Supplemental: Rolling Stone sought “sympathetic coverage!”

TUESDAY, APRIL 7, 2015

That seems to be what they got:
Yesterday, we suggested that the New York Times published a pair of soft-soap accounts of the Rolling Stone debacle.

We referred to a news report and a “news analysis” which discussed the Columbia School of Journalism’s report on the giant debacle. The Times used soft soap in each report, we flawlessly said.

To peruse that report, click here.

How odd! Yesterday afternoon, the Daily Beast reported that Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s owner, gave the Times early access to the CSJ report. Lloyd Grove mused about Wenner’s possible motive:
GROVE (4/6/15): Wenner, for his part, indicated to The New York Times—to which he provided an early copy of the Columbia report, days ahead of other media outlets, perhaps in the hope of more sympathetic coverage—that Erdely will continue as a contributing editor.

Other reports suggested that Wenner plans no disciplinary measures for Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana, who oversaw the article’s publication; Erdely’s direct editor, Sean Woods; and other staffers involved in the bogus story’s preparation.
Was Wenner seeking soft soap from the Times? We can’t say, but that seems to be what he got.

As we noted yesterday, Ravi Somaiya’s front-page news report consistently underplayed the size of Rolling Stone’s journalistic debacle. Meanwhile, Jonathan Mahler’s “news analysis” played the fool on behalf of the Stone’s presumably noble motives.

Did Wenner seek soft soap from the Times? Below, you see what soft soap looks like. In this passage, Mahler is speculating about the motives of Sabrina Erdely, author of the Rolling Stone debacle:
MAHLER (4/6/15): On the most basic level, the writer of the Rolling Stone article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was seduced by an untrustworthy source. More specifically, as the report details, she was swept up by the preconceptions that she brought to the article. As much casting director as journalist, she was looking for a single character with an emblematic story that would speak to—in her words—the “pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture” on college campuses.

Journalists are often driven to cover atrocities and personal traumas by the best intentions, chiefly the desire to right wrongs and shed light on injustice—in a word, empathy. It is a noble impulse that animates a lot of important and courageous reporting. But empathy can also be a source of vulnerability for journalists, lowering their defenses against bad information.
Why did Erdely create such a gigantic fail? Because she had such noble motives!

An analyst could create an alternate speculation full of the lousiest possible motives. Mahler didn’t do that, though. In that passage, he was putting the brightest possible face on the possible reason for a gigantic fail.

In his front-page news report, Somaiya kept understating the size of the fail. Yesterday, we examined the soft soap he employed in his opening paragraphs. A bit later, he began systematically understating the size of Rolling Stone's bungles:
SOMAIYA (4/6/15): The first misstep during the reporting process, the Columbia report said, was that Ms. Erdely did not seek to independently contact three of Jackie’s friends, who were quoted in the piece, using pseudonyms, expressing trepidation at the idea of Jackie telling the authorities that she had been assaulted. The quotes came from Jackie’s recollection of the conversation. Those friends later cast doubt on Jackie’s story in interviews with The Washington Post and denied saying the words Rolling Stone had attributed to them. The three told the report’s authors that they would have made the same denials to Rolling Stone if they had been contacted.
The three friends “cast doubt” on Jackie’s story? In fact, they flatly contradicted her story in a series of ways.

They denied that they met Jackie in front of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, as she had told Rolling Stone, on the night of the alleged attack. (They said that they had met her in a different part of the campus.)

They denied that her dress was bloody that night or that she seemed to be injured. They said that she had described a different type of attack from the one described in Rolling Stone. And yes, they denied that they had given the noxious, self-serving advice attributed to them in Rolling Stone.

Beyond that, they provided documentary evidence which suggested that Jackie had invented an imaginary boy friend, “Haven Monahan,” in the weeks before the alleged attack, using him in a scheme to make one of the three friends jealous.

When Somaiya says the three friends “cast doubt on her story,” he massively understates the nature of what occurred. As he continues, so does that pattern:
SOMAIYA (continuing directly): Rolling Stone, the report said, also did not provide the fraternity with enough information to adequately respond to questions from the magazine. Later, when the article had been published, the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, said it did not host a function on the weekend Jackie had specified.

And the magazine failed to identify Jackie’s attacker, the report said. It was content to give him a pseudonym, Drew, when Jackie resisted Ms. Erdely’s request to help find him. The fraternity, The Post and the police have been unable to find anyone who matches Jackie’s description of Drew.
The fraternity “said” there was no function that night? In fact, the fraternity has presented substantial evidence to that effect, as described in the official press release about the four-month police investigation.

The Post and the police “have been unable to find anyone who matches Jackie’s description of Drew?” In truth, the Post and the police “haven’t been able to find the lifeguard matching Jackie’s description” because it’s fairly clear that no such person exists.

Jackie said Drew was a Phi Kappa Psi member who worked with her at the UVA aquatic center. This is what the CSJ reported:
CSJ REPORT (4/5/15): There was, in fact, an aquatic center lifeguard who had worked at the pool at the same time as Jackie and had the first name she had used freely with Erdely. He was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi, however. The police interviewed him and examined his personal records. They found no evidence to link him to Jackie's assault.
Somaiya kept understating the size of the debacle. Mahler imagined the noble intentions explaining Erdely’s fail.

