It Was Too Good To Check




After its story on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia fell apart, Rolling Stone magazine commissioned the Columbia School of Journalism to investigate the incident and write a report about what went wrong. That report, by Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll and Derek Kravitz, was issued today. More or less simultaneously, the author of the Rolling Stone piece, Sabrina Erdely, released an apology.

While it does go behind the curtain at Rolling Stone, the Columbia report doesn’t tell us a lot that we didn’t already know. The reporter’s and editor’s principal failings were already a matter of record. Rolling Stone’s story was based on the account of a single witness, “Jackie,” years after the fact. “Jackie” blamed her purported rape on a person who, it turned out, did not exist. And the reporter never tried to track down the three friends who, according to “Jackie,” saw her shortly after the alleged gang rape. If the reporter had talked to those students, she would have found that they told a story completely different from “Jackie’s.” She also could have learned from them that “Haven Monahan,” the villain of “Jackie’s” story, was a figment of “Jackie’s” troubled imagination.

The Columbia report takes us behind the scenes at Rolling Stone and adds new details about how the false story made its way into print. But it says little about why the scandal, one of the worst instances of journalistic malpractice on record, happened. The closest it comes is this paragraph:

The problem of confirmation bias – the tendency of people to be trapped by pre-existing assumptions and to select facts that support their own views while overlooking contradictory ones – is a well-established finding of social science. It seems to have been a factor here. Erdely believed the university was obstructing justice. She felt she had been blocked. Like many other universities, UVA had a flawed record of managing sexual assault cases. Jackie’s experience seemed to confirm this larger pattern.

Of course: Sabrina Erdely and her editor, Sean Woods, believed “Jackie,” even though there were obvious indications of unreliability, because she was telling them what they wanted to hear, something that was consistent with a “larger pattern.” One might think that the nightmare the principals at Rolling Stone have lived through might generate some self-knowledge. But no. Their biases are intact.


Sabrina Erdely’s apology is also revealing:

[I]n the case of Jackie and her account of her traumatic rape, I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts.

It never occurred to Ms. Erdely to wonder whether “Jackie” had been traumatized in the first place. And why does a reporter have confidence in the credibility of some sources, but not others? In this case, it seems obvious that Erdely found “Jackie” credible, even though her story was outlandish on its face, because “Jackie” was saying what Erdely wanted to hear.

This part is still more significant:

I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.

Notably missing from Erdely’s apology, at least by any specific reference, are the people she actually hurt: members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, whom Erdely accused of casually (and, one might infer, habitually) encouraging the gang rape of young women who wander into their parties, and the administrators at U. Va. whom Erdely accused of self-interested callousness toward rape victims. Ms. Erdely seems to believe that her story was really “true”–men who belong to fraternities are animals, and university administrators are corrupt buffoons–and she only chose the wrong vehicle to express these verities.

There is an old saying that something is “too good to be true.” In journalism they use the phrase “too good to check” to refer to a story that is so perfect that the journalist is afraid to verify it lest it turn out to not be true. Jackie’s tale of ritualized gang-rape was too good to check.

It was a perfect storm of lies and gullibility.

What is most amazing is that nobody was punished or fired. Not even Sabrina Erdley. Jackie is reportedly still a student at UVA. A scathing report has been issued, but nothing has changed. Incredibly, some people still insist that “something happened” to Jackie.

It reminds me of when Hillary took responsibility for Benghazi. There is more to accountability than saying “My bad!”


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"If you hit an artery, somebody can bleed out in two minutes."
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56 Responses to It Was Too Good To Check

  1. Myiq2xu says:

    I didn’t ouch one drop of alcohol last night and I still couldn’t wake up this morning.

    • Somebody says:

      Ouch alcohol is the worst kind, LOL!! Especially when combined with belly dancers!

      Your body is probably trying to catch up on lost sleep, which is a good thing.

