Cathy Young: The UVA Fiasco and 'Believe the Survivor' Syndrome



The inglorious saga of Rolling Stone's article on "rape culture" at the University of Virginia, "A Rape on Campus," published to great acclaim last November and mostly debunked less than three weeks later, has seen its (hopefully) final chapter: the Columbia Journalism Review postmortem dissecting the story and its origins.  The report documents egregious failings by journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely and multiple editors, including perfunctory fact-checking and reliance on a single source—the alleged victim, Jackie—for the central narrative of a brutal fraternity gang rape. In a Monday press conference, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism dean Steve Coll urged the media to "have a conversation" on better reporting on sexual violence—while dean of academic affairs Sheila Coronel called the Rolling Stone story a "useful case on how to report, with sensitivity, about victims of sexual assault while also verifying and corroborating the information they provide." This is sound advice. But, as Cathy Young notes, the conversation must start with the uncomfortable fact that, as this story illustrates, those who tell such stories are not always victims.