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Jury finds Rolling Stone responsible for defamation with gang rape story (washingtonpost.com)
239 points by gist on Nov 4, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments



Excellent. You can't just make things up for the sake of "starting a conversation". Either you report the truth or you're just a propaganda piece. I'm sure there is hundreds of real rape on campus stories out there (unfortunately). The Rolling Stone was fed with the lies they wanted to ear. They knew it was bullshit, they went ahead and publish that crap just "to start a conversation" ... hurting real rape victims at the same time.


> I'm sure there is hundreds of real rape on campus stories out there (unfortunately).

Why do you think they did not go with a real one? What lies they wanted to hear?


Real world examples tend not to fit narratives perfectly.

Perhaps in many cases they involve non-students, or are off-campus, or don't sound as horrific (even if they are), or they are investigated seriously already (without help from a journalist), or the perpetrator or victim might reinforce a stereotype that the journalist doesn't want to contribute to.

It doesn't mean the stories are less bad, or that there isn't a problem, just that the journalist has nothing to gain by writing about them. And some might actually contradict the politically-correct solutions being proposed.


Can you give some examples for these non-fitting cases? It would be interesting to hear as a non-US citizen since this debate seems so cryptic to me.


The ideal narrative for this sort of thing is that it be committed against some respectable person who wasn't involved in any risky behavior, and that it be perpetrated by some wealthy or privileged person who then sees no consequences. Because if that happens (and that's pretty much what the story laid forth as its narrative), then it's an issue we all need to be terrified by and indignant about. If, on the other hand, the person was drunk out of their mind and targeted while walking alone: well that's something I can avoid by not engaging in risky behavior, so I can more easily move on with my life.

There's a similar line of thinking in public vs. private schools, where some proponents of public schools want all private schools banned because, without those escape routes, those with means would put their resources toward fixing the public schools rather than running from the problem.

For what it's worth, UVA isn't exactly great at this stuff (I grew up in the area and my wife is a grad), but the article was more than a bit unfair (even before it was revealed that the entire thing was a fabrication.)


There is nothing in the world we all need to be terrified about. You might need to stop reading huffpo


Do you think I didn't answer parent's question? I thought I had, but if you disagree, you should address that more directly. As to the agenda you think I'm pushing: I'm sorry I didn't adequately allude to my sarcasm. I guess I just thought it was too hyperbolic to be taken any other way.


Sarcasm is an ambiguous tool in text. I admit to an extreme current sensitivity to being told to be terrified by normal occurrences. My apologies.


It's a shame you're being downvoted, because this is totally a legitimate question (why do the least credible stories gain the most attention).

This is a great analysis of the incentives which lead to that being the case (and it's a bit more complex than made-up stories simply being more interesting than real ones): http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/12/17/the-toxoplasma-of-rage/


why do the least credible stories gain the most attention

Is this so obviously true that it can be stated as a bare fact like that?

I would think the very least credible stories get essentially zero attention, but then I always trip over it when people use a straightforward categorical statement as a way of emphasizing a weaker point.


To summarize SSC: If Republicans agree with you, it doesn't do anything to prove your SJW bonafides. Your dad probably thought the killing of Eric Garner was awful, yawn. But defending Trayvon, now that's a "fuck you".


Thanks for posting that link, it's one of the more thought out musings on controversy, divisiveness, and stubbornness I have read for a while. A good thoughtful read.


Reality is rarely as lurid as the Rolling Stone short story was.


I dunno -- look at eg Penn State football, where other coaches were aware as early as the late 80s that Sandusky was raping kids. Horrific. Sometimes people really are that craven.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/colleges/new-court-doc...


It's harder to spin that into a story about all of your daughters in all of the fraternities.


If I had to guess? Laziness mostly, and picking the most interesting story with accuracy being an afterthought.


I don't think "laziness" is a very good explanation here. The story was so obviously fake that the "journalist" in question actually had to do quite a bit of work to compose this story.

Reporting a real, actual case, completely and honestly, wouldn't have been more work.

But it wouldn't have hit so perfectly the narrative that was the selling point.


I recall seeing somewhere that Erdely received credible reports of sexual harrassment at schools like Yale, and rejected the stories as not being juicy enough.

Calling her a journalist disgraces the entire profession (which hasn't exactly been covering itself in glory lately).


[flagged]


How does DNA prove a sexual encounter is rape vs consensual?


I've not seen any convincing evidence that there is more rape on U.S. campuses than in surrounding society. I suspect this is why Sabrina had a hard time finding a juicy rape to capitalize on.

She began with the conclusion, and fabricated observations to fit it. This means the "conversation" is exactly as ridiculous as the false pretenses guiding it.

The whole idea of "campus rape" seems to be based on (small) surveys conducted with broad definitions of "rape" which most people would not accept. Definitions often include consensual sex which the respondent regretted after the fact, and drunk sex with forgotten/unknown consent.


