Updates to this story:
Ever since journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely published her searing Rolling Stone story about “Jackie,” a woman who was allegedly the victim of a gang rape at a frat party at the University of Virginia, there’s been an ongoing and much-needed public conversation about the way rape and sexual assault claims are dealt with on college campuses. But Robby Soave at the libertarian magazine Reason thinks we’re talking about the wrong questions entirely. Shouldn’t we be asking, he wonders, if Jackie just, like, made the whole story up?
Soave writes that Erdely’s story is “not credible,” according to “journalists who contemplate such matters.” Which journalists, exactly? One, to be precise, a guy by the name of Richard Bradley, who writes on his blog that he doesn’t believe the story: “I don’t believe that it happened—certainly not in the way that it is recounted.”
Bradley writes that “something about this story doesn’t feel right.” He’s skeptical because we never learn Jackie’s real name (although he doesn’t acknowledge that no credible media outlet would ever use an alleged rape victim’s real name without her permission). He’s skeptical because Erdely doesn’t quote the friends of Jackie’s who evidently discouraged her from seeking medical attention or calling the police after the rape. And he’s skeptical because the description of her injuries doesn’t sound bad enough to him, and no one at the frat party reacted the way he thinks they would have:
Jackie makes her way downstairs, her red dress apparently sufficiently intact to wear; the party is still raging. Though she is blood-stained—three hours with shards of glass “digging into her back,” and gang-raped, including with a beer bottle— and must surely look deeply traumatized, no one notices her. She makes her way out a side entrance she hadn’t seen before. She calls her friends, who tell her that she doesn’t want to be known as the girl who cried rape and worry that if they take her to the hospital they won’t get invited to subsequent frat parties.
But mostly, Bradley is skeptical because he’s “seen fakes before.” That’s because he’s the former editor of George magazine, where he edited Stephen Glass, the most notorious journalistic fraudster in modern history. Glass fabricated dozens of stories, and Bradley is one of the editors who he fooled. And so his inability to spot a hoax two decades ago, he says, makes him qualified to pronounce that Erdley’s story is a lie: “The experience was painful but educational; it forced me to examine how easily I had been duped.”
The real problem, Bradley writes is that “Emotion has outswept reason. Jackie, for example, alleges that one out of three women who go to UVA has been raped. This is silly.”
Soave at Reason—who has previously written that much of the campus sexual assault crisis is just “criminalizing campus sex”—takes Bradley’s giant ball of shit and runs with it. He proclaims that he, too, doesn’t think Jackie could have possibly been injured and her friends couldn’t possibly have responded the way she says:
One issue now being raised by skeptics is the nature of her injuries, which sound as if they would have required immediate medical attention. (According to the story, everybody involved was basically rolling around in broken glass for hours.) If the frat brothers were absolute sociopaths to do this to Jackie, her friends were almost cartoonishly evil—casually dismissing her battered and bloodied state and urging her not to go to the hospital.
In summary, what we have here are two dudes who have some vague suspicions and, on that basis, are implying that Ederley either fabricated her story or failed to do her due diligence and didn’t fact check what Jackie told her. Never mind that she gave a long interview to the Washington Post this weekend about the weeks she spent fact-checking the story. Erdely explains in that interview, too, that she won’t discuss some details about Jackie’s alleged attackers because of an agreement she made with Jackie, who is, she tells the paper “very fearful of these men, in particular Drew. . . . She now considers herself an empty shell. So when it comes down to identifying them, she has a very hard time with that.”
But never mind Erdely’s months of work. Two guys who have no idea what they’re talking about don’t believe it. Case closed.
Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly said Richard Bradley is retired. In fact, he is the current editor-in-chief of Worth. I regret the error. This is what a professional journalistic correction looks like, in the unlikely event that any editors at Worth or writers at Reason ever need to issue one.
Image via AP