What do Rolling Stone’s University of Virginia rape article and Senate CIA report have in common? Neither report talked to the accused. However, both also suffer from the same paralyzing component.
Both reports’ conclusions were determined before the facts were collected. Although each report touches on vastly different topics, they both expose a lack of unbiased critical thinking necessary for the honest, intellectual presentation of the facts. Both reports are a product of an “end justifies the means” philosophy, where the authors start with a desired conclusion and build the “facts” to support that end. Both reports are a demonstration of the type of parody that has replaced clear, reasoned thinking, weakening the process and feeding the public distrust and apathy.
In November 2014, Rolling Stone columnist Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote a scathing expose titled “Rape on Campus.” Erdely told the story of alleged rape victim Jackie (a pseudonym), who claimed she was gang-raped as a student at the University of Virginia while attending a fraternity party on campus. The story was covered by every major news outlet, which prompted massive protests across the country, the vilification of college-based fraternal organizations, and the questioning of the leadership of the UVA administration.
As a result, all fraternal organizations at UVA were suspended, peoples’ reputations were damaged, and there were calls for the UVA president to resign. The sad truth today is that it appears that most, if not all, of the story was false.
We have learned (through reporting by the Washington Post) that Erdely set out looking at Harvard, Yale and other campuses to find a captivating rape story to highlight the belief held by Erdely and Rolling Stone (as well as many others) that rape is an epidemic on our college campuses. Almost immediately the story fell apart. The Post learned the date, time and location did not match up and that Jackie’s friends tell a much different story than the one in the report. The Post learned details about the alleged suspect could not be confirmed or appear to be completely false. The male date Jackie identified as her escort to the party appears to be a person Jackie knew in high school, who has no real connection to Jackie or the campus.
In the end, none of the accusers were interviewed, dates and times were not validated, Jackie’s friends not only contradict many of the “facts,” but also have doubts about the truth of the story. Much like the Duke lacrosse rape case in 2006, all journalistic integrity and discipline were abandoned. Simple elements that would have validated the truthfulness of the story were not explored. Learning nothing from the Duke case, mob rule prevailed and the media again failed its basic obligations. Erdely had drawn her conclusions, and saw only the “facts” she wanted to see.
As with the UVA rape article, the Senate Intelligence Committee (SIC) report on the CIA suffers the same fate, a lack of credibility that could have been avoided if basic investigatory practices had been adhered to. Former Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Kerry stated it best when he wrote that the “partisan torture report fails America.”
The SIC’s report started with the premise that the CIA acted illegally in its treatment of captured terrorists and went about building the case. The report is a biased product of only the Democratic members of the SIC that took more than five years and $40 million to produce. A majority of the labor was conducted by Senate Democrat staffers, not trained investigators. Republicans left early when it was determined their counterparts had already decided the CIA was guilty and then worked to prove it.
The accused were never interviewed – not one. An overwhelming majority of the “evidence” came from CIA emails, memos and transcripts with no context that could have easily been provided by those who sent, received or recorded the information. CIA members did not refuse to participate in the report; they were never invited to testify. SIC never provided any compelling reason for not conducting any interviews. The truth is that basic investigation techniques were abandoned and the byproduct is not worth the paper it was printed on, and comes off as nothing more than a whine.
Lost in all of this is not only the political motivations for releasing the report, but the simple fact far too many people fail to contemplate what we as a nation were dealing with after 9/11. I am not condoning nor condemning methods used by the CIA. However, the report conveniently forgets we were attacked as a nation, and that an overwhelming majority of Americans made one simple request — “keep us safe.” That is what the CIA and many other intelligence/military organizations did.
Each time an entity, such as a media outlet or a government body, sets out to expose a serious issue they believe affects our daily lives, they must do so unencumbered by any biases or preconceived notions. Those who claim to serve the public interest must remember that the trust of the American people is fragile and is not easily regained once it is lost.