You can make things up for the sake of starting a conversation.

But when you do so, you clearly label it as fiction.


> the lies they wanted to ear

We don't actually know if they were lies. Certainly they weren't vetted as facts sufficiently for basic journalistic standards. And they probably wouldn't hold up in court. But that doesn't mean they are lies. Lots of truths wouldn't hold up in court, or be printable in a publication of repute.


The female student who was the focus of the article ("Jackie") spun a very specific story that involved specific acts, places, people, and times. We now know that, to a first approximation, everything she said was an outright lie. There were other stories she could have told about different people, places, times, and events that would have been true, and it's possible one of the versions of the story she told other people was true or mostly true. It's entirely possible that Jackie was, in fact, raped. But the specific story Jackie told Erdely was not true, and the specific rape Erdely wrote about did not occur.

We know this due to the excellent investigative reporting of the Washington Post and others, to the damning report made by the CJR, and now to to this jury verdict which determined that the story was untrue, that Rolling Stone knew (or should have known) that it was untrue, and that Rolling Stone acted with reckless disregard for the truth in publishing the story.

> Lots of truths wouldn't hold up in court, or be printable in a publication of repute.

That's true, but not relevant. Merely publishing something you think is true but couldn't prove in a court of law doesn't put you at risk of losing a libel suit.


I've read The Washington Post articles carefully multiple times and they never say the rapes didn't happen. They say things like "Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt". They point out inconsistencies in her story. But they never come to the conclusion you did: that there was no rape and the story was entirely fabricated.

In fact the editor says the opposite:

“We told her we wouldn’t name her, in large part because we thought she was a sex-assault victim at that time and we don’t name victims of sexual assault without their permission,” said Mike Semel, The Post’s Metro editor. “That agreement for anonymity needs to be considered until we are absolutely certain that there was no assault at all.”

In the OP for this thread, the WaPo only says "aspects of Jackie’s account were not true". I have yet to see a single piece of evidence presented by anyone that no rape occurred.

As for the jury verdict this week, they only ruled that Rolling Stone knowingly omitted facts that would've painted the administration in a better light. They did not rule on the facts of the rape at all.

You are doing the same thing the Rolling Stone writers did: presenting something as fact when the evidence is contradictory.


I believe you are being willfully blind here. Your quote from Mike Semel comes from a Washington Post story headlined:

"Jackie’s rape story was false. So why hasn’t the media named her by now?"

You're actually trying to use a story headlined that the "rape story was false" to argue that the same newspaper hasn't actually concluded that the story was false?

A quote from the same story: "Her story has been shown repeatedly to be false, both through news reporting and an extensive police investigation."

> But they never come to the conclusion you did: that there was no rape and the story was entirely fabricated.

...really?


Ah, in a lengthier response that I deleted I addressed that headline. That story is basically an opinion piece in the Style section. It's not a piece of investigative journalism. There are no new facts reported in it.

And yes, I am dead serious that there is no evidence that the story was entirely fabricated. There is evidence details were fabricated. You take that as evidence that the story was fabricated in its entirity, but the quoted editor does not and I do not.

I don't understand why you find it so hard to entertain the possibility that a pathological liar might be raped and then exaggerate the details of the story to gain sympathy.

Why do you see that as an impossibility?

I acknowledge it as a possibility, I acknowledge the possibility that she was not raped at all and made up the story from whole cloth, and I acknowledge that we don't know which really happened. Just as the quoted editor did.


How can anyone "prove that no rape occurred"? It's impossible to prove a negative. All we can do is notice that no rape seems to have happened at that fraternity, none of the alleged victim's statements can be backed up with evidence or testimony, and that the claimed rapist does not exist, and make a judgement call from there.


> How can anyone "prove that no rape occurred"? It's impossible to prove a negative.

You find evidence that contradicts the story in its entirity. For example, if she claimed to have been raped on a night that there was evidence she was in a different country, that would be proof.

> No rape seems to have happened

You have no strong evidence that suggests that no rape happened. There's also no strong evidence that a rape did happen. Somehow out of that, you believe a rape didn't happen, which is illogical and cruel.


> You have no strong evidence that suggests that no rape happened.

The alleged rapist not existing isn't strong evidence suggesting that it didn't happen?

> There's also no strong evidence that a rape did happen. Somehow out of that, you believe a rape didn't happen,

Wait, what? Even if there's no strong evidence that a rape did happen I should just believe it happened anyway? That's a fascinating approach. What other things should I believe even if there's no strong evidence for them? For example, what if somebody claimed you committed assault, but there was no evidence?

> which is illogical and cruel.

I suspect you wouldn't be resorting to crude appeals to emotion and playing to the cheap seats with rhetoric if you had a real argument to make here.


> The alleged rapist not existing isn't strong evidence suggesting that it didn't happen?

No, that's evidence that if there was an assailant, she doesn't know him.

