Part 3—The year of liberal script: In the realm of journalism, was 2015 really "The Year of the Liberal?"
That's what it says around here—and we don't mean for that award to be understood as a compliment.
At sites like The Maddow Show and the new Salon, 2015 was the year of liberal dumbing-down, as we noted last week. But at UVa and on other stage sets, it was also the year of liberal narrative—the year of liberal script.
In 2015, the emerging liberal/progressive world displayed a new, basic part of its developing culture. For better or worse—opinions may differ—it was the year in which a cultural norm became clear:
Within our liberal/progressive culture, facts will be invented, embellished and disappeared in line with preferred story lines. In 2015, it became unmistakably clear—we the liberals will sacrifice fact in deference to our favorite narratives.
In deference to script.
Needless to say, this cultural preference comes to us straight outta Rush, Sean and Fox. It was displayed this past year on several sets. Let's start with UVa, site of the great Rolling Stone disaster.
In its December 2014 issue, Rolling Stone published a searing, 9,000-word news report, "A Rape on Campus," which has now been retracted. (In line with childish journalistic conventions, this news report, by Sabrina Erdely, is typically called a "story.")
In 2015, Erdely's news report broke down—except within the liberal world, where some people clung to its claims, even after it became fairly clear that its claims seemed to be false.
Please note: Many liberals exercised perfectly sensible judgment about the claims in Erdely's report, both when the report appeared and when its claims began to break down.
Beyond that, Rolling Stone is only one news org. Its horrible journalistic performance can't be blamed on other news orgs, whether mainstream or liberal, or on the liberal/progressive world in general.
That said, Rolling Stone's grotesque performance provides a good example of a major cultural practice—deference to preferred liberal/progressive script. This deference was also observed among those liberals who struggled to maintain True Belief in Erdely's claims, even after it became clear that she had essentially written a novel, not a competent and defensible news report.
What do we mean when we say that Erdely wrote a novel? Consider last weekend's news reports in the Washington Post, in which the Post reported the progress of a law suit against Rolling Stone.
The suit has been brought by a UVa dean who claims that she was defamed by Erdely's "news report." Two other defamation suits have been brought against the Stone.
The first of the Post's hard-copy news reports appeared last Saturday. In the report, Rees Shapiro provided some background to the claims being made in the dean's law suit:
SHAPIRO (1/9/16): Attorneys for a University of Virginia associate dean in a defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine say a sensational account of a fraternity gang rape at the school was based on a series of lies told by the story's main subject, according to new court documents.According to Shapiro, Eramo's attorney's "argue that Jackie not only fabricated the account of the alleged sexual assault but also created the false persona of her chief perpetrator, whom she repeatedly identified to a friend as Haven Monahan. Charlottesville police said that no one by that name ever attended U-Va."
The Alexandria-based law firm representing U-Va. administrator Nicole Eramo has filed motions seeking communications between Rolling Stone and "Jackie," a U-Va. student whose haunting tale as the alleged victim of a vicious September 2012 gang rape at a fraternity house stunned the nation and invigorated a widespread discussion on college sexual assault. But in new filings submitted in federal court, Eramo's attorneys assert that Jackie is "a serial liar who invented" her account of being raped by seven fraternity brothers participating in a hazing ritual that had left her bloodied and emotionally scarred.
"Jackie was the primary source for Rolling Stone's false and defamatory article that included her story about being the victim of a violent sexual assault," said Libby Locke, one of Eramo's attorneys. "But there is no evidence whatsoever that the story that Jackie told her friends, or the very different story she told Rolling Stone, actually transpired. Instead, it appears that Jackie fabricated her perpetrator and the details of the alleged assault."
Shapiro quoted a statement made by Eramo's attorneys in a court document. "All available evidence suggests that 'Haven Monahan' was a figment of Jackie's imagination," the attorney's wrote. Dean Eramo is claiming that Jackie also lied about her role in this chain of events, and that Rolling Stone defamed Eramo by recklessly repeating these lies.
According to Eramo's suit, Haven Monahan didn't even exist! According to Eramo's suit, "Jackie" invented a story—in effect, crafted a novel. Rolling Stone went ahead and repeated the story, presenting it as fact.
On Sunday, the Post published a second hard-copy news report about this now-famous case. In this report, Shapiro presented a great deal of new background information about the genesis of the story which Rolling Stone reported as fact.
Did Haven Monahan even exist? At one point, Ryan Duffin, a former friend of Jackie's, used an intriguing term:
SHAPIRO (1/10/16): Police ultimately determined that no gang rape occurred, and Rolling Stone retracted its story.According to Shapiro, Duffin believes that Haven Monahan "was a fictional character." If that's true, then Jackie essentially created a novel. Rolling Stone presented this novel as fact.
An investigation by Charlottesville police later determined that no one named Haven Monahan had ever attended U-Va., and extensive efforts to find the person were not successful. Photographs that were texted to Duffin that were purported to be of Monahan were actually pictures depicting one of Jackie's high school classmates in Northern Virginia...
"All available evidence demonstrates that 'Haven Monahan' was a fake suitor created by Jackie in a strange bid to earn the affections of a student named Ryan Duffin that Jackie was romantically interested in," Eramo's attorneys wrote in court papers filed last week.
In an interview Friday with The Post, Duffin said that he also believes Haven Monahan was a fictional character Jackie created.
From the earliest days of the Daily Howler, we have incomparably warned you about "the novelization of news." In those days, the novels which were being created often involved allegations concerning Bill Clinton's sex life, with a great deal of information being invented, embellished or disappeared.
In the past week, that old novel is being rewritten within the mainstream press. Last year, though, the emerging liberal/progressive world made it clear that similar types of novelization are now an integral part of liberal/progressive press culture. The debacle at Rolling Stone is merely an extremely high-profile example of this sort of conduct.
As noted above, that debacle does not constitute an indictment of the liberal world in general. However badly Rolling Stone performed, Rolling Stone is just one news org. It's also true that many liberals and progressives showed perfectly reasonable judgment about the magazine's exciting claims, both when its famous piece first appeared and later, in 2015, when its various claims began breaking down.
On the other hand, some liberals clung to Rolling Stone's claims long past the point of good judgment. If Ryan Duffin's judgment is accurate, they were clinging to claims about at least one "fictional character."
Essentially, they were clinging to claims they had read in a novel.
In the main, the Rolling Stone debacle belongs to Rolling Stone. In its 9,000-word report, it invented facts; it disappeared facts; it failed to check the truth of searing factual claims. In the course of this journalistic misconduct, Rolling Stone crafted an exciting "story" which closely followed preferred liberal scripts about sexual conduct on campus.
A person can't blame the liberal world for Rolling Stone's horrific world-class bungling—for the novel it printed as fact. But in the course of 2015, the liberal world engaged in high-profile forms of this conduct again and again and again.
Again and again, we liberals invented, embellished and disappeared facts in service to preferred story-lines. In the process, we displayed a devotion to script over truth, not unlike Rush and Sean before us. We showed how much we love our narratives, our novels, our tribal scripts.
People may have different ideas about the wisdom of this cultural practice. But on a journalistic basis, this extremely familiar old conduct helped make 2015 "The Year of the Liberal"—the year in which a new liberal culture completely and fully emerged.
Tomorrow: What Coates (initially) said