Sunday, December 7, 2014

Rolling Stone Comes a Cropper at UVa

The Rolling Stone fraternity gang rape story at the University of Virginia has exposed many of the faults of the current trends in American popular journalism, garnished with an unhealthy helping of political correctness. First, the journalism part: the writer and the editors failed to follow the most basic rules of the trade, which have long mandated that reporters seek out all sides of a story and never rely on merely one involved party for a full picture.

Now it turns out that the woman may not have been assaulted by multiple men, nor that she was so attacked at the particular fraternity house she told the writer that it was where this all occurred, and that she may not have had the date correct.  Yes, the whole event may well have occurred but her credibility has been damaged severely, largely because the writer failed to check the facts.  That Rolling Stone said that fact-checking had occurred makes its role in this sorry process even less sympathetic.

Now, some will say we are missing the point.  They urge us to focus on sexual assault as a problem on college campuses and forget about the specifics. Not so fast, I would suggest. It has been said that rape is easy to allege and hard to disprove.  All the more reason why such allegations should be tested in a court where the rules of evidence are in full force. And all the more reason for the U.S. Department of Education's sorry campaign to lower the burden of proof should be resisted and ended.

Fraternities remain a malignant influence on American higher education. They inhibit students from associating with fellow students who may not share the same cultural background.  This is also true of ethnic-based living arrangements in Latino, African American, Jewish, Catholic, evangelical, or Muslim-oriented houses, whether these are secret societies, like fraternities, or not. It is also clear that fraternities are generally anti-intellectual and at best, neutral in their attitude toward learning. They encourage irresponsible drinking, which leads to worse behavior.

Nevertheless, the current attitude among bien-pensant types assumes that all fraternity men are guilty of sexual assault until proven otherwise. So writers clearly without experience in adhering to long-established standards of good journalism are encouraged to tell merely one side of a story when it comes to sexual assault. This--as we now have seen from the UVa case--serves neither victims nor defendants nor the institutions themselves.

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