> Even if there's no strong evidence that a rape did happen I should just believe it happened anyway?

You misunderstand my position. I am just asserting that we don't know whether a rape happened. I do not believe it happened, nor do I believe that it didn't. I am certain that I cannot know.

>> illogical and cruel

> I suspect you wouldn't be resorting to crude appeals to emotion and playing to the cheap seats with rhetoric if you had a real argument to make here.

What? I am doing nothing of the sort. I am making very specific claims: 1) that based on principles of logic, you can't infer from the evidence that no rape occurred, and 2) to do so is cruel to the alleged victim, who may just be a rape victim who lied about the details.

There's nothing emotional or cheap about that argument. You can disagree with me on the facts or the analysis, but at least engage what I'm saying in good faith. I'm extending you that courtesy.


My understanding is that in the US, it is not really possible to prove that a person doesn't exist. People move from state to state, they change names.

It's different in European welfare states which are big brother societies: you can actually get a reliable census by saying things like "select count(id) from population where alive is true;"

But this is different from proving a certain name didn't appear among the students of a particular university/class, etc; we do know the Rolling Stone story was a hoax.


No, they were lies to the point where named people supposedly involved ("Haven Monahan") don't exist. It was a hoax.

Sabrina Erdeley has herself written that she went out looking for a particular story. This is among the reasons why she is liable. In the US the standard for that is much, much higher than just failing to hold up in court. It takes actual malice.


"Actual malice" is the high bar required for lawsuits made by "public figures" after NYT v. Sullivan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._Sullivan), which the Dean was inexplicitly declared to be by the trial judge. Which make the resulting verdict all the more impressive.


Just because she gave a wrong name, you can't deduce that the entirety of her story is false. That doesn't follow logically. It can be littered with inconsistencies, that doesn't prove the absence of a rape.

She could be (and probably is) a pathological liar. That doesn't mean she is incapable of being raped. It only means her accounts shouldn't be published and she's not a reliable criminal witness.


No, the story is false because it consists of fictional events. Nothing in it adds up: not the people (Haven Monahan, the frat), not the timeline. The events (sex on broken glass) are prima facie unbelievable.

It was torn to pieces by WaPo, CJR, and the Charlottesville police. There is no doubt that it was a hoax. If she has ever been raped, it was a completely different event from the one described by the Rolling Stone.

On the other hand, I don't think that Jackie is a pathological liar. She tried to catfish a guy[1] and get a little sympathy from college admins. She started off like a fairly reasonable liar (for a teenager) and got caught up in the whole thing. She's definitely at fault but much less than the Rolling Stone which went on a rampage defaming people left and right and instigating a mob[2].

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/grade-point/wp/2016/01/0...

[2] http://www.nbc29.com/story/27439468/uva-fraternity-house-van...


Why does the presence of fictional events mean that there are zero factual events? Couldn't it be a mixture of both?


The comments to [2] are quite sad.


This has been an interesting for professional journalists (I mean, aside from all the reasons that it is interesting to anyone) for testing the "actual malice" requirement needed for a (limited-) public figure like this Dean to prove defamation, which is that Rolling Stone acted with "actual malice", i.e. a reckless disregard for the truth:

http://www.cjr.org/investigation/rolling_stone_investigation...

Despite the main part of the story being based on someone's lie, RS could theoretically prove that they weren't being "reckless", given all the resources they poured into this story, including 80 hours of fact-checking work [1] -- being reckless is different than being incompetent/stupid. But reading the Columbia Journalism Review's investigation [2]:

> The checker did try to improve the story’s reporting and attribution of quotations concerning the three friends. She marked on a draft that Ryan - “Randall” under pseudonym - had not been interviewed, and that his “shit show” quote had originated with Jackie. “Put this on Jackie?” the checker wrote. “Any way we can confirm with him?” She said she talked about this problem of clarity with Woods and Erdely. “I pushed. … They came to the conclusion that they were comfortable” with not making it clear to readers that they had never contacted Ryan.

-- then what is? The RS reporter claims to have "exhausted all the avenues for finding the friends" and yet soon after the story was published, the Washington Post managed to find all 3 friends, who weren't at all unwilling to talk to the paper. Had RS talked to the friends, RS would have almost immediately realized that they would have to do additional reporting. The U.S. law protecting media from libel suits against public figures is very strong, but I can definitely see how a jury would decide against RS.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/rolling-stone...

[2] http://www.cjr.org/investigation/rolling_stone_investigation...


Apparently people are looking into Sabrina Ruben-Erdely's history and it resembles Stephen Glass[0] with a sex-crime angle. Poorly researched articles and lazy fact checking built her a career where RS was paying her $43,000 a story for 3-4 pieces a year that she made up herself and fed to her 'sources' to repeat back to her.

[0]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Glass


Is $43k per story a normal salary for journalists in the US? If so, journalism is a more lucrative even today than I had imagined.


