What does it mean that The Rolling Stone article on the gang rape at University of Virginia, which shut down Greek life, sent chills through the campus, and country (not to mention this mom of a son who is a member of the same frat, but at USC) is now in question?
It’s still not clear what happened to “Jackie,” or why her story was not more scrutinized by the reporter putting the story together. My guess would be that it was not to victimize the victim further. But now, with question marks floating around this whole debacle, the basics I learned in journalism school should have been in play. Who, what, when, where, why. GET MORE THAN ONE SOURCE.
If you’ve been watching the HBO series Newsroom, you might notice a loose parallel to the very moral news station being purchased by a social media maven, who wants to transform the ethical, hard news organization, into a money making citizen journalism, anyone-with-a-twitter-account-can-report-the-news station. I don’t mean to suggest that Rolling Stone is not a quality magazine, because it actually has a long history of award winning reporting, integrity and intelligent writing, but what I mean is that because of the nature of this story, the story was not fact-checked in the way that a story written for R.S. is normally fact-checked. Reporter Mike Taibbi tweeted, “It usually takes longer to fact-check a Rolling Stone feature than it does to write it.” This is where we could find ourselves if twitter takes over for educated, experienced journalists.
Back to the story and the impact. From the UVA campus, where the Phi Psi frat in question has been vandalized, to its entire Greek system being suspended, to the feeling of fear that’s wafting through that beautiful campus like the smell of pizza, to my high school daughter’s shock and anger over the original article, this thing is a disaster for rape survivors, for journalism, and for the frat in question.
When Jake was home for Thanksgiving, he and a friend went out to eat in nearby Allston. He wore his Phi Psi baseball hat. He told me that a young guy came up to him and called him a rapist. I was stunned, but there was a little part of me that understood how this could occur. Phi Psi was being judged without a jury.
Important to note that before I understood frat life, before I met the “brothers,” I was skeptical of my son wanting to belong to an organization that was so exclusive. But after Parent’s Weekend, after meeting so many Phi Psi guys, all of whom were polite, welcoming, and warm, I was sorry to have doubted his wanting to belong.
Truth in journalism is vital. Not being vigilant about the facts, not putting every news story through a meat grinder of fact checking can have disastrous effects. I’m grateful that Rolling Stone is doing in-depth research into the story, and will publish the results. Getting it right is always better than making money.