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Barbara Kay: Thou shall not bear false witness … except against men

The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus.

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism has released a 12,000-word report on Rolling Stone magazine’s infamous November 2014 article, “A Rape on Campus.” Infamous because the shocking University of Virginia gang-rape narrative, written by longtime investigative reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was exposed as factually unsound while the pages were still warm from the presses.

Robyn Urback: Rolling Stone writer apologizes to everyone except the victims

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the now-thoroughly discredited story in Rolling Stone magazine about a vicious gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, forgot to include one important group in her statement of apology issued Sunday. Earlier that day, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism delivered a crushing indictment of the November Rolling Stone feature, for which the report’s authors said the magazine “set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting.” That flawed process allowed for Erdely’s 9,000-word tale, most of which we now understand to be untrue, to be viewed online more than 2.7 million times.

“The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article ‘A Rape on Campus’ was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life,” Erdely wrote in a statement.

“Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience.”

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The report goes into greater detail than previous critiques. In it the story’s protagonist, “Jackie,” is shown to have outright lied to Erdely. But what strikes one in the report is how many experienced editors and fact-checkers, even Erdely herself, noted discomfiting lacunae and discrepancies in Jackie’s testimony during the research process that were consciously set aside, right up Rolling Stone‘s chain of command.

At the heart of the debacle was the fact that Jackie was the sole source for her story, normally a journalistic kiss of death. Throughout Erdely’s investigation, Jackie obstructed any line of inquiry that might expand the consulted circle of witnesses and expose her fabrications, through evasions or outright stonewalling, until Erdely abandoned the attempt.

Why didn’t Erdely back away in spite of her unease, and why did Rolling Stone publish the piece in spite of multiple editors’ reservations? Because — my explanation, not theirs — moral panic over rape culture, the myth that rape is a common crime on campus that is not taken seriously, is having a seemingly interminable cultural moment; because liberal journalists have internalized the mantra that self-identifying victims’ accounts must be believed since rape victims don’t lie (in spite of many proven, well-publicized false allegations); and because, while the pain of men falsely accused of any abuse against women or children is rarely even considered worthy of investigative inquiry, let alone empathy, women’s pain — even the merely alleged pain of those proven to have lied — is considered worthy of unlimited empathy.

We still don’t know who Jackie is. She has not apologized for her egregious duplicity. Neither Erdely or any of her editors has resigned for their willful unprofessionalism. Because … rape culture?

The Rolling Stone report coincides with a few Canadian stories in which the same gender lopsidedness is evident.

The wilderness years for former Vancouver Olympics organizer John Furlong have ended. Furlong spent years battling allegations and then formal civil suits filed by three aboriginal adults for sexual and physical abuse allegedly committed in Furlong’s tenure as a volunteer teacher at their B.C. elementary school, all of which he vehemently denied from the outset. All three suits fizzled out — one dismissed, one withdrawn, one proven a demonstrably monstrous lie — and yet, as Christie Blatchford pointed out in a recent column, while the suits have caused Furlong and his family existential wounds that no legal vindication can ever come close to healing, “no one dared suggest [the three complainants] had any misconduct for which to answer.”


Arguably the guiltiest party in this sordid affair is freelance reporter Laura Robinson, who in September 2012 published an article in the Georgia Straight endorsing the aboriginals’ stories, which doubtless encouraged them to take legal action against Furlong. Aboriginal victimhood, like rape victimhood, acts as curare to the wonted detachment of many progressive journalists.

Two Liberal MPS — named — have had their careers ruined because female NDP politicians — unnamed, their careers unaffected — confided allegations of sexual misconduct by said MPs to Justin Trudeau, who reflexively threw his guys under the bus in order to prove he’s no rape apologist. Are the men guilty? We’ll never know, it seems. Thomas Mulcair is satisfied that the two women can “move on” from their alleged ordeals, which involved no formal complaint, no exposure, no cross-examining and no risk to their reputations whatsoever.

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Bearing false witness was considered so wicked in ancient times that a proscription against it was included in the Decalogue, the Top 10 commandments of the 613 in the Torah. Nobody in Canada is allowed to steal or kill with impunity. But certain members of entitled groups may falsely allege crimes of violence against men with impunity, with no consequences and leaving mayhem in their wake.

As John Furlong asked in bewilderment after his exoneration, “How can this be acceptable? More importantly, how did it even happen?” Good questions. One thing is clear: If there are no deterrents or consequences to bearing false witness — not even skepticism, let alone moral condemnation by influential, trusted journalists — we can expect to see more and more of it. In the end, all allegations will be suspect, and those bearing true witness will pay the price.