Journalism is one of the worst-compensated jobs there is, relative to the level of education and time investment required.

Shilling pre-planned story angles for sugar daddies, on the other hand, pays quite well.


no. it isn't.

this isn't journalism, as proven in court. she was a paid propagandist, that's something entirely different. it's more akin to being a political operative.


The $43K number comes out of the revelation in court documents that her contract with RS was $300K for 2 years, for 7 stories: http://dailycaller.com/2016/10/21/rolling-stone-paid-reporte...

That's a good salary that most journalists would dream to reach, but keep in mind a few things:

1. It's still freelance work, which means that she's not getting paid health benefits.

2. She's been writing at least 20 years now and she, up to that point, was highly decorated.

3. She's based in New York.

4. Those stories are meant to have huge impact and seen by millions. The UVA story, if she hadn't botched it, would have the potential to cause systemic change.

As a point of comparison, I did a lookup for "writer" in California public salaries:

http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?q=writer

Top writing jobs (mostly technical) are reaping $110K+ before benefits:

http://transparentcalifornia.com/salaries/search/?q=Epic%20R...

Moreover, they can retire at age 55 with a pension that puts them well above middle class:

http://transparentcalifornia.com/pensions/search/?q=writer

As another point of comparison, the executive editor of the NYTimes starts at around $500K: http://www.politico.com/blogs/media/2014/05/report-abramson-...

That's a ton of money for journalism. But you'd laugh if you heard that that's what the CEOs of Google or Microsoft made.

Here's some salaries of top people at NPR and TAL:

http://www.andymboyle.com/2013/07/21/an-updated-look-at-ira-...

Ira Glass had a base salary of $148K in 2010. Rob Siegel had a base salary of $320K.


> The UVA story, if she hadn't botched it, would have the potential to cause systemic change.

That sounds scary. If the manufacturing of a story would have been more competent, it would have caused systemic change.

Well, I guess that is what happens.


>That's a ton of money for journalism. But you'd laugh if you heard that that's what the CEOs of Google or Microsoft made.

Wouldnt the correct comparison be to the CEO/president of the New York times?


Yeah you're right. Mark Thompson is the president and CEO of the Times and makes $8.7M off a base salary in $1M (the rest is stock options and other compensation): http://wwd.com/business-news/media/the-new-york-times-reveal...

Executive editors are often at the "senior vice president" level, below the CEO and Publisher, and peers with execs who run the ad side. So I guess the NYT's exec editor is equivalent to Google's senior VPs of search, which has included John Giannandrea, Amit Singhal, and Marissa Meyer.


Source on Ruben-Erdely history?


When the UVA rape story unravelled, there was heightened scrutiny of Erdely's other work. I remember that a 2011 story of hers got particular notice:

This 2011 story, "The Catholic Church's Secret Sex-Crime Files", was also published in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-catholic-church...

A Newsweek writer, who apparently covered this altar boy case as a reporter in Philadelphia, wrote this critique a few weeks after the UVa story collapsed:

http://www.newsweek.com/another-rolling-stone-rape-article-h...

> Erdely’s problems with the Billy Doe story began when she accepted as gospel, as did other reporters, a 2011 Philadelphia grand jury report that claimed Billy was raped as a 10-year-old altar boy by two priests, who passed him around like a piñata, and then a year later, by his sixth-grade homeroom teacher at his parish school. The Philadelphia district attorney, Seth Williams, also ran with Billy’s story without doing any investigating.

Not sure if Newsweek's allegations ever amounted to any action -- by this time in late 2014, RS and Erdely were so up shit creek with the UVa story that there wasn't much interest in how she might have screwed up in the past.

But Newsweek did write a lengthy follow-up about the altar boy case in 2016, continuing to argue the case that the alleged victim lied: http://www.newsweek.com/2016/01/29/billy-doe-altar-boy-sends...

To be clear, Erdely's 2011 Rolling Stone story was not what sent the defendants to jail. Her story was based off of a grand jury report. The story was published before the men went to trial, but it's not as if her story launched the trial. So the Newsweek 2016 followup only mentions her in passing, as the real purported problem is with the district attorney. Erdely is just faulted for not being very good at scrutinizing the prosecution.


Thanks for this analysis!


All the people involved with this story (reporter, editors and the lying "victim") should face criminal charges. The damage that making and promulgating false stories like this does to real victims of rape is immense, let alone to the people falsely accused.


For each party, what specific crime? Did Jackie ever file a police report?

There is still a pending civil lawsuit from the fraternity. That one will probably settle soon now that this one has been resolved.


Criminal defamation. Unfortunatly, this is only on the books in 17 states, but Virginia is one of those states [1].

1. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_defamation_law


Jackie is more guilty that Rolling Stone. She created a false story, made false allegations, and threw an administrator under the bus. The allegations she made would have been very serious had they been true. As it stands, the fact that she made FALSE allegations is the serious matter. Yet she will be walking away with no consequences.


