Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s 2014 Rolling Stone magazine article involving fraternity gang rape at the University of Virginia stands exposed and retracted. A troubled girl hoaxed Erdely. We will never know the degree to which Sabrina was complicit.
At great cost to the University of Virginia and to Phi Kappa Psi, Rolling Stone’s editors and Erdely failed to verify what were almost impossible fictions. The odious University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan rashly suspended fraternity operations and later imposed severe rules based on the incident. Haters threw bricks through Phi Psi windows.
But the onus is on Erdely. Erdely embodies an engagé style of journalism that arose in the early 1990s. At 42, she does not play by the old rules. About the time she was starting out at the Daily Pennsylvanian, left-wing advocacy journalism — it sometimes self-flatteringly terms itself “investigative” — was taking on great cachet in newsrooms and editorial offices.
Among blowing-in-the-wind faculty at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and other top schools, running with causes and crusades, not old-school “objectivity,” was white hot. A generation of journalists grew up inside this mindset. It’s the water they swim in. Many see themselves not just as reporters but as sentinels of a new, better America.
Subtext: Sabrina cares.
Perhaps Erdely actually feels blond fraternity beasts are a growing menace. Mesmerized by feminism, Erdely may in her heart of hearts think the War on Women and Rape Culture are accelerating. But I bet not.
Erdely looks to me as though she knows exactly what she’s selling, has been doing it for a while, and is good at click bait, bounce, and angles that draw the right kind of audience and applause.
Until T. Rees Shapiro unraveled the story in a series of Pulitzer-worthy Washington Post articles, the MSM from Yahoo to the New York Times fanned Sabrina’s narrative with all its might.
Big mistakes were made, a J-School report said on April 5. Then it added neutrally that the editors and progenitor of this fraud would continue on at the magazine. This is astonishing. There are many reasons why journalism is crashing before our eyes. But if you are on the Rolling Stone good-think list, it appears, after the J-School’s all-in-the-family dressing down is over and done, it’s back to business as usual.
The shameful calumny should not end here. The day after the J-School report, Phi Psi announced plans to sue Rolling Stone. That’s a good beginning. Now I hope that:
• Outstanding Virginia lawyers do their best to give Rolling Stone a legal you-know-what in court.
• An enterprising journalism professor, maybe at UVA, goes after Sabrina’s oeuvre, re-checking her articles, starting with her attacks on the Catholic church and that old Progressive fave, clerical pedophilia.
• Rolling Stone will tell us what Sabrina’s next assignment is. What tradition, established institution, or revered figure will get the Sabrina treatment? We should all be prepared with talking points, if blindsided.
• The disgraceful UVA president Teresa Sullivan gets fired. She offered her own summa in the Times, along with Erdely’s. Her statement — not an apology — is remorseless and true to character. Sullivan is a great embarrassment in higher education. This brainless, style-free sociologist has no business being in charge of a great university and public trust.
Her rush to judgment was wrong and her intransigence is revolting. Some inept Virginia trustees tried to get rid of her in 2012. Unfortunately they failed.