A Rolling Stone article about campus rape and how universities respond to sexual assault has raised an important debate about what the proper standards for reporting on sexual assault should be -- but it's crucial that whatever standards are ultimately chosen, they don't make it impossible to tell these stories.
A University of Virginia student named Jackie told Rolling Stone that she was gang raped in 2012 by members of a campus fraternity, and that campus administrators failed to investigate her story when she reported it. Jackie was one of several students in the piece who criticized UVA's response to sexual assaults, and the school is currently under federal investigation for its handling of such cases.
The Rolling Stone article initially received widespread acclaim and triggered swift action from UVA. But it has since come under fire from critics who say that the magazine violated journalism best practices, particularly with regard to its handling of the alleged assailants. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, and Rolling Stone, have since explained that they corroborated Jackie's story by talking to dozens of her friends, in part to ensure that she had consistently told the same story for years, but were unable to reach the accused rapists (one of whom is identified with the pseudonym "Drew" and others who are not identified at all) for comment -- a fact which was omitted in the article. (UPDATE: After the publication of this post NPR's David Folkenflik brought to our attention that in an interview with him, Erdely said she had not contacted the alleged assailant at the request of Jackie. Her editor Sean Woods made similar statements to The New Republic. These comments appear to contradict other statements Erdely gave to Slate and Woods gave to The Washington Post, on which the criticisms referenced in this post were based.)
A number of journalists have criticized Erdely for this omission. Slate's Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt wrote that the "basic rules of reporting a story like this" include doing everything possible to reach the alleged assailant, and, if one is unable to do so, including a sentence "explaining that you tried -- and explaining how you tried." They criticize Rolling Stone for failing to include such a sentence, writing that this is "absolutely necessary, because it tells readers you tried your best to get the other side of the story."
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple took this critique a step further, saying that Rolling Stone had "whiff[ed]" with the article and suggesting they should have held the piece until they were able to name the accused in print (Erdely says she had agreed to Jackie's request "not to name the individuals because she's so fearful of them"), or find some other "solid" evidence:
The publication says it didn't name the perpetrators because Jackie is "so fearful of them. That was something we agreed on," Erdely commented. That's a compelling reason -- to hold the story until Jackie felt comfortable naming them; or until she filed a complaint; or until something more solid on the case emerged.
In voicing these concerns about Erdely's journalistic practices, these reporters are proposing that there is a standard these types of stories should meet -- perhaps before they can even be published -- which includes a high bar for finding of proof, including doing everything in the reporter's power to identify and contact the accused, informing the reader of those attempts, and possibly going as far as to include their name and perspective in the piece.
Reporters may find such standards appropriate. Sexual assault, and particularly gang rape, is a terrible crime, and it is logical that journalists would want to tread carefully when assessing the validity of accusations. Rosin's and Benedikt's argument that it would at the very least have been simple for Erdely to include a sentence noting she had attempted to reach out seems reasonable.
However, previous reports on sexual assaults -- including from the Post and Slate -- have not met these standards, and have not come under similar scrutiny or criticism. Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson, who has said he was not involved in the editing of this particular piece, tweeted several examples of reporting on sexual assault in which publications did not include any mention of ever attempting to contact the accused for comment and did not name the alleged perpetrator.
With birther conspiracy theory claims about President Obama again being hyped by the right-wing media, Media Matters looks at the myths and falsehoods surrounding Obama's birth certificate.
Apparently it's "Megyn Kelly Is Smart" week at the Washington Post Co.
Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz writes today: "Having profiled Megyn Kelly awhile back, I can tell you that the lawyer-turned-journalist is smart." He then quoted Troy Patterson's recent Slate profile of Kelly, in which he praised her for having "a former lawyer's precision with language." (Slate is owned by the Washington Post company.)
Now, I've never met Megyn Kelly. But the odds are pretty good that she is smart. Maybe she even makes Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates look like morons. But ... well, there's this:
Granted, anchoring a live television show isn't easy. Anybody doing such a job is going to make some mistakes. Those blunders don't prove that Kelly isn't as smart as Kurtz and Patterson say. (And they might not even be blunders -- they might be intentional dishonesty.) But it's more than a little strange that these reporters are so quick to praise Kelly's intelligence and precision with language without ever assessing whether her on-air performance reflects that intelligence and precision. Or what it says about Kelly --and Fox -- that such a smart person would make such false claims.
I guess there are two distinct axes on which you can judge press organizations--actually, there are many more than two (see below), but two are important here: 1) Neutrality--Are they attempting to be "objective," trying to serve the "public interest" in some balanced way, or are they ideologically (or otherwise) driven in a way that inevitably colors their coverage--what topics they pick, what 'experts' they rely on, etc. 2) Independence--Whether they are biased or generally neutral, can somebody--a political party, a Mafia family, a government-- tell them what to do?
I think it's pretty clear MSNBC and the NYT and Breiibart.tv are not neutral. They all have an agenda and they pursue it. But they are independent. The Obama White House can't tell Bill Keller what to do. They can't tell Keith Olbermann what to do. (They can suck up to him, and it will probably work, but that's a different issue.) Breitbart is for sure independent--I can't see anyone telling him what to do.
