Rolling Stone published a blistering indictment of the University of Virginia claiming that a culture of rape exists there. The story was based on the unverified claims of an anonymous women Rolling Stone calls “Jackie.” This would have been quite a story if true. But there is a little problem: the story was not true. I understand why people are outraged by the fictionalized story of a culture of sex assaults at the University of Virginia. They should be. But I don’t understand why anyone is surprised. For years conservative commentators—myself among them—have been telling anyone who would listen and a lot who wouldn’t that leftwing journalists no longer print the facts or even care about what they are. Rather, they print what they would like the facts to be. In other words, leftwing journalists such as those employed by Rolling Stone aren’t even journalists any more. They are fiction writers committed to a biased narrative who are willing to unethically pass their made-up stories off as journalism.
Even the Columbia School of Journalism—not exactly a bastion of conservative thought—was forthright in condemning Rolling Stone, and it did not stop at simply condemning the author of the article at the center of the controversy, Sabrina Rubin Erdely. According to Steve Coll, Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, “The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error…” Though accurate, the Dean is too kind. He might have added, the “culture” that needs to be investigated is not the one at the University of Virginia but the culture of biased, fictionalized reporting that seems to exist at Rolling Stone. It appears that Rolling Stone’s reporters and editors may have developed such a deep commitment to a biased narrative that they were willing to print anything that supported the narrative while ignoring anything that didn’t.
The fraternity that was singled out by Rolling Stone and accused of gang-rape is considering legal action against the magazine. Let us hope they pursue it vigorously. The types of decisions made by the author and editors at Rolling Stone in writing and publishing the “Jackie story” cannot be written off as just oversights or sloppy journalism. Rather, the decisions appear to be purposeful and consciously made in an effort to advance a biased narrative that permeates liberal journalism today. The “culture-of rape” article was never about journalism. From the outset it was about a leftwing author working for a leftwing magazine trying to advance a leftwing agenda. For the author and editors to now blame the debacle on “Jackie”—the subject of the article—or to attribute their biased reporting to sloppy fact-checking is nonsense.
The minds of the author and editors concerning the content of the story were likely made up before the first sentence was ever written, which is precisely why there was no fact-checking. They are now trying to claim that “Jackie” was so convincing they didn’t need to check the facts, but this is nothing more than lame excuse making. Rolling Stone personnel believed “Jackie” because they wanted to believe her. Her claims comported perfectly with their biased view of the world and advanced their leftwing presuppositions, so why check the facts?
What is even more disturbing than Rolling Stone getting caught with its biases showing is that this incident represents just the tip of the iceberg. Liberal journalists in print and the electronic media have long since cast aside any concern they might have once had for journalistic ethics. All liberal media outlets slant, distort, and inflate the news they report. Rolling Stone is just the latest one to get caught. For the mainstream media, reporting the news has become nothing more than an opportunity to advance a leftwing agenda through artfully worded and self-servingly edited propaganda.
Many people believe that the downward trend in readership is driving the decline in journalistic ethics. Although money and survival are always factors to be considered in these cases, they were not the culprit in the “Jackie” story. The culprit was an even more powerful and pervasive motivator: bias so strong it blinds journalists to facts, ethics, or anything else that distracts from the promotion of a narrative that comports with liberal orthodoxy. Rolling Stone got caught, but don’t think it is the only liberal media outlet that plays fast and loose with the facts. The sad fact in all of this is that leftwing media outlets will learn nothing from the Rolling Stone debacle—unless it is the obvious lesson: don’t get caught. Biased fiction will continue to be the mainstay of the mainstream media.