    • 49erDweet says:

      “Didn’t touch one drop”? So was it two? Or twenty? Or 200? (Sorry. Raised too many teenagers).

  2. Lulu says:

    “After 130 days of living under a cloud of suspicion as a result of reckless reporting by Rolling Stone magazine, today the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine,” the fraternity said in a statement released Monday.”

  3. Dora says:

    Now I’ve heard everything!

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  4. Myiq2xu says:

    Hot Air:

    So what will Rolling Stone change in the wake of this fiasco? Nothing. Literally. Nothing.

    Mr. Wenner said that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for Rolling Stone, and that Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, and the editor of the article, Sean Woods, would keep their jobs.

    Nor will they be changing their policies, Wenner made clear. That’s because, as McPherson told the review panel, Rolling Stone liked the story so much they didn’t bother to use them, emphasis mine:

    Yet Rolling Stone’s senior editors are unanimous in the belief that the story’s failure does not require them to change their editorial systems. “It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Dana said. “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.” Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, said, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.

    Aha! We often joke about “too good to check,” but the joke works because it happens. That’s exactly what this admission makes clear about Erdely and Jackie’s hoax. They wanted a story about rape culture on campus, and when Erdely obliged, Rolling Stone chose not to apply their policies and scrutinize it too closely. That “too good to check” decision, the Columbia review makes clear, went all the way to the very top at Rolling Stone.

  5. Dora says:

    Obvious discrimination. No doubt about it.

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  6. votermom says:

  7. Myiq2xu says:

    On Sarah Palin: “You will never hear me say anything negative about her, although I can tell you, one of my great regrets is she was put through this kind of attack, with cruelty the likes of which I have never, ever seen before, so sometimes I regret selecting her just because of what she was put through.” That said, “she invigorated and energized our campaign. She beat Joe Biden in a debate. She was tireless. She is a wonderful family person, her husband Todd is a wonderful person. To my last breath I will be grateful to Sarah Palin for agreeing to be my running mate.”

    Read more at:

    • 1539days says:

      I believe that the McCain campaign was so badly run that even John McCain didn’t know how badly it was being run. I can also believe that he wasn’t aware of the malpractice that Nicolle Wallace and Steve Schmidt were inflicting on Sarah Palin. At the same time, if McCain doesn’t realize it in hindsight, he really needs to get out of politics.

  8. foxyladi14 says:

    More voted for her then him. 😆

  9. votermom says:

  10. Myiq2xu says:

  11. Dora says:

    Let them have him. 🙂

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    Michael Bloomberg, the American billionaire businessman, three-time New York mayor and philanthropist, is considering running as Tory candidate for London mayor in 2016, it has been claimed

  12. Myiq2xu says:

  13. leslie says:

    See you all later…. #GoBadgers!!!!

  14. Myiq2xu says:

    • DandyTIger says:

      I can’t decide if she’s so insane she doesn’t even know it’s a strawman, or if she’s so insane that she thinks using this strawman argument is reasonable. Either way…

  15. Myiq2xu says:

    I’m starting a new category: “The Sabrina Erdley Award For Journalistic Malpractice”

    • Myiq2xu says:

      • swanspirit says:

        Brad wrote them a letter. He is a writer after all. I follow him on FB, he is a hoot !

        Correction: Hugo Awards voting campaign sparks controversy
        CORRECTION: After misinterpreting reports in other news publications, EW published an unfair and inaccurate depiction of the Sad Puppies voting slate, which does, in fact, include many women and writers of color. As Sad Puppies’ Brad Torgerson explained to EW, the slate includes both women and non-caucasian writers, including Rajnar Vajra, Larry Correia, Annie Bellet, Kary English, Toni Weisskopf, Ann Sowards, Megan Gray, Sheila Gilbert, Jennifer Brozek, Cedar Sanderson, and Amanda Green.
        This story has been updated to more accurately reflect this. EW regrets the error.

