The Entire Episode With The Rolling Stone UVA Hoax Is Sad


There’s an old saying that goes “all opinions are valid” and there’s a lot of truth to it.  In cases such as those with Jackie Coakley — the lady who brought the allegations to light — there’s not much that can be said here.

Charlottesville City Police conducted a four-month investigation and concluded nothing.  The University of Virginia rallied as it typically does with candlelight vigils, hand holding, and statements of solidarity — but ultimately did so on the bases of feelings honestly felt.  Phi Kappa Psi, the center of the media-driven maelstrom, was the victim of harassment in turn, both by the community as well as from well-intentioned folks in the “if it were true” spectrum of observers.

Yet here we are today… and the statements made against the fraternity students were not just untrue, but simply not demonstrable, as the Associated Press picked up:

Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity at the center of the article, said it plans “to pursue all available legal action against the magazine.”

“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” said Stephen Scipione, president of the school’s chapter of Phi Kappa Psi.

UVA’s Cavalier Daily — recently enmeshed in its own controversy over insensitive April Fools Day jokes — had its own observations which ring true to my own:

Where the Columbia report did not investigate, we hope we have filled in gaps as to Erdely’s presentation of our school. Coronel, Coll and Kravitz end their analysis as follows: “The responsibilities that universities have in preventing campus sexual assault — and the standards of performance they should be held to — are important matters of public interest. Rolling Stone was right to take them on. The pattern of its failure draws a map of how to do better.” This is entirely true, and we hope future endeavors do, in fact, do better — not just at fact-checking, but at presenting information in its entirety.

There sadly is the lesson.

Every day we are presented with a million little facts.  Those facts eventually aggregate, but ultimately facts — no matter how well rooted either in experience or reason — are not truth.

The truth is based on the entirety of facts, comprised of both a priori and a posteriori connections (causation and experience), that allow us to gain a fraction of understanding.  We are not gods — we cannot understand a thing to its core, but we can within the realm of certainty aggregate enough facts and analysis to arrive at conclusions.

Sometimes those conclusions are right.

Sometimes they are horribly wrong.

…and in an environment where reputations and characters are tried in the media before they are ever tried in a courtroom, there are and ought to be consequences for this.

Observers in this are met with a myriad of different feelings at this rate.  Sexual battery, sexual assault, rape, drug culture, hookup culture, underage drinking — all of these feed into problems that we as a society have demonstrated a strong desire to resolve.

Yet in the desire to resolve these problems, too often we try to personalize those feelings — whether through self-identification on one side, or through personalizing our intense revulsion at a single individual (or group).

That temptation towards a mob mentality — both at the Rolling Stone in the urge to print, the initial reaction of the University of Virginia, the reaction of the community towards the fraternity, and now the predictable repercussions of a story gone wrong — must be resisted at every impulse.  That is the duty of a free society, ladies and gentlemen.

As a student of the University, I can’t help but feel conflicted.  Clearly, something happened that profoundly affected Ms. Coakley.  We don’t know the what, we clearly don’t know the who, but her opinions and feelings and emotions and testimony bear consideration.

The further repercussions will be that future victims of sexual abuse will now look back at the now-hashtagged #UVAHoax story and feel reluctant or ashamed to stand up and stand firm.

Once upon a time, Americans enjoyed two layers of protection — laws and customs, or more accurately — manners.  Gentlemen simply would not behave this way, and there was tremendous social pressure towards ideas of chivalry, respect, and honor.  In today’s society, we have sacrificed those customs and manners at the altar of feminist theory, and while the father-knows-best mentality has subsided (by and large), the rise of “bro culture” has unfortunately taken its place.

This — in my strongly held opinion — is the problem that no one wants to discuss.

Once upon a time, you could purchase t-shirts that would read “bros before hos” — and you probably still can (no, I’m not going to provide a link).  Women were no longer appreciated for the totality of who they were, but rather for what they could provide in terms of sexual gratification.  The postmodernist trend towards objectification careened onward.  We sell the sizzle, not the steak.  We sell sex, but never the family that comes afterwards.  We androgynize society, but fail to respect men and women as they are.  We sell birth control… and pretend that children are a mother’s responsibility while father slough off theirs.  We create an industry around abortion, while we cloak it in choice.

All this we do, not in the name of feminism, but in the name of expediency.  Who are the victims?  Who pays the price?  What sort of culture does it create?

Sadly, it creates the one we are living in today, and the University of Virginia is no exception to this horrific rule.

I’m often challenged in my political beliefs by my Catholicism.  Often times, it bumps rather roughly against the political religions of the day.  Liberals seemingly cannot tolerate an ethic of human life that demands a defense of family, faith, and unwavering commitment to the basic human right to exist.  Conservatives likewise have a hard time digesting immigration reform, social justice, and an ethic of solidarity.

It is too easy to dismiss the problems both of the political religions have concocted to pursue narrow aims — especially when its your own side that requires the introspection — but it has an impact on culture, to be sure.

That grounding is also why I take such an intense and conflicted interest in this case, not only as a student of the University, but as someone who passionately believes in the dignity of the human person… every person, accused and accuser, guilty or otherwise.  The entire episode has been heartbreakingly sad to watch, especially if you have any optimism in the nature of human beings.

Perhaps we postmoderns will emerge from the haze and discover an ethic that dodges the mob mentality while urgently addressing the just claims of victims of sexual abuse (among other injustices).  Perhaps a new feminism will assert a better standard than what our mothers offered us.  Perhaps a new masculinism will arrive that tells men to start behaving as men and quit behaving as boys — as there is nothing more outwardly emasculating than a permanent adolescent.

I hope Jackie and others speak up and clearly about the problems of cultural indifference when it comes to sexual abuse and rape.  Equally, I wish Phi Kappa Psi every ounce of luck in recovering their reputation against Rolling Stone.

As for the rest of us who deeply care about this instance, let’s hope we draw the right lessons.  Culture failed, and only culture can prevent situations such as these from happening again.

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