I'm not from the US and don't know how the law there works exactly, but over here, if a person fabricates a libelous story and feeds it to a journalist - however much encouraged by that journalist - and this is published, then the person, the journalist and the publisher are all guilty of libel.

For other parties, at least the mob that trashed fraternity building should be prosecuted.

Of course one very real victim here is people who actually have been raped or assaulted at campuses. Their stories will now be harder to believe.


Yes, they are clearly all guilty of defamation, but the question is whether the defamation is a crime or a tort.

Nitpick: "libel" is defamation in writing and "slander" is verbal defamation. So perhaps guess Jackie was guilty of slander while RS is guilty of libel.


I'm not so convinced.

It's profoundly easy to be fooled by someone who's bent on fooling you. We know that "Jackie" from the story was misleading both Rolling Stone and its reporter Sabrina Ruben-Erdely.

I can see a strong case for negligence claims against RS and Ruben-Erdly. Both should have pursued fact-checking and cross-referencing single-source claims, especially when made against other people and institutions. And that's pretty much what the court here has found.

I would strongly support criminal claims against "Jackie". -Erdely. Both sh


I agree the hardest people to prosecute here are the editors, but they should have insisted that the story was fact checked to a much great extent. This is not a story where you can be flippant about minor details like facts.


Again: neglegence, yes. Malicious intent strikes me as much harder to demonstrate.

I'm going to point to the elephant in the room as well: there's a lot of politicking and posing on both sides of the issue of women, women's rights, rape and abuse culture, and the rest. There's a lot of wrong on both sides, including brigading, thin (or absent) logic, false claims, and the rest.

Rape is bad, abuse is bad. Human relations are complex, though, and there's a tremendous amount at stake. Thinking you're doing good and discovering you're not happens, again, on both sides.


I agree rape is an incredibly emotional topic and sometimes bad things happen as a consequence of good intentions, but in this particular case Rolling Stone were found guilty of malicious intent in their reporting.

This is not a simple case of "shit happens". We need to ensure that cases like this don't occur in the future by holding everyone involved to account to the fullest extent the law allows. The victims of rape deserve nothing less.


Beyond feelings about the verdict itself, it is interesting that a single lapse in journalistic integrity has the potential to put a major news organization like Rolling Stone out of business. There are massive incentives to publish sensational articles, but as this case and the Gawker case have shown, there are also massive incentives to not publish specific details. The BuzzFeed model (which is perhaps shared by social media at large) is to simply provide a platform, and let other people stir the pot. I hope that doesn't become the only way to circulate ideas.


FWIW I come to HN for the comments, not really for the articles. I think maybe half of us use HN this way.

This is to say that the platform approach has the advantage of allowing actually informed/skeptical/intelligent people to do the talking. They can discuss subjects they know, at their own pace. Contrast with traditional journalism, where even when things go right you're still dealing with someone who's reporting on things outside their profession, probably on a deadline, and beset by an industry (public relations) basically devoted to deceiving them.

This is to say I'm actually fairly sure the platform approach, at least from first principals, beats the traditional approach in terms of quality.

(On a side note, I just had an awful thought: are there PR people reaching out to the top HN authors?)


Worse thought for you: top HN authors are paid PR people.


Do you have any evidence for this outrageously false claim?

I know several of the top commenters [0] and know they are absolutely not paid PR people.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/leaders


how do you define paid? out of the top, say, 100 commenters, how many are affiliated with YC in some way? startups in some way? startups discussed on YC in some way?

this entire site (hacker news) is a PR platform for Y combinator, its startups, and the industry in general (as a special interest group). did you think it was a charity? there's nothing wrong with it but let's be real here, people.


Referencing 0 but not including it in your post doesn't hell your argument


I'm going to thank you for providing a "polite" reminder to fix my accidental omission.


Okay...I'll wait for your thanks...


I've seen this a lot on the internet, especially on Reddit. And, I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Native advertising is everywhere now-a-days. But, people are always vague on details, which makes me somewhat skeptical.

I'd be interested to hear more information on how this works. Like, what U.S. companies are doing this (either PR companies doing the posting or their clients)? How much are they paying, and what kind of outcomes do they like to see? Like, how do they measure success? Does it work? etc.


See https://reddit.com/r/hailcorporate

Spottings of planted / submarine / astroturf pieces.


Ooh, thanks for the reminder about this subreddit. I've actually been there before and remember it being quite funny. Lots of examples of subtle (and not so subtle) product placement.


I can't speak for top HN authors, but that recent post about Pornhub bypassing ad blockers with websockets had me intrigued. So many comments were fawning over the porn industry — how fun it is to be a developer of porn sites and how innovative the industry is.


