Recently, I was with a group of good friends whom I have known for 20 years. They are a spirited group of unabashed liberals. I doubt any of them have ever voted for a Republican, or ever would. Of course, we have a secret ballot in this country so we never know for sure. Publicly, at least, they profess unwavering fealty to the Democratic Party.
I regard myself as a political independent, although I tend to vote Republican. However, when I am amid this group of left-leaners, they look to me for the ‘far right’ view on the issues of the day.
Yes, we have different views on the proper role of government and the judiciary, but I don’t look to Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin for political inspiration.
During our conversation, the recent Rolling Stone journalistic debacle that detailed an alleged rape at University of Virginia came up. Immediately, the prevailing liberal talking point was offered up to the group, expecting acclamation.
“This Rolling Stone retraction is terrible. It is a huge setback for women who are victims of sexual assault on college campuses.”
Lots of heads were nodding in agreement, except for mine.
The issue for me is one of journalistic failure, not the overhanging issue of sexual assault on college campuses. If an account by an alleged rape victim has become problematic and inconsistent, then we should acknowledge this, as Rolling Stone was forced to do, and not automatically rehabilitate the victim to serve a larger cause. If the press fails its readers and its profession, then that is the issue. Our focus should be on what went wrong, not how a misdeed might negatively influence a larger agenda.
Rolling Stone Needs Honest Weights
I’m a physician. If one of my colleagues is convicted of Medicare fraud, should my initial response be, “Oh, this will be very bad for doctors”? Shouldn’t I clearly condemn the criminal act without any qualifications? Apply this example to your own profession.
When we try too hard to downplay an individual’s action that we think might harm our cause, it detracts from our credibility. In my view, an organization or an individual that speaks and seeks the truth will only strengthen the currency of its voice for its own cause.
I understand that sexual assault is a serious issue that demands our full attention and response. Let me state boldly; I am against sexual assault. But those who advocate for this important cause need to acknowledge the injustice of a false allegation, such as occurred with the Duke lacrosse case in 2006, a very public example of how lives can be unfairly ruined. A false or questionable allegation should be identified as such, not lamented as a setback for another agenda. Many commentators on the Rolling Stone retraction have expressed regret, but not at the possibility of a false charge or reckless reporting. They are sorry that their cause may have been negatively impacted.
We don’t know for sure whether ‘Jackie’, the protagonist in the Rolling Stone article was truly a victim. I am not denying the possibility that she was, but I am expressing uncertainty. We do know that important details of her narrative have not been corroborated. We also know that inexplicably Rolling Stone acquiesced to Jackie’s request to refrain from interviewing the alleged perpetrators, a professional lapse that made the Rolling Stone piece one of advocacy, not journalism.
Rolling Stone has requested that the Columbia Journalism School perform a post mortem on the story, which I trust will be an independent and objective review of what appears to be journalistic malpractice.
Should our reaction to the Rolling Stone’s lapse be that “this will be bad for the journalism profession?” Or, would a better reaction be that “this will be bad for Rolling Stone?”