a particular man named Barry, whose reputation was jeopardized by Dunham’s labeling the alleged rapist Barry without stating that this was just a pseudonym. Likewise, while there’s no legal cause of action for libeling a political group, if it turns out that Dunham’s alleged rapist also wasn’t a campus conservative — the Breitbart story casts some doubt on that detail, though it doesn’t conclusively disprove it — then this little detail isn’t really fair, either.

Second, the inaccuracy of some details that a person gives does cast doubt on the accuracy of other details.

Yes, but they lie a lot, so they don’t really want people looking into things too closely. That’s basically all it’s about.

UPDATE: I’m watching Tamara Holder on Fox calling Nolte “creepy” and charging him with “destroying women” for investigating this and yammering on about how 60% of rapes go unreported, while igoring that a real person has been libeled. It’s a really embarrassing performance.

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