Some people, however, are simply rotten to the core. It's a small percentage, but even a small percentage of a large population such as that found in the United States, is still quite a substantial number of people. These horrible people think nothing of lying, manipulation, fraud, assault, sadism, rape, even murder. I don't know what percentage of the population these people represent, but just to get an idea, some have argued that sociopaths alone make up 4% of the population. Even if that figure is off on the high side by an order of magnitude, we're still talking more than a million sociopaths in the United States alone.
These rotten apples can be found across race, gender, religious, and ideological boundaries. Oh sure, we could argue until we're blue in the face whether, say, more Republicans or Democrats are sociopathic (or otherwise horrible people), but the point is that any and every group has at least some of them.
Any crime or immoral act that you can imagine has probably been committed by some rotten apple(s) somewhere in each and every group. There are an uncountable number of sensational and horrifying stories just waiting for some intrepid journalist to track down and expose to the public. Such stories aren't really relevant or useful, other than being entertaining and/or engaging stories.
And that brings us to the main topic of this post. An award winning feature writer wanted to find the next big feature.
Magazine writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely knew she wanted to write about sexual assaults at an elite university. What she didn’t know was which university.She knew the narrative and the story within the narrative that she wanted to tell. She just didn't know the "where" or the "when."
So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right.And, of course, since she was going for the next big feature story, and a non-statistical anecdote has no real meaning anyway other than reminding everybody that rotten apples exist (which everybody knows already), the feel of the story and how it fits the narrative is extremely important. Fortunately, she finally found what she was looking for:
But one did [have the right feel]: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.She found a student named Jackie, who told a harrowing story of gang rape that fit the desired narrative perfectly. The setting was:
...Phi Kappa Psi. The "upper tier" frat had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving "Phi Psi" the undisputed best real estate along UVA's fraternity row known as Rugby Road.Rich white southern males in an all male exclusive organization. A group that many love to hate. And certainly a group that everyone is allowed to hate. Nobody needs to feel guilty about despising, loathing, hating, etc. a group of rich white southern frat boys. The hate one is allowed to feel for this group would be beyond shocking if directed at virtually any other unrelated group.
The story starts with Jackie riding high. She's been invited to a "date function" at the frat and has meticulously dressed and primped. Next thing you know, Jackie is "climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew," her frat boy date. And like in a horror flick, where some character is going off alone and you're screaming at the screen, "DON'T GO THERE!!!" you know it's going to end bad.
And boy, does it ever end bad. I'm not going to get into the ugly details of the gang rape here (this is a family blog :-), but it caused a lot of outrage at the fraternity and UVA administration:
University faculty arranged a protest that kicked off late Saturday night on Beta Bridge, responding to a Rolling Stone magazine article released Wednesday that described an alleged gang rape of a UVa student by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity two years ago, and the subsequent missteps of the system by which the assault was reported. Charlottesville police have been asked by UVa to investigate the allegation. [...]
The Phi Kappa Psi house was vacated days ago, not long after the controversial article was released and the house was attacked by an anonymous group that is demanding changes in the university’s sexual assault reporting system. Some students have asserted that members of the fraternity left the house after receiving anonymous death threats, though the fraternity has not responded to these claims.They attacked the entire house regarding something that happened two years ago. There were alleged "death threats" against members of the fraternity who may or may not have had anything to do with the incident. It's typical mob behavior, and in some fairness, they did have some justification to lump the entire fraternity in with the rapists: Jackie's story implied that the gang rape was some sort of fraternity initiation ceremony; therefore, that innocent women were regularly snagged by this fraternity for these heinous criminal acts.
Phi Kappa Psi voluntarily suspended its affiliation with the university not long after the release of the [Rolling Stone] article. And on Saturday, the university suspended all Greek organizations for the remainder of the semester. [...]Thus, the entire fraternity and sorority system was punished for unproven allegations that nobody had ever been indicted for and that had happened more than two years ago. Due process was summarily thrown out the window. Many were quite happy about that:
Claire Wyatt, a 2013 UVa graduate, ... praised the crowd’s “righteous anger.”Because righteous anger is known to always solve everything and lead to justice, right?
It turns out that Jackie didn't want her part of the article to go forward:
Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.After all, the story fit the narrative so perfectly. However, it turns out that Ms. Erdely would have done well to have followed Jackie's request. Indeed, that request might have been the first hint that maybe this story wasn't quite factually accurate. But this red flag was ignored. Erdely also did not bother to spend a lot of effort fact checking the story or corroborating the very limited available hard evidence.
The fraternity, while cooperating with the police, found that pretty much everything that could be verified about the alleged gang rape turned out to be false and has since published a statement to that effect. Rolling Stone soon followed by adding a note to the beginning of the story that "there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account," but they have not fully retracted the story.
But of course they wouldn't retract the story. At the very worst, it's just yet another "fake but accurate" story. Fake in some details, but accurate to the narrative.
My first thought when finding that Jackie's story wasn't true, at least not completely true, was that Erdely was simply incompetent. Not because she produced a fake story but because she didn't bother to find a truer and real version of it. As I was noting in the beginning of this post, there are enough rotten apples that surely at some place and some time, a horrible gang rape has been committed by members of a fraternity. There are millions of people who have been members of fraternities and using the 4% rotten apples estimate, that's tens of thousands of bad people who have belonged to fraternities. All Erdely had to do was find the truer version and verify it and then she could've had a "true and accurate" story. An anecdote true in details and true to the narrative.
Several people I know think that the details are immaterial. So what that she apparently got the fraternity wrong? So what if she got the date wrong? So what if the people she described don't exist? Something likely happened to Jackie that night - that's the important thing.
In other words, "fake but accurate" is perfectly acceptable. Indeed a gripping "fake but accurate" story might be better than a true one if its details, even if wrong, are more compelling.
The collateral damage of smearing innocent people's reputations, vandalizing the fraternity, and shutting down the greek system are also not a problem - this is a group that it's okay to hate and okay to damage. The fact the Jackie's credibility is non-existent now that all verifiable facts turned out to be false is also unimportant. Women do get raped, so it doesn't really matter if Jackie's specific story is true at all. It's an accurate enough description of what has happened to somebody, at some place, at some time. Therefore, all males, everywhere, all the time, are guilty. And males, especially members of a southern fraternity, need to bear the brunt of the "fake" part of "fake but accurate" whenever and wherever required to further the narrative.
Because the importance of the narrative trumps everything else.