I just think people wanted to be edgy and support porn tech because it's somewhat taboo. That said pornhub.com has a fantastic PR approach on sited like Reddit and Imgur, as well as good marketing in general (IMO) so it wouldn't surprise me either..


Citation required.


> (On a side note, I just had an awful thought: are there PR people reaching out to the top HN authors?)

That definitely happens on other social new/media. I'm not sure why HN would be any different?


> This is to say that the platform approach has the advantage of allowing actually informed/skeptical/intelligent people to do the talking. They can discuss subjects they know, at their own pace. Contrast with traditional journalism, where even when things go right you're still dealing with someone who's reporting on things outside their profession, probably on a deadline, and beset by an industry (public relations) basically devoted to deceiving them.

I agree with this. At least with site comments you get to read a variety of viewpoints and viewpoints are actively criticised so if some facts or perspectives are dubious it's usually really obvious. This isn't true when you stick to one news article which is sometimes nothing better than a long-form comment if it's poor journalism anyway. There is the hive mind aspect with commenting communities which is bad but you get similar group think on news sites and you have to engage your critical thinking skills at some point.


It's not clear to Rolling Stone is in such jeopardy, they didn't, for example, exhibit contempt for the judicial process from beginning to end, they, I assume, have real libel insurance and are cooperating with their insurance company (although I wonder how policies are written to deal with actual malice findings). They're going to take a big hit here, and the fraternity lawsuit is likely to be much uglier, but as of yet it doesn't seem to be an existential threat.

Gawker and it's empire, though, were an outlier, for example making a business model such as it was out of "actual malice", it was only a matter of time until they were brought down.

And taking a step back, I think it's vital that our system has effective feedback like court cases such as this, especially in the post-New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Times_Co._v._Sullivan) era where the bar has been set so high for "public figures" that, all things considered, libel and slander law is non-operative for pretty much everyone but scientists (who are't public figures and who's reputation is vital for their careers, such suits don't make sense and therefore are seldom pursued without serious damages being on the line).


with this level of dereliction of journalistic integrity they should suffer greatly. they were looking to bring down a public University if not more.

When you put it all on the table you damn well need to be sure on the bet you are taking


This probably isn't nearly enough to put Rolling Stone out of business, and as I understand it merely failing to follow basic journalistic practices because the story matched up with what they want to believe wouldn't have been enough to get a defamation ruling against them. They're only in legal trouble because they repeated the false claims after concluding they were false.


But this is also the reason I am more inclined to trust major news organizations compared to Buzz Feed or other social media


The story I read from this is that:

1. It's very easy to be fooled by someone who is bent on fooling you, especially where they've got strong motive to do so.

2. It's very easy to fool yourself when you decide on a narrative and start looking for facts to support it.

I've long maintained, and I'm finding some good sources (skeptics-based work) that it's only in specifically seeking to uncover truth that you will do so. If you instead presume some previously-determined proposition, you're simply going to make a case for that argument. Most insidious is when you don't realise you're pursuing the second avenue. As Richard Feynman said, you're the easiest person to fool.

Susan Haack, in "Science, Scientism, & Anti-Science in the Age of Preposterism", Skeptical Inquirer Nov/Dec 1997 wrote:

A genuine inquirer aims to find out the truth of some question, whatever the color of that truth. This is a taugology (Websters: "inquiry: search for truth..."). A pseudo-inquirer seeks to make a case for some proposition(s) determined in advance.

Question your evidence, question your sources, question yourself, question your premises and propositions. Question them again. And then have someone else do the same, independently.

To draw another recent online element to this -- a week or so back a video clip circulated of the South African university student "fallist" movement claiming that science was a western imposition, and that it needed to be "decolonised". First, that neglects the long history of non-western science -- from the Middle East, Africa, Persia, India, and China. Second, it is contradicted by the motto of the Royal Society, from which the modern tradition of scientific inquiry did arise: "Nullius in verba" -- "On the word of no one". That is, science -- knowledge -- doesn't arise on the authority of any one person's voice, but on the fundamental testability and verifiability of facts.

A lesson Rolling Stone and Ms. Ruben-Erdely might take to heart.


> That is, science -- knowledge -- doesn't arise on the authority of any one person's voice, but on the fundamental testability and verifiability of facts.

This is what I call "real science". I call it so because it can only be found in books and movies. /sarc

In reality, we are told that "the science is settled" and "the consensus is that...".


There are definitely misuses of science, and a cult of scientism.

I've run across a few references in the past few days which inform on this. Bruce G. Charlton has written a number of works, most available online (or at least substantially), including Thought Prison, Not Even Trying, addicted to Dsiruption, and The Genius Famine.

Susan Haack, mentioned.

A fellow named Chris Reev has a G+ collection in which he's been posting similar items. Occasionally lost in the haze, but there's some exceptionally good critical work.

I'm also working my way slowly through Sara M. Watson's impressive, and quite possibly excellent, "Toward a Constructive Technology Criticism". Quite long-form (30k words), I've submitted this to HN though without traction.

http://www.cjr.org/tow_center_reports/constructive_technolog...

