THURSDAY, APRIL 9, 2015
The guild taking care of The Stone: Within the journalism industry, The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism is a very big deal.
It administers the Pulitzer Prizes. It co-sponsors the National Magazine Award. It publishes the Columbia Journalism Review, an insider trade publication.
The CJS is as big-and-inside as it gets. On Sunday night, it released its 13,000-word review of Rolling Stone’s recent journalistic debacle.
The CJS report lashed Rolling Stone with a big wet insider noodle. How does the upper-end press corps police itself? Consider the way the CJS began this report.
At issue was the weird journalistic behavior of Rolling Stone’s reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and her supervising editors. In the article in question, Erdely published an account of an alleged gang rape at a UVA fraternity—an account which turned out to be false, a fabrication.
Uh-oh! Erdely had done virtually no fact-checking of the horrific story she told. Among other things, she never verified the existence of “Drew” (not his real name), the alleged ringleader of the attack upon the alleged victim, Jackie.
According to Jackie, “Drew” was a junior in September 2012, the time of the alleged attack. He was a member of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where the horrific attack was supposed to have taken place.
In a series of interviews, Jackie had given Erdely a first name for “Drew,” but she had withheld his last name. Erdely never checked to see if a junior from Phi Kappa Psi with that first name had actually worked at the pool.
On a journalistic basis, that was crazy conduct. As it turned out, no one from Phi Kappa Psi had worked at the pool at all. No lifeguard matched the description Erdely had been given, but she hadn’t checked it out.
That was crazy conduct by Erdely. The treatment of this episode in the CJS report is almost as strange.
The CJS report starts with the question of “Drew.” More specifically, it starts with a highly cinematic anecdote in which we’re told that Erdely kept trying to learn Drew’s last name even after her piece had been published.
This highly cinematic anecdote seems to vouch for Erdely’s journalistic diligence, for her ongoing good intentions. It’s hard to know why the CJS writers accept the veracity of this story, with which they lead their report.
That said, the presentation of this anecdote is a giant gift to Erdely, especially coming where it does, as a virtual prelude to the report. In presenting this highly suspect story, the CJS vouches for Erdely’s noble intentions at the start of its report.
Sabrina Erdely just kept trying to get the truth! The basic veracity of the anecdote is highly suspect. The chronology is suspiciously jumbled, in a way which tilts the story in Erdely’s favor. The writers even include a bogus fact which makes the story more Erdely-friendly.
This anecdote comes at the top of the CJS report. You can peruse the report by clicking here.
We’ll examine that anecdote in the next day or two. But as we’ve told you down through the years, the press corps never tells you the truth about the press corps’ behavior. It simply isn’t done!
Did Erdely just keep pursuing the truth? Promotional fees for that anecdote should be paid by Rolling Stone.