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Monday, April 6, 2015

The UVA non-rape rape

It has been many months since Rolling Stone first published its lengthy article about a purported gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia three years ago.  When the article appeared, there was a huge outcry across the nation.  The University of Virginia's president reacted to the outrage by suspending all fraternities and sororities on campus.  That action was taken without any hearing, without any opportunity for the fraternity supposedly involved to present its side of the story and without even considering that half of the undergraduates at the university had not even been attending U VA at the time of the alleged incident.  The members of the fraternity at which the alleged gang rape took place were particularly hard hit.

Shortly after the story first appeared, it began to unravel.  Details in the story turned out to be incorrect.  Rolling Stone defended the story nevertheless.  By a month after the story was published, however, it was commonly known that it was false in major areas.  For example, the fraternity party at which the gang rape took place never even happened.  The supposed boyfriend of the purported victim who was said to be a member of that fraternity also turned out to be fictional.  Of course, the University president did not lift her suspension of the fraternities and sororities during the first semester.  Just because the story was phony was no reason for the president of U VA to be reasonable.

Now we've gotten to the point where Rolling Stone has retracted the story.  The Columbia School of Journalism (are they affiliated with the Columbia School of Broadcasting that use to advertise on matchbooks?) issued a report that detailed the flaws in the story and castigates Rolling Stone for not following the most basic requirements of journalism.  The Charlottesville police have also announced that there is no proof that any rape ever took place.

But, guess what!  That fraternity that had its name dragged through the mud will always be the one where the gang rape took place.  (Even if it never happened.)  Those students who were libeled are going to face questions for a long time about what really happened at the fraternity.  The combination of the phony Rolling Stone story and the actions of the UVA president to punish all members of the Greek system without even stopping to consider actual evidence have combined to put these students and the entire University in a very bad light.

I hope that the fraternity files suit for damages against Rolling Stone, the woman whose false claim gave rise to this mess, the author who wrote the story without even bothering to check facts, the editor who obviously did not care if the story was true and the president of the University of Virginia who imposed punishment in a bizarre manner more akin to the Secret Police in some dictatorship than the president of a public university.  If I were on the jury, I think that the Rolling Stone group of defendants ought to pay about $1 million apiece to each member of the fraternity and the university president and UVA itself ought to refund all of the tuition that these guys paid to be there.  But, of course, that's just wishful thinking on my part. 

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