Just like we live in a racist culture, we also live in a rape culture. Or so everyone loves telling me. The media loves race and rape stories. There’s no getting around that. But Rolling Stone may have allowed a good story to get in the way of the truth. And they might be paying the price for it:
A fraternity at the University of Virginia announced Monday that it will “pursue all available legal action” against Rolling Stone, saying a Columbia Journalism School review shows the magazine acted recklessly and defamed its members by publishing an article that falsely accused them of gang rape.
“The Rolling Stone article viewed by millions fueled a court of public opinion that ostracized Phi Kappa Psi members and led to vandalism of the fraternity house,” the fraternity’s statement said.
There are multiple reasons the Rolling Stones article was unhelpful, if not destructive, aside from the obvious defamation against the fraternity. First, the false story undercut the plight of real victims of rape. Second, it continued to contribute to the misguided idea that rape is a ubiquitous reality. Third, it increases the chances that spiteful or attention-hungry false accusers will try to cash in on their “fabulist” stories in the future. Among other things, I’m sure.
But I do applaud the fact that Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana actually called for the review of the article and promptly retracted it. But a lot of damage has already been done.
Perhaps the most damning part of this whole narrative is how magazines and newspapers develop stories nowadays. People want to hear terrible, sensational stories. And “real news” doesn’t really sell. So if you get a great lead promising a delectably clickable headline, you probably won’t be able to resist, even if every honest particle of journalistic training militates against publication.
But when you ask the question, “Who is responsible for the sensationalism and triviality of news today?” you might want to question your own clicking practices. In our modern age, the reader determines the content more than the writer.