Sunday, December 7, 2014

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story

   An important test case emerged last week in the rapidly evolving debate over male privilege and sexual aggression.  Rolling Stone magazine recanted and publicly apologized for a story detailing the alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia student identified only as "Jackie", saying her story had discrepancies and that the publication's trust in her was misplaced.  It was the first high profile case of debunked rape allegations since Jian Ghomeshi and Bill Cosby's reputations and careers were destroyed on hearsay alone - powerful hearsay, to be sure, but hearsay nonetheless.
   The overwhelming response to the UVA story is that it's another tragedy for victims of sexual assault, because it supposedly represents another reason not to come forward.  One would-be journalist writing for the university's student newspaper said "to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake."  I understand what she's trying to say about taking on the broader issue of sexual aggression, but suppressing or ignoring the facts to define a narrative isn't journalism.  It's propaganda.  Meanwhile, the woman whose story fell apart is getting more public sympathy than the UVA fraternity whose members have been tarred by gang rape allegations that didn't stand up to scrutiny.  How's that for a "narrative"?  
   The story of Jackie is a timely reminder that examining each case on its own merits is a judicial cornerstone and a necessary starting point in any healing process.  There is no healing in hysterical generalizations about societal privilege and clamoring for summary justice, and those who pursue that agenda only exacerbate what already divides us.

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