Ok, Mickey. If it's "pretty clear" MSNBC and the New York Times have an "agenda" and "pursue it," it should be pretty easy for you to explain what that agenda is.
And, fair warning: You'll need to reconcile your claims about the Times' "agenda" with the paper's handling of the 2000 election and the Bush administration's Iraq claims, and your claims about MSNBC's "agenda" with ... Well, with lots of things.
So, let's have it, Mickey. What is the New York Times' agenda. What is MSNBC's? How do they "pursue it"?
For the 10th anniversary of his blog, Mickey Kaus takes a stroll down memory lane, giving readers who missed some of his work a second chance to become exasperated at his inanity. Here's one reminiscence:
Worst case of being spun: Watching from the press area, I thought Gore cleaned Bush's clock in their first 2000 debate. Then I went to the spin room where Stuart Stevens immediately mentioned that Gore hadn't been to Texas with James Lee Witt, as he'd boasted. Didn't that play into the festering press meme that Gore was an insecure embellisher? It sure did. I wrote a goading piece saying this was a test of whether reporters could trash a Dem as they had said they would. (It was a test they passed.)
Since a butterfly flapping its wings could have tipped the 2000 election the other way, and since Gore would have been a better president than Bush, I've been feeling guilty about that piece. It's true that a) there were other reasons Gore "lost" the debate among viewers--he grunted and sighed obnoxiously, something I couldn't hear in the press area. And b) every Dem political pro I've talked with thinks it was inexcusable-- and telling--that Gore boasted about Witt when he knew and was surely told that any new little boast would kill him. Still ... flap, flap ....
Ok. First of all, Gore didn't lose the debate among viewers. Polls taken immediately after the debate found that Gore won the debate among viewers. He "lost" the debate after reporters like Mickey Kaus began nit-picking his performance to death. Nit-picking that Kaus now admits was off-base. Still, he can't bring himself to tell the truth: Debate viewers thought Gore won. Reporters like Kaus undid that victory via what even Kaus admits was lousy reporting.
Second, how obnoxious could Gore's grunts and sighs have really been if Kaus wasn't even aware of them at the time?
Third: Every Dem political pro Kaus talks to is wrong to blame Gore. Had Gore said nothing even remotely inaccurate, the media would have made some thing up. Don't believe me? Review the Love Canal fiasco. Go ahead; I'll just sit over here, slamming my head against the wall while I wait.
Ok. Finally: Mickey Kaus thought it was an open question in October of 2000 whether reporters would "trash a Dem"? Seriously? What planet had he been living on rock had he been living under? Had he somehow missed eight years of harassment of Bill Clinton? Had he missed the Love Canal and Love Story and Internet debacles? Had he been asleep for the entire presidential campaign up until that point? If Mickey Kaus has a purpose in the world, it is that he is (supposedly) a savvy observer of the media - and he really wasn't sure by October of 2000 whether reporters would "trash a Dem"? That's a level of cluelessness that should be disqualifying.
From Hitchens' May 18 Slate column:
There is a mildly racist comedian in England named Jim Davidson who thinks it amusing to ask what West Indians said to themselves while using the black-and-white strips of the pedestrian crossing. ("Now you see me, now you don't; now you see me, now you don't.")* In order for this to be funny in the least--and I frankly despaired of it ever achieving that critical mass so essential to the life and definition of a comedian--it would have to be just as funny if a "white" person was traversing the road in the same way.
Not laughing yet? Me neither. Well, then, why is it so "edgy" for Wanda Sykes to say that Obama gets lots of praise now, but that if he messes up, it'll be, "What's up with the half-white guy?" This can be remotely hilarious only if said by somebody nonwhite, but almost every paleface in the audience seemed to feel it their duty to rock back and forth with complicit mirth.
Still, at least that weak opening stuff was in some manner launched in Obama's direction. The rest of Sykes' time was spent vocalizing the talking points of moveon.org and Air America. If I am in a taxi and Rush Limbaugh is on the radio, I ask the driver to switch the station or switch it off altogether. Limbaugh's life, like his appeal, is a closed book to me. But I presume that he was on painkiller medication for some reason before he began to become dependent on it, and before he became an object of our adorable "war on drugs." It's not so much that it isn't very funny to mock him for his Oxycontin habit. It's that it's near-impossible to imagine our Sable Sapphist lampooning a black equivalent of Limbaugh for an addiction to, say, crack.
Accompanying the appointment of Kirsten Gillibrand to the U.S. Senate is the return of comparisons in the media between a female public official -- previously Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin, and now Gillibrand -- and the character Tracy Flick from the book and movie Election -- a character who has been described as "one of those people who manages to get very far in life while being thoroughly unlikable."
Discussing recent comments by Michelle Obama, Tucker Carlson said: "I have thought from Day One that Michelle Obama, impressive as she is, clearly intelligent, very handsome, self-possessed -- I think that she's got a chip on her shoulder." Similarly, Slate.com blogger Mickey Kaus wrote of Michelle Obama: "For whatever reason, she sure seems to have a non-trivial chip on her shoulder and it's not a winning quality." Additionally, referring to a February 16 Newsweek profile, VDARE.com contributor Steve Sailer wrote that Michelle Obama "sounds like she's got a log-sized chip on her shoulder from lucking into Princeton due to affirmative action."