Monday, April 6, 2015

It's Good Work, If You Can Get It

While I am not currently in the market for a new job, there are a couple of positions that I would really like to have. 

First would be Reporter at Rolling Stone magazine.  Imagine a job where you can turn a four hour interview with a woman who claims that she was gang-raped by fraternity members at the University of Virginia into a front-page, national attention-grabbing expose--all without having to do a single bit of fact-checking to make sure that your article is accurate.  Without having to make all of those bothersome calls to the "victim's" friends whom she quotes for you, without having to check with the fraternity to see if they hosted an event the night of the "attack" and without having to track down the "rapist" to make sure he exists--I could knock out two or three of those stories a week.  And when other more-industrious media outlets and law enforcement investigate your story and reveal that it is 100% false, all you have to do is go into hiding, issue a written apology to other journalists, the readers of Rolling Stone and real victims of rape--and YOU GET TO KEEP YOUR JOB!!

Even better might be Editor at Rolling Stone magazine.  Imagine a job where you can establish a narrative for a story before having any facts--and just send out a reporter to find the most salacious claims possible to craft a front-page, national attention-grabbing expose--regardless of the accuracy of those claims.  You can overlook the lack of fact-checking as merely "protecting the victim".  And when other more-industrious media outlets and law enforcement investigate your story and reveal that it is 100% false, all you have to do is issue an apology to other editors and your readers--and throw the "victim" under the bus for telling "fabulist stories and taking advantage of your journalistic processes".  Columbia Journalism School can do a review of your handling of the Virginia rape story and find that you failed all of the most basic standards and practices of journalism--and YOU GET TO KEEP YOUR JOB!!  Plus, you can issue a scathing reply that you feel there is no need to change any of your procedures--because none of this was your fault.

However, the best new job to have is likely going to be the attorneys representing the members of the fraternity--and perhaps the University of Virginia as well--who will be suing Rolling Stone magazine to the brink of bankruptcy.  There is a reason why there is no apology to the members of the frat or the school community as a whole from the magazine--because to do so would be an admission of intent to damage their reputations in order to "advance the narrative".  Libel and slander laws are written to provide protection to reporters and media outlets that make an honest mistake.  We are human and sometimes we get facts wrong because we don't completely understand what someone said, or we hit a few wrong keys on the keyboard while writing or a wrong picture is placed with a story.  But that isn't what happened here.  Rolling Stone wasn't doing an investigation on IF there is a "rape culture" on college campuses--it had already decided there WAS a "rape culture" on all campuses--whether the facts supported that or not.  And when their reporter was hand-fed the Virginia "case" with implications that white, rich fraternity members were responsible, that storyline had to be preserved--regardless of whatever concerns a lack of corroboration or factual basis may have raised around the editorial table.

Of course, if Rolling Stone were to perish in the wake of this complete breakdown of journalistic standards--how will the world know when Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen or Richard Thompson release their next "Best Albums Ever!"?

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