Still another element comes by way of Jill Gordon's 1997 "John Stuart Mill and 'The Marketplace of Ideas'", which takes a close look at the origin of that particular metaphor. Gordon pointedly notes that the term itself isn't Mill's, and that he applies a number of specific conditions to what minority views do and don't deserve cosideration. In particular, that they are open questions (not settled fact), that they come from the minority, not some well-endowed establishment voice, that the questions are current -- no re-opening closed wounds of the past, at least not without considerable evidence -- that they represent "neglected interests" and that the side so considered be "in danger of obtaining less than its share".

Many appeals to the "marketplace of ideas" argument fail numerous of these tests.

There are further problems, including:

A lack of good faith on the part of those introducting concepts. A motivated message can do considerable harm to greater understanding.

The exchange and interplay of ideas is not analagous to exchanges-in-goods-or-services, particularly in that there's no rivalrous transfer and compensation. That market metaphor is quite weak when examined closely.

Or, in short: there are in fact times that the science is settled and consensus exists. The exceptions almost always prove to highlight failings already listed above: Piltdown man (a manifest and motivated fraud). The corporate-and-fincially-motivated disinformation campaigns on negative effects of lead, asbestos, tobacco, pollution generally, CFCs, and CO2/global warming. Continental drift and plate tectonics was a case in which a considerable revision of geological understanding came together from multiple elements of compelling evidence. Some initial resistance to the idea was a valid conservative response, but with increasing and strongly-corroborating evidence and mechanisms, the theory was accepted. Keep in mind that this required energy and causal factors (radioactive decay and an understanding of the Earth's structure and formation) as well as much evidence of previous continental arrangement: similar landforms, fossil records showing prehistoric animal and plant ranges explained by different landmass arrangements, creep and strain measurements showing actual movements, base in part on satellite and Moon-based position measurement, magnetic field reversals evident in mid-Atlantic ridge core samples, undersea topography, radioactive dating, etc., etc., etc.

During the same period in which plate tectonics went from initial proposal to settled fact, the recognised age of the Earth itself increased from a few tens of millions of years to 4.5 billion. That's hugely significant in our understanding of numerous of Earth's processes, and humans' roles, impacts, and dependencies upon them.

The question of "real" science rapidly gets to "no true Scottsman" territory. I think though that there's a strong case to be made without relying on sophistry and tautology.


I wrote something on this a while back; basically how people will often shield themselves behind the proclamation of, "but science!" while not realizing many discoveries have come about by doubting commonly established axioms:

http://khanism.org/science/doubt/


Good. Yet another reason we have a flood of cable cutters and record level distrust in media.

Shame that the same journalists that played the same game with Iraq, and are doing so with Syria and Russia aren't facing the same. Something to be said about the bigger lie.


In my dealings with journalists for some larger magazines and TV stations, all of them had a story already in their head, I just needed to supply the sound bites. Were they interested in the real story? No.


Between this story and the loving portrayal of terrorist child-murderer Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, I've lost all respect for Rolling Stone.

Luckily for them, they haven't pissed off Peter Thiel yet.


Is a ten-member jury a normal size for this kind of case?


Yes. Standard size of a jury in a civil case in Federal court is 8-10 jurors, depending on how long the trial is scheduled to last. They used to seat 2 people as alternate jurors but later got rid of alternates in Federal court, so now you just seat enough people that you can afford to lose a couple over the duration of a long trial and still have at least 6 remaining. Otherwise, civil juries can be as few as 6 jurors or as many as 12 + however many alternates. A rough rule of thumb would be something like minimum number of jurors required + 1 juror for each week of trial.

Criminal juries are always 12 jurors.

(I'm a jury consultant)


Yes. It depends on the state and the type of case. Since this was a civil trial a 10 person jury is correct.


Given that this was a Federal case, the jury size would not depend upon the state, nor would it depend upon the type of case insofar as we're talking about civil cases. Except where defined by statute, the size of a state court jury in a civil case is decided entirely by agreement between the judge and the parties.


For those who can't use the "web" workaround to see the submitted wsj.com article, here's the WaPo version (and FWIW, the WaPo deserves huge credit for being the first big media outlet to scrutinize the Rolling Stone article -- they even found the 3 friends of the purported victim that the Rolling Stone didn't even bother to identify or contact):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/jury-finds-re...


By the way, the easy workaround for WaPo article restrictions is to open them in an anonymous window. Occasional visitors can just click directly since you get a small quota of free articles per time period, I don't remember the details though.

By the way, a German newspaper that just introduced paid articles lead to my discovery of a new loophole: Google translate. It gives me the full article. Everybody clicking on the site itself only gets the first two paragraphs.


