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"Rolling Stone" has some big stones hurled their way

By       Message Samuel Vargo       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   2 comments

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Rolling Stone should keep to the task of covering musicians and glitterati; and they ought to stay away from social issues of grave concern and consequence, like exposes' about rape on university campuses.

Some self-aggrandizing bonehead named Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote a 9,000-word article titled "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA," from which details of an alleged gang rape of a then-18-year-old, freshman, female student, only identified as "Jackie," reads like a cheap novella from some freak-show, online, fiction magazine.

High in the story, Erdely describes how the University of Virginia's student body has: "throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students," which I really find laughable, preposterous, and insanely contrived, since it sounds as if Erdely's writing about a university in Southern California or in central or southern Florida, not Virginia. I read the story before Rolling Stone issued its cautionary Friday that trust in "Jackie" was "misplaced" and that the magazine now believes it has "discrepancies" in this rambling monster. The prose describing UVA's student body had me raising my eyebrows, wondering if Erdely had ever visited UVA and took a gander at the crowds between UVA's halls during class change times. I'm familiar with the region, having taught English Composition at a university there, and Erdely needs to come off of her spaceship and make a landing on Mother Earth.

From Rolling Stone magazine falters when it comes to reporting social issues, and a recent 9,000-word article on a UVA freshman girl being allegedly gang-raped by seven fraternity members might hold dire consequence for the glossy tabloid.
.Rolling Stone. magazine falters when it comes to reporting social issues, and a recent 9,000-word article on a UVA freshman girl being allegedly gang-raped by seven fraternity members might hold dire consequence for the glossy tabloid.
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The fact that the Rolling Stone freelancer did not bother to contact any of the seven young men who "Jackie" claims gang raped her is journalism at its worst. On a Slate podcast, Erdely describes how she tried to identify, and somehow converse with, one of the alleged rapists, some guy named "Drew," along with other members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity where "Jackie" claims she was raped: "I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity's] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking. . .I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an email, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who's kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess," she is reported as saying.

Wow! Erdely, you actually used an Internet "contact" portal to contact these young men, who you portrayed as vicious rapists in your 9.000-word ranting mess of the most vile and horrific semantics imaginable?! And you sent an e-mail to the fraternity's local president? Erdely, with such brazen accusations, you didn't visit this fraternity house? You didn't knock on the door and ask to speak to one of these students? You actually used a computer for a response? I simply cannot believe your brand of journalism, Erdely! It's terrible! To call you a hack would be a compliment!

Conducting an interview via email or by a "contact" portal (of an outdated frat house's homepage) is much more than preposterous - it's deplorable, especially with paragraphs like this in the Rolling Stone story: "She remembers every moment of the next three hours of agony, during which, she says, seven men took turns raping her, while two more -- her date, Drew, and another man -- gave instruction and encouragement. She remembers how the spectators swigged beers, and how they called each other nicknames like Armpit and Blanket. She remembers the men's heft and their sour reek of alcohol mixed with the pungency of marijuana. Most of all, Jackie remembers the pain and the pounding that went on and on." Wordy Erdely, you just cannot use a computer for a response for such a story as this. And with one source making all the accusations? And with the source using only her first name (is "Jackie" even her first name?!).

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Maybe all this is true. Maybe it's much worse than the account "Jackie" told you. And if it is, you should have visited the fraternity house, in person, and maybe you could have actually got a confession from one or two of these young men. Who knows? And even if they slammed the door in your face and swore at you, that would have been a much more believable and salable tidbit to throw in your story. Coming out and admitting that you attempted to contact these fraternity members via a computer shows a total disregard for responsible journalism.

Now, even your source "Jackie" is maligning your interviewing and reporting, Erdely: "In an interview the the Washington Post, 'Jackie' spoke in less-than glowing terms about Erdely, saying she felt 'mainpulated' by the reporter. 'Jackie' adds that she 'felt completely out of control over my own story.'" Manipulation of a source is a foul way to conduct an interview. The only thing worse than this is to attribute quotes from a source that the source never uttered. - And judging from the overall caliber of your reporting and interviewing tactics, Erdely, I wouldn't put it past you to do this sort of thing. . . . Freelance reporters cannot really be fired, but they certainly can be turned down for work. And well, Erdely, well. . . .