      • 1539days says:

        That note at the beginning was just sad. They were wrong about everything, but they’ll rewrite the article and keep it up anyway.

  16. Myiq2xu says:

  17. swanspirit says:

    Of course Rolling Stone won’t be firing anyone involved in its fraternity rape hoax. It doesn’t need to bother with face-saving gestures because the only problem is that it got caught. Not that it feels that it did anything wrong.
    Journalism, at least in the US liberal media camp, is as dead as a doornail. What dominates are agenda narratives, special pleading and straight up propaganda.

    Rolling Stone’s only crime was damaging the agenda of its fellow lefties by being excessively sloppy. Call it a talking point failure.

    Sure people got hurt… but they were the people who were supposed to get hurt. Fraternities are evil. How do we know? Because the left says they are. Proving it is the propaganda part. And that doesn’t require actual proof. It just requires maintaining the set of talking points being used.

    The rest is worth reading , but he makes perfect sense, why would RS fire one of their best propagandists?
    I think he nailed it.

  18. Dora says:

    Meet the beast. No, not him. The one he drives around in. 🙂

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  19. Dora says:

    Let the preparations begin. Since he is one of the greatest artists in the world, I hate seeing the name Caravaggio in the same sentence as Michelle Obama! Ugh!

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  20. mothy67 says:

    What chance does the frat have against Rolling Stone? Seemed to me Zimmerman had a case against NBC but that was shot down. NY Times seems to print fabrications with immunity.

  21. mothy67 says:

    I know some find her a bit much to take but Ann Coulter consistently goes after the media for duplicity. This weeks article.

  22. TheRealKim says:

    Having worked with rape victims, domestic violence victims and sexual abuse victims, I can almost understand Ms. Erdley not fact checking. To utter any disbelief at a victims story is thought to be unconscionable. How dare anyone believe that someone could make up a horrific story of abuse? The leading consensus is that victims do NOT lie. But that’s just not true. In my ten years as a court advocate, they lie a lot and some are vindictive as hell about it. But I will state it again, it is totally NOT cool to disbelieve their stories.

    • mothy67 says:

      Kim with all due respect your job was not a journalist. Social workers, police yes journalist a big fat no. Early on in custody issue I got hit with a molestation charge. Have you any idea how people treat you when baseless accusations are hurled. I moved into a hotel gave free access to everything. No warrant needed. I was not even allowed to hear the charge until investigation was done. They flipped over my bed went through my phone and computer my drawers were dumped out. I had nothing to hide. Home visits. When I was cleared I was ready to sue. The way I was talked to. I did not give up. Social worker said to me that is still her mother and if you go after her you will likely win but you will expose her daughter to stuff she doesn’t need as well as shed doubt on legitimate claims. WTF I let it go. Pup means too much. I can eat that and move on in fact kid is performing at a talent show and I bought her mother a ticket. Charge was I hurt her down there when changing her diaper. Seriously ever applied diaper cream.
      I am actually grateful the authorities were so thorough but I turn on the local news and I hear of real abuse and neglect resulting in death. Yet an openly gay great uncle gets put through the ringer for ostensably nothing? I am no saint I just picked up this little brat at an awful day care center one day on a visit to Pittsburgh. Place was so awful cages called cribs lined a long a wall. She looked up at me with such relief. I am an asshole but I picked her picked her up in my arms and felt her relief. I took some responsibility for her that day. Never went back to New York where all the smart people live. Her parents are still about themselves. She has straight A’s, some color belt, dances, sings, laughs.
      I could have walked away from that little person and let her be a bump up on government assistance. I did not and I had things said to me about a child that I treasure. SO NO I GIVE NO EXCUSE TO FABRICATED STORIES. I think the story teller from Rolling Stone needs to do hard time. She diminishes real issues. She hurt REAL mens lives. Men that never did anything wrong.
      Are you saying sacrifice a few mens lives because she meant well?

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