Jeff Jacoby writes in The Boston Globe, When ‘justice’ trumps accuracy, journalism loses
But Rolling Stone’s blockbuster has imploded, undone by independent reporting at The Washington Post that found glaring contradictions and irregularities with the story, and egregious failures in the way it was written and edited. Erdely, it turns out, had taken Jackie’s horrific accusations on faith, never contacting the alleged rapists for a comment or response. In a rueful “Note to Our Readers,” managing editor Will Dana writes: “[W]e have come to the conclusion … that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.”
To a layman, that “conclusion” might seem so excruciatingly self-evident that Rolling Stone’s debacle can only be explained as gross negligence, or a reckless disregard for the truth. But much of the journalistic priesthood holds to a different standard, one that elevates the higher truth of an overarching “narrative” — in this case, that a brutal and callous “rape culture” pervades American college campuses — above the mundane details of fact. Erdely had set out in search of a grim sexual-assault story, and settled on Jackie’s account of being savaged by five men (or was it seven?) at a fraternity bash was just the vehicle she’d been looking for. Why get tangled in conflicting particulars?
“Maybe [Erdely] was too credulous,” suggests longtime media critic Howard Kurtz in a piece on Rolling Stone’s journalistic train wreck. “Along with her editors.”
Or maybe this is what happens when newsrooms and journalism schools decide, like Jorge Ramos, that although they have “nothing against objectivity,” their real aspiration is to use journalism “as a weapon for a higher purpose.” Somehow it didn’t come as a shock to learn that when Dana was invited to lecture at Middlebury College in 2006, his speech was titled: “A Defense of Biased Reporting.”
Even after the UVA story began to collapse, voices were raised in defense of the narrative over mere fact.
“This is not to say that it does not matter whether or not Jackie’s story is accurate,” Julia Horowitz, an assistant managing editor at the University of Virginia’s student newspaper, wrote in Politico. But “to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”
Well, if the “narrative” is what matters most, checking the facts too closely can indeed be a huge mistake. Because facts, those stubborn things, have a tendency to undermine cherished narratives — particularly narratives grounded in emotionalism, memory, or ideology.
Courts of law are imperfect institutions, but they are far superior dispensers of justice than anointed college councils, and obsequious “journalists” who have sacrificed any concern for facts at the altar of the ‘”narrative”, or a “higher purpose”.