New Republic Writer: Rolling Stone's Rape Story Failure Due to Use of 'Rightwing Tactics'

April 7th, 2015 2:49 PM

New Republic staff writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig has clearly run out of defenses for the conduct of those involved in the disgraceful, scandalous journalistic malpractice which gave rise to the now-retracted and thoroughly discredited "A Rape on Campus: The Struggle for Justice at UVA" at Rolling Stone.

So here's her last refuge: Conservatism deserves some of the blame, because Sabrina Rubin Erdely and others associated with the story supposedly "Used Rightwing Tactics to Make a Leftist Point" (links are in original; bolds and numbered tags are mine):

Rolling Stone's Rape Article Failed Because It Used Rightwing Tactics to Make a Leftist Point

... The retraction comes on the heels of the Charlottesville Police Department’s announcement that there was not enough evidence [1] to pursue an investigation of the story’s titular rape, which now appears to have been something between a delusion and a hoax.

What did go wrong? A whole host of things, most of them probably more interesting to journalists than readers. There were dazzling editorial oversights [2], like the decision not to contact the three friends allegedly present on the night of the assault, and mundane human error, like the assumption that everyone who had heard Jackie’s story had been told the same tale. Still, the mother of all these blunders seems to have predated the article’s eventual litany of technical failures. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the investigative journalist and true-crime writer who penned the essay, set out with an answer in search of a question, a conclusion about systematic indifference to rape which she needed the right story to backfill. [3] If she had written a fictional account of a rape that met all her article’s needs, I can’t imagine it would have been too different than the horrifying one that issued from Jackie, which should have set off alarm bells then.

Erdely apologized in a statement on Sunday. Her reasons don’t come off as particularly ignoble: She wanted to bring to light a problem with the way sexual assaults are handled on college campuses, and once she found Jackie she was unwilling to pressure her for details, names, or verifying facts because she did not want to re-traumatize her after her ordeal. Naturally, Rolling Stone’s mea culpa and Erdely’s apology have not satisfied a certain segment of the reactionary peanut gallery, with rightwing outposts like Twitchy deliriously bemoaning the fact that no one at the magazine has been fired over the meltdown [4], and declaring Erdely a hack for not apologizing specifically to the fraternity brothers accused of rape [5] in her article.

This suggests that the scope of the disaster is wider than the professional failures CJR documents with such unsettling clarity. Yes, there were an absurd number of mistakes in Rolling Stone’s journalistic method, but like most events ostensibly about ethics in journalism, the kernel of the controversy is about politics, not journalism. [6]

... What accounts for the political polarization in rape journalism [7], which is presumably odious to everyone, regardless of political orientation?

The left tends to view oppression as something that operates within systems, sometimes in clearly identifiable structural biases [8], and other times in subtle but persistent ways.

... The right, on the other hand, tends to understand politics on the individual level, which fits in neatly with a general obsession with the capital-i Individual. Thus, the right tends to pore over the specific details of high-profile cases like those of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, concluding that if those particular situations were embattled by complications or mitigating factors [9], then the phenomena they’re meant to represent must not be real either. [10]

... Pinning an indictment of a system on the story of an individual is essentially a rightwing tactic with a dodgy success rate; it’s a way of using an individual as a metonym for systematic analysis that both overplays the role of individual heroism and effort and underplays the complicated nature of oppression as a feature of institutions, policies, traditions, and persons. [11] There is room in left journalism for the individual story, but the positioning is important: Individual narratives can give glancing glimpses of the effects of oppressive systems, but they can’t reveal their sum total.

... In balancing a systematic critique on a single person’s story, Erdely essentially used a rightwing strategy to make a leftist point. The trouble is only that the right is skilled at this game [12], and correctly deduced that undoing Jackie’s story would go a long way to endangering Erdely’s larger structural point.


[1] — The correct term, Ms. Bruenig, is "NO evidence," as seen in both the headline and the content of the item she linked. Even now, she won't admit the truth.

[2] — "Dazzling editorial oversights"? There is nothing in the definition of "dazzle" containing any form of express or even implied negativity. One can't help but think that Bruenig admires Erdely's work, and only regrets that the Rolling Stone writer got caught creating and facilitating fiction.

[3] — Here we agree. From here, it goes downhill.

[4] — It isn't just people on the right who are appalled at how no one was fired, or even visibly disciplined, at Rolling Stone. David Bauder at the Associated Press wrote on Monday that the fact that no one has lost their job "has surprised many long-time observers of Wenner, who’s been known for having a quick trigger finger for employees who don’t meet his standards." Readers can rest assured that qute a few of the people who bother to "observe" Wenner don't hang out at the "right-wing outposts" Bruenig criticizes.

[5] — It is quite a feat to leave those you have genuinely harmed out of your apology. This is a failure of basic human decency that has nothing to do with "left" and "right." Note that Bruenig didn't specifically name the fraternity involved. It's Phi Kappa Psi.

[6] — Now we're getting to the core of the problem. To the left, everything is about politics.

[7] — The "polarization" in "rape journalism" isn't, or shouldn't be, "political" at all, because at bottom it's between those who want to deal with and report verifiable truth and those who want to throw anything and everything against the wall until they accomplish their feminist and predominantly misandrist agendas. But, if Bruenig insists on politicizing the situation, people on the right tend to dominate the former, and people on the left virtually own the latter.

[8] — There are plenty of forms of oppression. The problem is that the left, as its policies and bromides have spectacularly and consistently failed for 100 years, has been forced to search for questionable and sometimes even fictional forms of "oppression" rather than admit to those failures.

[9] — Once again, as in Item [1], Bruenig refuses to recognize the truth, and lies about the existence of "complications" and "mitigating factors" in the two cases involved. Honest scribes on the left have acknowledged that Michael Brown did not say "Hands up, don't shoot!" There is no reasonable doubt that George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in self-defense, and that Martin's belligerence and violence led to his death.

[10] — The "phenomenon" Bruenig claims in Item [9] is that of predominantly white police killing supposedly innocent black kids. Contrary to what she claims, nobody believes that such unfortunate incidents never happen, or that even on occasion the cops are at fault. But the extent of these incidents is negligible compared to the horrific problems of black-on-white and especially black-on-black violent crime. Yet she and her colleagues have obsessed over Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, while virtually ignoring the ongoing and far worse carnage just identified.

[11] — Dishonestly leveraging an individual story or discrediting an individual or small group is straight out of the left-wing playbook. Saul Alinnsky's Rule Number 12 for radicals says it all:

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.

Erdely's hit piece was designed to polarize Phi Kappa Psi specifically and the Greek system. It went after and intimidated a spineless university president into suspending all fraternities, isolating them from sympathy. The fact that her plan — and it was a plan with a pre-planned, predetermined result — was poorly executed doesn't change the fact that it was Alinskyite through and through.

[12] — What a joke. As noted, self-professed radical Alinsky wrote the playbook, and the left has used it for decades. Some on the right are catching up tactically, but in the vast majority of instances their agenda doesn't involve making things up or throwing the truth overboard when it's inconvenient.

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig is correct about one thing: The left only cares about group results, and only grudgingly celebrates individual achievement. Properly applied, enlightened conservatism is all about fostering individual achievement within an ethical societal framework. Historically, but unfortunately for her worldview, it has led to far more desirable results.

Cross-posted at