While liberals and advocates work on damage control, conservative commentators are having a field day with Rolling Stone’s flawed article about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia.
As they see it, it’s the result of a liberal ‘politically-driven narrative,’ as the Wall Street Journal put it. According to their own political narrative, it’s the same focus on “victimization” that infected the coverage of Ferguson and that is rampant not only in the mainstream media but in academia. A few examples:
Jeffrey Lord, Newsbusters: “The narrative was a left-wing favorite. A bunch of well-to-do white frat boys at an elite university engaged in violent gang-banging when not studying to be even richer white professionals. What better story for Rolling Stone to play the leftist game that narrative journalism has become. The story had everything the left professes to detest. White boys. Money earned from those bastard capitalists. An exclusive fraternity at an exclusive elite university. And above all — thank you Jesus! — sex!”
Matthew Continetti, Washington Free Beacon:
Just-so stories, extravagant assertions, heated denunciations, empty gestures, moral posturing that increases in intensity the further removed it is from the truth: If the mainstream narration of our ethnic, social, and cultural life is susceptible to error, it is because liberalism is the prevailing disposition of our institutions of higher education, of our media, of our nonprofit and public sectors, and it is therefore cocooned from skepticism and incredulity and independent thought. Sometimes the truth punctures the bubble. And when that happens — and lately it seems to be happening with increasing frequency — liberalism itself goes on trial.
Has the jury reached a verdict? Yes, your honor, it has. We find the defendant guilty. Liberalism is a hoax.
In other words, Ms. Erdely 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.
Now that the story has begun to fall apart, it’s worth considering the damage. Though it may never get as far as the bogus 2006 rape charges against the students of the Duke lacrosse team, members of the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi will have to live with undeservedly tainted personal reputations, especially since the charges may never be decisively refuted. UVA has also taken an unfair blow to its reputation. Nor can the story do any good for the broader interest of preventing future campus sexual assaults.
We live in an era of politically driven narratives — particularly about race, class and gender — which the media often use to assert “truths” before bothering to ascertain facts. Last month in Ferguson, Missouri, and now at UVA, we’ve seen the harm those narratives can do.
The flawed story fits into a “politically driven narrative” popular with conservatives, that liberals, academics and what they call the liberal media are obsessed with stories of “victimization.”
“Consider the supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. ‘sexual assault,'” columnist George F. Will wrote in June. “Academia is learning that its attempts to create victim-free campuses — by making everyone hypersensitive, even delusional, about victimizations — brings increasing supervision by the regulatory state that progressivism celebrates.”
Others blamed Erdely and what they call the mainstream media’s culture of victimization.
“She seems more eager to talk about public policy than the facts she reported,” National Review’s Jonah Goldberg wrote of Erdely, before Rolling Stone acknowledged “discrepancies” in the story. “The same goes for much of the media, which have yet to independently corroborate the story, loading it instead with context about the ‘rape epidemic’ and evidence supporting the questionable statistic that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, liberal journalists were trying to defend the cause, if not the story. A commentator on MSNBC said we should look to the larger lessons of the Rolling Stone piece.
“It is so hard for so many of these victims to come forward,” Katie Hunt said on the network. “And clearly, the woman at the center of this story had something terrible and traumatic happen to her. And now the magazine is struggling to figure out which details line up right and which ones don’t. And that’s on them. But every time something like this happens, it sets back the overall goal of making sure victims are believed.”
And advocates pressed on, narrative be damned.
“Actually, campus activists have been disputing one aspect of the story all along”: Rolling Stone’s “depiction of them as quiescent,” Victoria Olwell, an organizer of a protest rally at U-Va. after the magazine story came out, told the Associated Press. “I think that we’ve seen in the last two weeks how effective we can be in mobilizing students, staff, faculty, and the administration to prevent sexual assault and penalize it more severely.”