Media critic Howard Kurtz describes the recent rape story debacle in Rolling Stone magazine as “one of the worst journalistic catastrophes of the last half century.”
He’s correct and, for those not paying attention, he’s referring to Rolling Stone’s 9,000-word article centered on an alleged gang rape of a University of Virginia coed they called “Jackie” that was described in graphic detail, but up to this point has never been substantiated by factual evidence or anybody other than “Jackie.”
The author of the article, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had been searching for a perfect source (she found her in “Jackie”), and a perfect school (University of Virginia with its “politically correct” president Teresa A. Sullivan), to put forth her preconceived notion about “what it’s like to be on campus now … where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture.”
This incident ought to have every news department in every news media outlet, including those in Cayman, examining their own practices and re-examining their own responsibilities to the readers they serve.
Senior faculty members from the Columbia Journalism School produced a lengthy (although we believe flawed) report documenting three primary failures by the magazine in reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.
According to the Columbia investigators, Rolling Stone erred in its cavalier use of pseudonyms, its failure to check derogatory information with the people being disparaged and its failure to provide sufficient details to subjects from whom they were seeking responses.
We prefer the assessment of Mr. Kurtz: “Anybody who’s been in the journalism business for three weeks knows that people tell all kinds of false stories. It’s your job to check and to double check, especially with such heinous allegations that roiled the University of Virginia campus, that set back the whole sensitivity about sexual assault, that libeled this fraternity. … this is a classic case of an activist reporter at a magazine that wanted to launch a crusade.”
To compound this journalistic malpractice, Rolling Stone is standing by its reporter who, it has announced, will continue to contribute to the magazine.
To be clear, any journalist who tried this at the Compass would be summarily fired — no warnings, no retraining, no lateral moves to “another department.” Along with the “pink slip,” we would be happy to contribute a fistful of dollars to cover the taxi cab fare to the nearest labor lawyer if the employee so desired.
Each day on the front page of the Compass, we print our motto: “The islands’ most-trusted news source.” It’s more than a slogan.
Every local article that appears in the Compass undergoes a series of checks, cross-checks, and fact checks before it’s sent off to the printing press.
It’s a tedious, but necessary (and expensive), process.
And yet, we still make mistakes — and when we do, we willingly correct them.
We can’t promise — and don’t deliver — perfection. However, we can pledge the following: Our news will always be separate from our opinions, and clearly labeled as such.
Our news reporters and editors will never bring pre-written agendas to bear on the stories they are covering.
Our Editorial Board, on the other hand, suffers from no such encumbrance, and will continue to be an unfettered, independent and provocative (but most importantly, informed) voice for this newspaper and the community.