If the great Rolling Stone campus rape hoax proved nothing else, it's that True Believers make lousy reporters. I've always found it useful to keep in mind what my brother and I call the state motto of our native New Jersey: "Oh yeah, who says?"
By now, it's clear that none of the lurid allegations in author Sabrina Rubin Erdely's account of a fraternity house assault on a histrionic University of Virginia freshman called "Jackie" stands up to skeptical analysis. Large parts of the narrative are demonstrably false.
Nothing the putative victim told her friends about the alleged encounter survives scrutiny. It's not even clear that Jackie had a date with a handsome frat boy on that fateful night. Nor that the fellow actually exists. Photos she'd shared with Virginia students interviewed by the Washington Post turned out to be social media screen grabs of a near stranger (and non-UVA student) with an ironclad alibi. Two other young men Jackie named as her betrayer have categorically denied ever dating her.
If they turned out to be lying, those boys would be in deep trouble.
Then there are Jackie's callous friends — the ones who supposedly urged her not to report being gang raped by seven men because it might result in fewer party invitations.
"It's important that people know that the way she portrayed us is not who we are," Kathryn Hendley told the Post. Dubbed "Cindy" in Rolling Stone, Hendly was characterized as a "self-declared hookup queen" by a reporter who never met her. "Why didn't you have fun with it?" the magazine quoted Cindy saying. "A bunch of hot Phi Psi guys?"
So tell me again how disbelieving Jackie's melodramatic tale of woe means that I'm disrespecting women. (I'm embarrassed that the "hot Phi Psi guys" thing failed to start my personal BS detector blinking code-red immediately.)
Almost needless to say, skeptical responses to Rolling Stone's debacle inspired the usual chorus of ideologues insisting that women never lie about rape and that only women-hating apologists for something called "rape culture" ever doubt them.
"The current frenzy to prove Jackie's story false" wrote Jessica Valenti in The Guardian "whether because the horror of a violent gang rape is too much to face or because disbelief is the misogynist status quo — will do incredible damage to all rape victims, but it is this one young woman who will suffer most."
Oh yeah? Well it says here that all human beings lie, and that sex is one of the commonest topics they lie about. No conversation that doesn't acknowledge that is worth having.
The good news is that grown-up feminists increasingly resist this kind of Dick and Jane thinking. "The idea that fully investigating or truthfully reporting on rape claims boils down to a simple 'belief' in a victim's account," writes Amanda Hess in Slate "is simplistic and offensive."
Indeed, several of Slate's DoubleX writers have been instrumental in debunking the Rolling Stone hoax.
Possibly the sanest reaction comes from that magazine's Emily Yoffee. In an astringent analysis entitled "The Campus Rape Overcorrection," she disputes the idea that there's anything resembling a rape "epidemic" on American college campuses.
Instead, there's a kind of moral panic: a witch-hunt.
At a recent White House conference, President Obama announced that "an estimated one in five women has been sexually assaulted during her college years —o ne in five."
Can anybody seriously believe it? After all, if one in five Starbucks customers got molested, the chain would go out of business.
Furthermore, with violent crime rates in the United States dropping steadily — FBI statistics show sexual assault down 60 percent nationwide since 1995 — why would campus sex offenses be rising sharply?
The answer, Yoffee shows, is that they aren't. Not really. The study used to justify the one-in-five claim employs statistical legerdemain that would put you in a federal penitentiary if did your taxes that way.
Compare the National Crime Victimization Survey, which found that "an estimated 0.8 percent of noncollege females age 18-24 ... were victims of threatened, attempted, or completed rape/sexual assault. Of the college females ... approximately 0.6 percent reported they experienced such attempted or completed crime."
Not one in five; fewer than one in 100.
Forcible rape of the kind Rolling Stone described is a serious felony deserving of substantial time in the penitentiary. It needs to be probed by real investigators, not professorial committees or gender-sensitive administrators.
Let's quit playing make-believe. If Jackie's friends had walked her a few blocks from fraternity row to the University Hospital, anybody who treated her would be obliged to report the alleged crime to police. College administrators should be mandatory reporters, too.
Yoffee also documents collegiate "Soviet-style show trials" that almost invariably punish presumptively "entitled" men for what would elsewhere amount to lovers' quarrels.
These outcomes aren't merely unjust. The damage they do to "progressive" causes almost can't be overstated.