‘TO LET FACT CHECKING DEFINE THE NARRATIVE WOULD BE A HUGE MISTAKE’

December 8, 2014

In an … incredible Politico piece, The Cavalier Daily (University of Virginia) managing editor Julia Horowitz — in one sentence — demonstrated what is so wrong with contemporary journalism.

 

Titled “Why We Believed Jackie’s Rape Story,” Horowitz meanders through her feelings about the case, cites the ridiculous “one in five are raped during college” statistic, and then sums it all up with this shocking line:

 

“Ultimately, though, from where I sit in Charlottesville, to let fact checking define the narrative would be a huge mistake.”

 

“These events undoubtedly do occur here,” first-year Maddie Rita told me. “And while this report has clearly had factual flaws as well as rhetorical missteps, there are plenty of other fully corroborated accounts not only at this university, but at every university around the country.”

 

Only eight to nine percent of sexual assault reports are later determined false. This statistic will not change, even if Jackie does lie with the minority. One of five women will be assaulted while in college. One case, however prolific, does not change how it felt to lie in my friend’s bed and have her tell me through tears what her “first time” was really like.

 

That same friend, a few days after the article was released, publicly identified herself as a survivor for the first time. People were talking, and the issue — which too often hides in locked dorm rooms, in upstairs bedrooms and the dark corners of a fraternity basement — was finally being thrust out into the open. Survivors felt comfortable sharing their stories, and there was hope that reporting would increase.

 

With the crux of the story now wholly in doubt, this progress is threatened. Where we had the opportunity to move 20 steps forward, I fear we will be pushed 20 steps back.

 

“I’m worried that because of the inconsistencies in this story, this will challenge the precedent of believing a survivor,” said fourth-year student Gianfranco Villar, a member of all-male sexual assault peer education group 1 in 4. “This belief is vital to improving reporting rates and maintaining a survivor’s health. It is very disappointing.”

 

It is no accident that the article came out, and it became apparent almost immediately that there were very tangible things we needed to discuss.

 

Yes, the story was sensational. But even the most sensational story, it seems, can contain frightening elements of truth.

 

Well, sure, a lot of stories contain elements of truth. But that doesn’t make the stories true. That this has to be said to a major college newspaper’s assistant managing editor is, well, frightening.

 

It doesn’t bode very well at all for the future of a profession which is already awash with people who think like Ms. Horowitz.

 

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