The major culprit here, Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, needs to be fired today, for not only publishing this horrid mess, but also, for giving this monstrosity such visibility and sensationalism. So much exposure, in fact, that it drew in the national mainstream media to this shark-feeding frenzy. Dana is not only a journalistic hack, he's a very dangerous man who needs to be canned. This type of endless-railroad, highly suspicious type cannot continue at a magazine that millions read in print and online.


Dana cannot be left off the hook for attaching some caveat to the beginning of this story on Rolling Stone's webpage, after it was already published online and was already circulated in print form. He needs to go. There are real accounts of gang rapes on college and university campuses, and although "Jackie" might have some legitimacy in her own confession in Rolling Stone, there are far too many holes in the reporting, and her story, to actually take this as a serious piece of journalism, and also, as a serious criminal matter-in-the-making here. And even her source "Jackie" is accusing the reporter of manipulation during their interview. Very, very bad. The overall reputation of one of America's finest institutions of higher learning has been severely tarnished. What's the saddest is that there are young women who are being raped on campuses throughout America and this Rolling Stone story will probably marginalize their pain, plight, and their fight against such sexual predation.

Rolling Stone simply has no common sense when it comes to reporting serious social issues, particularly those that include heinous criminal atrocities. Putting the face of Dzhokhar Anzorovich "Jahar" Tsarnaev on the July 16, 2013, cover, and making the Boston Bomber look like a pretty little rock star was terrible. It inflamed folks on the left, right, and in the middle. There is no middle ground when it comes to the carnage and death that "Jahar" and his sociopathic murdering brother, Tamerlan Anzorovich Tsarnaev, committed during their terrorism during the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013.

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Long story short is we have a very long, graphic story about a college rape that many journalists have punched so many holes through, in just a couple of days, that it's now considered by many to be a piece of badly written fiction, not journalism. Dana's cut-and-pasted disclaimer just isn't good enough. Dana needs to be fired. Today.

Journalists agree that there is no place for such horrible stabs at pseudo-journalism: "It's possible that Jackie's story is fabricated. It's also possible that some parts of her story are true while others aren't. But it's also possible that she was raped by multiple men. And her misrepresentation of certain parts of her story may or may not be her fault. Victims of rape experience a kind of trauma that's hard to imagine for anyone who's never experienced it; sometimes their minds act protectively by blocking memories out. Finally, as Gabriel Dante pointed out to me on Twitter. Jackie may also have altered some facts to ensure that she wasn't identified by readers once the story was published. But none of that matters. The problem here is not Jackie -- it's Rolling Stone," writes Arielle Duhaime-Ross on a Dec. 5 article of The Verge.

The use of one anonymous source is dangerous. Even first-year journalism students know this is dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Some other journalists, ranging from bloggers,to papers-of-records are finding so much wrong with the story, the aftermath of the story's flaws is almost as overwhelming as the controversy spread by the mainstream televised media, when they went big with it just a few days before Rolling Stone admitted there might be some real problems with it.

Hey Rolling Stone, if the allegations concerning this story are true, about "A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA," well, all I can say is you really need to be sued. Big time. It will only be good for journalism, as a whole, and good for your magazine, too. Write another story on Led Zeppelin, or better yet, some long-dead rock star like Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin. I wouldn't even advise you to write a story on the criminality allegations concerning old what's his name, that AC/DC drummer who's been implicated in some crazy murder-for-hire plot. - You'll probably foul that one up, too.

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Samuel Vargo worked as a full-time reporter and editor for more than 20 years at a number of daily newspapers and business journals. He was also an adjunct English professor at colleges and universities in Ohio, West Virginia, Mississippi (more...)

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