First, understand this: Under no circumstances should a crime victim be attacked or blamed.
In the emotionally volatile territory around sexual accusations, understand also that accusations are accusations until a court of law determines otherwise. Unfortunately, all but the most wildly improbable sexual accusations carry the weight (and often consequences) of conviction, even in newsrooms.
When amplified by the news media, sexual accusations will haunt the accused to the end of her/his life. You would think that alone is reason enough for news media to be as careful and responsible (like they say they are) when reporting such accusations.
But it’s just not so.
Rolling Stone magazine, which carries a “news” influence that is far out of proportion with its “news” standards, is the latest egregious example. After whipping up a nationwide frenzy about rape on campus, Rolling Stone’s riveting account of an incident at the University of Virginia is unraveling.
The good news is that another news media organization, the Washington Post, is responsible for letting the world know that there are some holes in the UVA accuser’s story. Despite the fact that we do not yet know whether there is truth to the accusations, the university already has imposed sanctions, and the fraternity allegedly involved has been vilified. All fraternities have been smeared. Based on accusations that may or may not be true. Thus, as far as UVA is concerned, accusation = conviction.
Rolling Stone itself is backing away from the story, which is a good idea given what we know about the reporter’s method and the editor-level decisions that were made. Among other fundamental blunders, Rolling Stone never attempted to contact or verify the existence of those who were accused.
Rolling Stone Backtracks
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring is unhappy.
“It is deeply troubling that Rolling Stone magazine is now publicly walking away from its central storyline in its bombshell report on the University of Virginia without correcting what errors its editors believe were made,” Herring said in a statement. “Virginians are now left grasping for the truth, but we must not let that undermine our support for survivors of sexual assault or the momentum for solutions.”
Herring makes good sense. Good common sense. A good example for prosecutors and reporters who get their blood up whenever a sexual accusation is made, wherever, by whomever.
The Wall Street Journal echoes our view with an opinion piece that includes this bitingly true observation:
. . . Ms. Erdely (the Rolling Stone reporter) did not construct a story based on facts, but went looking for facts to fit her theory. She appears to have been looking for a story to fit the current popular liberal belief that sexual assault is pervasive and pervasively covered-up.