I regularly go over the WaPo limit (it's something like 3 articles a month)...I've found it easier to direct Chrome to block cookies from the domain. This has the effect of breaking the loading of the WaPo comments section -- I think they do a sloppy check of localStorage to see if what comments have posted since you last visited -- which is actually an even nicer benefit :)


The nuclear option :

http://archive.is/wdn9S


Thank you, we've updated the link from http://www.wsj.com/articles/rolling-stone-found-liable-in-de....


(throwaway to express unpopular view on touchy / inflammatory subject)

I think it's clear that Rolling Stone engaged in poor journalism. They did not properly fact check, and the story had too many questions and holes to publish. Sabrina Erdely failed in her job as a journalist.

That said, I'm not convinced that Jackie fabricated this story. From my read of the situation, Jackie was hesitant to be featured in the article. There is not much upside for a woman to be featured in a national "rape on campus" story. You risk becoming the subject of internet hate and death threats in exchange for basically no personal gain.

It has come out that many aspects of her account were false. However, just because she lied about the details of the rape does not mean she was not raped, or sexually assaulted, or that something terrible did not happen to her. It's possible she lied about the location, the fraternity, etc., and I can see motivations for that: avoiding retaliation or attempting to remain anonymous. If you believe that she was raped or assaulted, squirrely behavior like that seems more reasonable.

Thus, it's very likely that Jackie lied about the specifics of the situation, but that something terrible (rape or assault) did happen to her. This interpretation is more in line with a rational persons motivations than inventing a rape story for unclear motives.

In a similar vein, I would recommend this This American Life podcast on the subject: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/581/...


Even if something very bad happened to "jackie" it does not give her license to go around and accuse innocent people of gang rape. Two wrongs do not make a right.

More importantly it was the amplification of the accusation through the national media that made this case so much worse. Every case of false rape reported damages thousands of real rape victims by undermining their credibility.

On the use of throwaway accounts to avoid downvoting I think you should be brave and stand by your opinion. At worst you will lose 4 points.


Does something specific happen when you're downvoted by four points? I didn't realize there was a downside limit.


Nothing in my experience other than your comment is marked as dead. If all your comments ends up downvoted then HC may hellban you, but if you have the occasional controversial post nothing much happens.


I don't disagree with your overall point, however I would raise three quibbles:

> That said, I'm not convinced that Jackie fabricated this story.

This seems like an overly technical quibble. You even admit, further on, that "many aspects of her account were false", and that she "lied about the details". Many people would term that a fabrication, and while Erdely certainly helped, much of the false details seem to have originated with Jackie. I'm really not quite sure what distinction you're trying to make here?

> it's very likely that [...] something terrible (rape or assault) did happen to her.

"Very likely" might be pushing it a bit. It's certainly very plausible, but I think far too little is known about Jackie to say anything in particular is "likely". Then again, I'm not sure why it matters?

Even more to the point, I don't think any of the details about Jackie are especially relevant to the story here, which is about Rolling Stone, Erdely, and UVA. Once it became clear that the story Rolling Stone told was fiction rather than fact, this stopped being about the young woman Erdely interviewed, and started being about Rolling Stone's editorial policies, their fact checking, and Erdely's skill and integrity.

That being said, I take your overall point as being that it is worth keeping in mind that very little is known about Jackie, that by all appearances she is as much a victim of Erdely is anyone, she is unquestionably troubled and did not receive help, and that she is not being sued or prosecuted, nor should she be, based on what's known. And with that, I agree strongly.


> There is not much upside for a woman to be featured in a national "rape on campus" story. You risk becoming the subject of internet hate and death threats in exchange for basically no personal gain.

I disagree that there's not much potential upside: one gets fame & attention, which I think would be pretty appealing to a fabulist.

> However, just because she lied about the details of the rape does not mean she was not raped, or sexually assaulted, or that something terrible did not happen to her.

That's quite true. But, at a certain point one has to quit paying attention to a boy crying 'wolf!'; if someone has established himself as a poor witness and — worse — an outright liar, eventually one just dismisses his statements.

> It's possible she lied about the location, the fraternity, etc., and I can see motivations for that: avoiding retaliation or attempting to remain anonymous. If you believe that she was raped or assaulted, squirrely behavior like that seems more reasonable.

Squirrely behaviour also makes sense in the context of someone who's untrustworthy. I think you're affirming the consequent here: that her behaviour makes sense if she was raped is not logical evidence that she was actually raped, since there are other explanations for her behaviour.

> Thus, it's very likely that Jackie lied about the specifics of the situation, but that something terrible (rape or assault) did happen to her.

That's a non-sequitur. I don't think that there's any compelling evidence that anything terrible happened to her in college (what problems in her upbringing or character led her to spin tales are another story).

> This interpretation is more in line with a rational persons motivations than inventing a rape story for unclear motives.

Why do you assume that her behaviour was rational? Clearly it wasn't: lying to friends, inventing people, asking folks to text the invented people.




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