According to Grove, Wenner gave the Times early access hoping for a bit of soft soap. Maybe it’s all a coincidence, but soft soap is what Wenner got.

43 comments:

  1. If there are no consequences for such a big journalistic failure, what will prevent it from happening again?

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    1. We saw this type of slithery work for twenty straight months during Campaign 2000. We’ve seen this shit a million times. For reasons someone ought to explain, a rather familiar type of porridge seems to be back in the stew.

      Are these people human? Or different type of life form?

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    2. In a slightly more serious democracy, “journalists” of this type would be frog-marched to re-education camp.

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    3. You assume Rolling Stone or anyone else with the same agenda wants to prevent it from happening again.

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  2. In Report on Rolling Stone, a Case Study in Failed Journalism

    Rolling Stone Article on Rape at University of Virginia Failed All Basics, Report Says

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    1. This is fine as long as all someone reads is the headline. Once you get into the story, the impression created is different.

      You can't be suggesting that if the headline writer gets it right then it doesn't matter what the reporter says.

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    2. You'd be surprised at how many casual readers will only notice or read a headline. It's by far the most impactful information of any article.

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    3. No @ 6:16. But I did notice how in two posts on the topic Bob Somerby disappeared the headlines when it countered his narrative, but when he wanted to fit it to his narrative, as he did with Frank Bruni's column he includes it.

      But I know I shouldn't complain because Somerby never complains that something is "disappeared" right?

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    4. Yes, he uses evidence to make his arguments. Some people think that is a good thing. Reporters aren't making arguments. They are telling what happened. There is a difference. No one wants you here. Why don't you leave. Notice that isn't a question.

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    5. Who do you think wants you here?

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    6. Where is Somerby's evidence that Rolling Stone sought "sympathetic coverage"?

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  3. Here's some hard-soap. Trigger warning for the very liberal. http://www.mindingthecampus.org/2015/04/it-could-have-been-true-so-why-not-print-it/


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    1. No need for a Trigger warning. It is more fine work from the Manhattan Institute.

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  4. "Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report on Sunday that concluded the widely discredited piece was the result of failures at every stage of the process."

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    1. And then it undoes the effect of that sentence instead of explaining what the failures were or how they should have been done differently. It made excuses and trivialized.

      I don't understand why Rolling Stone waited to retract the article. Why wasn't the police investigation sufficient to warrant the retraction?

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    2. Have you read the Columbia School of Journalism report?

      I have. I accessed it off the Rolling Stone Web site. Front page. Still there.

      Now you'd think an organization trying to soft-pedal the whole thing and sweep it under the rug wouldn't publish the whole damned thing on its Web site, but Rolling Stone sure does.

      But nope, this is just another excuse for good ol' Boxcar Bob to return to another of his greatest hits and criticiza -- Ta Da! -- The New York Times!

      And man, the pretzel he had to twist himself into to pull off that one!

      Much to the delight, of course, of his herd who never seem to get enough of the "Evil New York Times" sweet hay.

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    3. The NYTimes is being accused of soft pedaling, not Rolling Stone.

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    4. Gee, I guess I was fooled by the headline:

      "Rolling Stone sought 'sympathetic coverage!'"

      And of course, we all know that when Rolling Stone says "Jump!" The New York Times says, "How high?"

      Bob can pretend all he wants that Rolling Stone is receiving "sympathetic" coverage that they sought.

      He can also tell his few remaining sheep that his shit don't stink, and they'll believe that, too.

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  5. "The Columbia report cataloged a series of errors at Rolling Stone.....
    The police in Charlottesville, Va., said last month they had “exhausted all investigative leads” and found “no substantive basis” to support the article’s depiction of the assault....
    In a statement responding to the report, the University of Virginia’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, described the article as irresponsible journalism that “unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia.”

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    1. So CJS and Dr. Sullivan understood what the NY Times reporter apparently didn't. So what?

      If you read the entire article and your take on it was substantially different than Somerby's explain why and how you differ. Don't post a series of excerpts with no comment about them intended to suggest that Somerby is similarly cherrypicking to support an interpretation you don't think is justified.

      Somerby made his argument. It is up to you to make yours. These quotes don't make any argument. They are just annoying, especially since you ignore the impression created by the entire piece and think a quote in isolation is the same as a whole piece. It isn't.

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    2. Shorter 6:24: It's perfectly fine for Somerby to cherry-pick through the story for the parts he thinks fit the narrative he wants to sell. It is a mortal sin for anyone else to do it.

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  6. "Rolling Stone now has what it asked for: a thorough indictment of its behavior.....The article’s impact was equaled only by that of the scandal that followed. Within a matter of days, other reporters started asking the questions that Rolling Stone had not, and Ms. Erdely’s article started to unravel. Her quest to expose the culture of rape on college campuses has now produced a 25-page report on how not to practice journalism."

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    1. Did Somerby or anyone else say the report in the NY Times was uncritical? No. They said it soft-pedaled the CJS report. It did that by supplying paragraphs you have chosen not to excerpt. That it included the phrases you note here does not change the overall impact of the report itself.

