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February 9 2015

Please, No Fact Checking!

Charlotte Allen

It’s taken no time.
 
Within days after Cathy Young’s article in the Daily Beast revealed that there might be two sides to Columbia University art student Emma Sulkowicz’s claim of brutal sexual assault by a fellow student, our progressive Internet commentators have decided that there’s a problem with journalism.
 
And no, it’s not that journalists can sometimes let an ideologically appealing narrative about a supposed campus rape epidemic get in the way of their quest for truth.
 
It’s that journalism is…too darned objective.
 
Here’s FlavorWire:
 
But it remains near impossible, in this system we’ve set up, to do journalistic or legal due diligence without hanging victims out to dry. ...
 
We cannot throw ethics, and the need for rigor and fact-finding, out the window when talking about stories like Sulkowicz’s. Yet lengthy sit-downs with accused rapists will almost always serve the opposite cause: to muddy the truth, to give fodder to those who seek to smear victims, and to make more victims afraid to speak out.

Here’s Salon:
 
Now if you believe that the battle to remake the institutions and cultural norms that foster rape and protect rapists will be lost or won on the unimpeachability of rape victims (for more on the limits of personal narratives in justice movements, this piece from Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig raises some interesting points), then Young’s history of writing to discredit victims can feel like a major thorn in the side of the anti-rape movement.

Here’s RH Reality Check:
 
Nowhere in this country do we have an apparatus that is set up to believe those among us who are sexually harassed, abused, raped, when we tell our stories.
 
And here’s Jezebel:
 
Rape victims now face the sort of scrutiny that is usually reserved for liberal female political candidates. But in the vast majority of cases, these women aren't public figures; they're regular people, victims further victimized by media hounding. As the rape debunk piece becomes its own sad genre, the narrative of the crazy, lying woman gathers strength, and pushes out the survivors that don't fit the mold used to fashion this hysterical strawman.
 
There’s something inherently amusing about describing someone who posed, along with her famous mattress, for the cover of New York magazine, as a “victim…further victimized by media hounding.”
 
Also the KitchenAid level of metaphor-mixing: “the mold used to fashion this hysterical strawman.” Really?
 
But what’s genuinely disturbing is the implication in all four of the above pieces that when it comes to an allegation of rape, journalists are supposed to be one-sided. They’re supposed to take down word for word everything the alleged victim utters, all the while nodding with empathetic. They’re never, ever even supposed to think that in a “he said, she said” situation such as Sulkowicz’s, that it might be a good idea to find out what he might have to say.
 
Because reporting on the supposed campus rape epidemic isn’t supposed to be journalism, you see. It’s not supposed to be objective. It’s supposed to be a cause.
 
You know, maybe if a few reporters had made a bigger effort to get the other side of the Sulkowicz story months ago, genuine victims of campus sexual assault might have been better served in the long run.


Independent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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