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Rape (?) at UVA

The most prominent Eph on the this-happened side of the Rolling Stone story about a horrific rape at UVA is Jennifer Doleac ’03. See our discussion on Tuesday. The most prominent Eph on the this-may-not-have-happened side is former Williams professor KC Johnson. Johnson covers some of the same ground as other skeptics, but, even more compellingly, he brings his encyclopedic knowledge about the Duke Lacrosse Hoax to bear:

In the end, Rolling Stone’s message is “trust us.” Erdely vouches for Jackie’s credibility, and that’s good enough for the magazine. But that editorial style requires readers to take a hard look at Erdely’s credibility. And in that task, more troubling questions emerge.

But then there’s the person Erdely describes “attorney Wendy Murphy, who has filed Title IX complaints and lawsuits against schools including UVA.”

While Erdely elects not to inform her readers, Murphy has a past as a commenter on high-profile campus rape cases. In the lacrosse case, she repeatedly misstated (and on some occasions simply made up) “facts” designed to make the lacrosse players look guilty. To take a few examples, Murphy (on national TV) wildly claimed, “I bet one or more of the players was, you know, molested or something as a child.” She later asserted, “I never, ever met a false rape claim, by the way.” Murphy falsely stated, “All the photographs showing how really fine [lacrosse accuser Crystal Mangum] was when she left scene were doctored, where the date stamp was actually fraudulent.” The attorney falsely told a national TV audience that “all” of the lacrosse players took the Fifth Amendment. (None of them had, and three had voluntarily given statements to police without their attorneys present.) Murphy fantasized about non-existent “broomstick DNA” and the “torn genitalia” of the accuser.

What does it say about Erdely’s credibility—upon which, in the end, the story relies—that she is willing to uncritically quote from a charlatan like Murphy, all while not informing readers of her source’s grievous misstatements of facts on a previous high-profile allegation of campus sexual assault?

Nothing good. Either Erdley is foolish for not understanding/researching Murphy’s background or (even worse?) she is purposely misleading her readers but not providing us with this crucial information.

By the way, if there are other Ephs writing about this issue, please leave links in our comments.

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#1 Comment By B On December 4, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

As with yesterday’s post, you are largely mischaracterizing the objections to the story. The vast majority of the objections raised thus far are process objections — complaints that RS failed to satisfy proper journalistic standards by failing to contact “Drew” or engage in certain other reporting (or by relying on Murphy). That is, most are not questioning the veracity of the account itself, but rather questioning whether the process followed by RS was likely to produce veracity. Those are, obviously, different things.

Some folks have indeed said that they don’t believe the story in RS. These include some people who need not be taken seriously (like Jonah Goldberg); the Reason article you linked to yesterday was aptly characterized by WaPo’s Erik Wemple as “a too-strong treatment hidden in the squishy confines of an interrogatory headline.” (And the Reason writer didn’t really say in the body of the piece that he thought the story was a hoax, just that he’d be watching closely. Well, join the party.) Richard Bradley presents the most interesting case, as he has been viewing the story through the lens of his experience with Stephen Glass. But even he does not actually think that the incident ddidn’t happen – he just thinks RS was negligent for not doing more to confirm that it did:

I have sympathy for Jackie, whose life must be hellish right now. (Unless she made the whole thing up, but—to use a phrase for which I’ve been criticized a lot recently—that doesn’t feel right to me.)

In any event, even if there is a fringey “this-may-not-have-happened side,” KC Johnson is not part of it — he is clearly a process-objector. From the last paragraph of the linked piece:

As Richard Bradley pointed out in his critique of Erdely’s work, none of this is to suggest that Jackie isn’t telling the truth. But it is to suggest that Erdely and Rolling Stone had an agenda other than presenting the truth to their readers.

In short, until further notice, this is a journalism kerfuffle only.

#2 Comment By hc On December 5, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

#3 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 6, 2014 @ 12:16 pm

> In short, until further notice, this is a journalism kerfuffle only.

I think we have reached the point of “further notice.”

As always, trust contact from EphBlog!

#4 Comment By frank uible On December 6, 2014 @ 4:25 pm

David, does this mean that you recant what you said about Williams fraternities?

#5 Comment By David Dudley Field ’25 On December 7, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

I think that Williams is more successful today than it would have been if John Sawyer had not gotten rid of fraternities.

#6 Comment By Past Eph On December 8, 2014 @ 8:03 am

I don’t know a single person who has applied to an elite academic institution who has cited the presence of fraternities as an important positive factor in their decision to apply. I know loads and loads, however, (including yours truly) who cited the absence of fraternities as an important, perhaps even dispositive, factor in their college decision. When Williams had fraternities, it was also entirely male, virtually entirely U.S. students, and virtually entirely white. Things change, in some cases, clearly for the better. To the extent Williams suffers from any reputations that hurts its appeal to prospective students, the lack of culture associated and correlated with fraternity life is most certainly not one of them.

#7 Comment By frank uible On December 8, 2014 @ 8:07 am

We will never know. But we do know that currently there is less social freedom at Williams than there would be without the ban.

#8 Comment By PastEph On December 8, 2014 @ 9:19 am

Strenuously disagree Frank. I guarantee you that a majority of CURRENT Williams students, given a choice, would not vote in favor of adding fraternities to campus. Indeed, there has not been, for decades, any large-scale calls by students in favor of reinstatement of fraternities. So your vision for the college is enitely anti-student-choice and anti-democratic, even before we get to the fact that currently, social life on campus is totally and completely open, as opposed to fraternities, which are the very definition of exclusivity in social life — exclusively enforced by antiquated hazing rituals as the price of admission.