      I read it the morning it came out, before reading anything Somerby said about it. I too thought it went way too easy on Erdely and presented a false picture of Jackie's story. I agree that it was reluctant to suggest Jackie was lying and created the impression of an unsubstantiated rape accusation, not a made-up utterly false accusation that wasted a lot of people's time and did a lot of damage beyond what happened to Rolling Stone. That is what you are missing with these stupid little comments of yours.

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    2. "Did Somerby or anyone else say the report in the NY Times was uncritical?"

      You are correct. The word he used was "sympathetic" not "uncritical."

      Speaking for myself, if I am ever in need of sympathy, I do hope to get more than Rolling Stone is getting right now.


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    3. I read it the morning it came out and I too am able, after Bob wrote his piece, to regurgitate his post. I can do that by leaving out the headlines and selected quotes that don't make it appear pretty harsh in its criticism of Rolling Stone without rehashing and refuting the event Jackie alleged to have happened. That was done months ago by the Washington Post. Which is why there was a CSJ report in the first place.

      You know, that last point might be why Wenner gave the report to the Times and not the post. And it also might be why Bob Somerby has not mentioned the Post's coverage of the CSJ report.

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  7. "Why did Erdely create such a gigantic fail? Because she had such noble motives!"

    "An analyst could create an alternate speculation full of the lousiest possible motives."

    I'll take a swing -- how about hatred? Hatred of the South, hatred of fraternities, hatred of traditional institutions, hatred of those unimaginably blonde and blue eyed goys that were always more popular in college than the resentful Sabrina Rubin Erdely's were.

    If you peruse the subjects of Miss Rubin Erdely's past efforts at "journalism" you'll discover she returns to the same hated targets. And she will continue to do so, for now under Rolling Stone's banner.

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    1. Starting with an assumption about what happens at frat parties and then trying to find a case history to illustrate it isn't journalism. It is propaganda. It is the equivalent of starting with the assumption that Indiana caterers won't serve gays and then going out to find a case history to illustrate it. Neither tells you anything about how widespread or frequent such occurrences are, how campuses deal with them, how the law treats such situations, how safe women are at frat parties, or anything that people care about. It just serves the prurient interests and emotional needs of those who already harbor bad feeling toward frats in one case, or "bigots" in the other. I agree with Somerby about this and don't think it is journalism in any sense (bad or good). It makes me cringe that people are entertained by hating others.

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    2. Yeah, don't you just hate people who keep returning to the same hated targets, year after year after year?

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    3. You really pick the low hanging fruit, don't you.

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    4. You don't have to pick what falls into your lap.

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    5. You also don't have to broadcast that you noticed the obvious.

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  8. All those soap references make it pretty clear that KZ is at it again. I wish he would go away. I know it is not OK to hate Southerners or gays or blond frat guys or Malala, but is it OK to hate KZ. He is driving me to it.

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    1. Perhaps Bob should supply a trigger warning before going on to describe someone "getting the soft soap."

      I agree it is a little disturbing.

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    2. @ 6:39 I have it on reliable authority that KZ is a blond southern gay frat guy. And he carries a picture of Malala in his wallet.

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  9. "Lloyd Grove mused about Wenner’s possible motive:"

    Yes, he did. And that's all he did. He speculated with a "perhaps" without a shred of evidence to back it up, and since that's the narrative Bob wants to promote, that's what he pimps -- without pointing out that there is any shred of evidence to support the speculation that Wenner sought "sympathetic coverage."

    Not only that, Somerby puts it in a headline as if it were a proven fact, rather than one guy's "perhaps."

    And here is what's ironic. As a long time reader of this blog, I've learned to recognize such slipshod and utterly dishonest work.

    It is a shame to see that Somerby has gone full circle from pointing it out to practicing it.

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    1. To add to your excellent comment @ 10:07 about things being stated as fact without a shred of evidence, Grove's piece in the Daily Beast is the only one I have seen on this CSJ report which indicates Rolling Stone gave the report to the New York Times in advance. He offers no evidence this is the case and Somerby seems to accept this as fact. This strikes me as odd given the subject is a piece of journalism built around undocumented facts.

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    2. You are correct. Lloyd Grove's report on The Daily Beast is the only mention I could find of the Times getting the report in advance.

      This doesn't mean, of course, that Wenner didn't give the Times the jump on the story. But it does mean that Somerby is spinning a tale based on one source, who also does not provide his evidence.

      Then again, you get to the separate problem that even if true that the Times got the report early, that the only possible motive for doing it is the one that neatly fits Somerby's narrative -- that Rolling Stone "sought sympathetic coverage" from the Times, and got it.

      What Bob's post sadly demonstrates is that whoever goes picking through a news story to find only what he wants to find can certainly do that.

      Meanwhile, it is still possible for other, perhaps more objective, readers to read the Times coverage and not find it in the least "sympathetic" but rather damning of the Rolling Stone.

      But of course, in Somerby's World, there is just one way for people to read and interpret, down to the vilest motives he can conjure.

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    3. Professors and journalists are Bob's southerners and evangelicals.

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