Posted by Curt on 11 December, 2014 at 11:13 am. Be the first to comment!


Mollie Hemingway:

George Packer argues in The New Yorker that journalism’s big crisis is just a business crisis. In the very first paragraph, noting the collapse of Rolling Stone’s story about a violent gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, he makes the absurd claim it “has no larger significance for journalism beyond itself.” Later he digs in:

There’s no ongoing wave of plagiarism, fabrication, and inaccuracy; like earlier scandals (The New Republic’s Ruth Shalit and Stephen Glass; the Times’ Jayson Blair; CBS News’s Lara Logan; Alastair Reid, formerly of this magazine), Rolling Stone’s problems don’t reveal an across-the-board collapse of standards. Such journalistic sins remain the exceptions, with an ancient ancestry; they’re just easier to uncover in the Internet age.

Oh come on! The writer who sent the story to me suggested Packer must be very familiar with a river in Egypt.

It’s absolutely true that we don’t have a wave of outright fabrication-out-of-whole-cloth. But what we have is much worse. We have a tsunami of inaccuracy that is generally tolerated, embraced and even celebrated so long as it serves the right political and cultural goals.

Yes, the latest shocking revelations about Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone’s journalism are stunning. They really, really messed up. Even more than we previously realized. They should receive every bit of oppobrium coming their way. But they should not be the scapegoat for a problem that is riddled throughout journalism. Waving it away in denial, as Packer tries to do, only announces one’s cluelessness.

Shattered Glass

Stephen Glass was a journalist at The New Republic who made up stories, or significant parts of them. Three dozen of the 41 stories he wrote for The New Republic were said to be fabricated in part or in whole, along with articles for George and Rolling Stone.

I knew Stephen Glass was full of it in 1997 after I read his absolutely incredible story about all the sex and crazy partying done by young Republicans at a conservative gathering called CPAC. I had been at enough conservative functions — including that one — to know that they would have been a heck of a lot more interesting if they focused on sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. But in the fever dreams of Stephen Glass, they did. Here are the opening two paragraphs of the very detailed story that, it later turned out, nobody could verify:

On the fourth floor of Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel, eight young men sit facing each other on the edge of a pair of beds. They are all 20 or 21 and are enrolled in Midwestern colleges. Each is wearing a white or blue shirt with the top button unfastened, and each has his striped tie loosened. One of the young men, an Ohioan, is wearing a green and white button that reads: “Save the Males.” The minibar is open and empty little bottles of booze are scattered on the carpet. On the bed, a Gideon Bible, used earlier in the night to resolve an argument, is open to Exodus. In the bathroom, the tub is filled with ice and the remnants of three cases of Coors Light. The young men pass around a joint, counterclockwise…

Over the next hour, in a haze of beer and pot, and in between rantings about feminists, gays and political correctness, the young men hatch a plan. Seth, a meaty quarterback from a small college in Indiana, and two others will drive to a local bar. There, the three will choose the ugliest and loneliest woman they can find. “Get us a real heifer, the fatter the better, bad acne would be a bonus,” Michael shouts. He is so drunk he doesn’t know he is shouting. Seth will lure the victim, whom they call a “whale,” back to the hotel room. The five who stay behind will hide under the beds. After Seth undresses the whale, the five will jump out and shout, “We’re beaching! Whale spotted!” They will take a photograph of the unfortunate woman.

So we have eight conservative men — first names only, thank you! — who participate in a gang sexual assault after drinking beer and smoking a joint. Where have I heard this story beforesince?

Glass’ story later describes — in vivid Rolling Stone-like cinematic detail — this gang sexual assault in greater detail and says that “[t]his repellent scene was only a little beyond the norm of the conference. A wash of despair and alcohol and brutishness hung over the whole thing.” He also describes an orgy that, when you realize he invented it, makes his sexual imagination look cartoonish.

One of the oddities of the Rolling Stone gang rape story’s dramatic unraveling is that author Erdely was a classmate of Stephen Glass at the University of Pennsylvania. They graduated the same year — 1994. And they both worked on The Daily Pennsylvanian. After the movie Shattered Glass came out, Erdely wrote about Glass and his journalistic problems. Her essay is full of great lines about how Glass’ “reporting felt almost too good to be true.” She calls him a sociopathic creep and points out he took more time covering up his falsehoods than it would have taken to just report the story to begin with. She wants to know why he did it. It’s a coincidence, too, that one of the details in Erdely’s story that caused people to question her narrative was the shattered glass table Jackie said she’d been raped by seven violent men on. That much shattered glass must have led to horrible injuries. How did the rapists keep from getting injured? These questions about shattered glass led, in part, to the eventual implosion of the entire narrative.

A journalist I follow on Twitter asks:

The latest story from the Washington Post’s T. Rees Shapiro shows that “Jackie” was engaged in a great deal of deception of her friends. She seems to have invented a suitor in order to make another boy jealous. Her stories about what she claims happened on Sept. 28, 2012, have changed a lot. Clearly this young woman has made some very bad decisions. But what the story really shows is just what bad journalism Erdely was doing. One of the tidbits in the story is that while Erdely claimed that one student had declined to speak with her out of “loyalty” to his fraternity, he said she’d never contacted him and he would have been happy to talk.

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