Politics & Policy

Does Truth Matter to the Feminist Left?

The reactions to the unraveling of the Rolling Stone story suggest not.

If the champions of modern feminism are possessed of even the slightest modicum of self-awareness, T. Rees Shapiro’s explosive investigation into Rolling Stone’s now infamous claims of ignominy at UVA will have provided them with a much-needed wake-up call. For those who had stood unwaveringly behind its author as her tale came crashing down around her, last night should have been an education of sorts. The lessons that Shapiro’s work conveys: That the truth matters, wherever it may lead; that “skeptic” is not a synonym for “hater”; and that our liberal inheritance is most emphatically not for sale — especially to those would offer only a mess of pottage in return.

The rest of us, meanwhile, should have been rudely reminded that at the heart of the so-called social-justice movement is the conscious rejection of prized Anglo-American norms. Where most readers accepted with alacrity the possibility that Sabrina Erdely could have got it wrong, the tireless archaeologists of our supposedly ubiquitous “rape culture” took to remolding their position every six-and-a-half minutes and to carrying on in public like a bunch of frothy peanut-gallery-voyeurs at a backwoods 17th-century witch trial. Just a few short weeks ago, when Rolling Stone’s story was almost universally believed to be true, we were urged to read each and every sordid detail of the case so that we might better acquaint ourselves with the broader problems that are presented by “rape culture.” Today, as the story continues to collapse, the opposite view is regnant, and the very same people who pointed excitedly to Erdely’s work now contend that we should not be focusing on an individual case such as this in the first place. Thus are we being asked to accept two contradictory positions. The first: that Erdely’s gang-rape story was important enough not only to justify months of research but to serve as the hook on which her piece was hung. The second: that it didn’t matter at all. “Not sure,” Vox’s Libby Nelson asked last night in a tweet that summed up the volte-face, what the Washington Post’s “endgame is in continuing to pursue” the facts.

Such self-serving inquiries illustrate something crucial — namely, that many of those who describe themselves as “journalists” these days are more interested in moral positioning and the advancement of their agendas than in the attainment of objective truth. Where most of us are primarily concerned with whether a given claim is correct, others seem more attentive to how we react to that claim in the first place. Did you ask questions about Jackie’s story as it was reported? If so, you must hate women, work for the patriarchy, or hope to prove that nobody is ever raped. Did you believe Jackie uncritically and with a full-throated roar? Excellent, then you must be a good person who wants to help women, move the country forward, and do something concrete about the issue of sexual assault. It’s really that simple, my dear.

Amazingly, these presumptions tend to remain intact through thick and thin. In consequence, a person who incorrectly judged the veracity of Rolling Stone’s story can remain on the side of the angels, while a person who was correct to doubt the account is dismissed as a devil who just got lucky. Sure, the zetetics might have been right in a technical, factual, reality-based sense. But that they tried to investigate the matter in the first instance tells us something terrible about their character. And yes, the story may have been completely and utterly wrong. But at least its advocates took a stand for something nice. Did you? Wait, you’re not a rapist, are you?

This is an area in which we hear a great deal about empathy and kindness. But there is nothing that is nice or kind or empathetic about the subordination of truth to narrative. It would indeed have been abominable if Jackie had been transformed by hyper-dubiety into Cassandra’s cousin — into a woman, that is, who knew the terrible truths of the past but who could not convince anybody to believe her. And yet — and this, I think, is the part that the Maxwells, Kohns, and Dunhams of the world seem to struggle with — it would also have been wretched if Rolling Stone had been permitted to report as fact a devastating crime that never actually occurred. (Or, at least, that did not occur in anything like the manner in which Rolling Stone claimed it occurred.) Which is to say that there are always two sides to justice’s ledger, and that those who fight blindly and stupidly for a particular outcome are not so much seeking justice as trying to corrupt it for their own ends.

As Slate’s Hanna Rosin noted last night, we are now at a tipping point of sorts. The Washington Post’s latest deep-dive, Rosin writes, “strongly implies, without outright saying so, that the gang rape at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article might be fabricated.” Indeed so. And should we subsequently learn that the Post’s implication was warranted, this will mean that Sabrina Erdely and her source have conspired a) to mislead millions of people on a matter of basic fact; b) to potentially damage the reputations of the men they accused; c) to cast a trio of Jackie’s friends as amoral, vain, criminally negligible monsters; and d) to libel the fraternity that is implicated, as well as the University of Virginia writ large. If she is revealed to be a fabulist, Jackie’s life will get worse, not better. If Sabrina Erdely’s reporting is as shoddy as it now seems to be, her career will be over and her name will live in disgrace. And, fair or not, the very notion that there is a pervasive “rape culture” will inevitably be dinged by the discovery that a major national magazine was willing to bend the truth in pursuit of its exposition.

What a tangled web we weave . . .

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.

Most Popular


What We’ve Learned about Jussie Smollett

It’s been a few weeks since March 26, when all charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and the actor declared that his version of events had been proven correct. How’s that going? Smollett’s celebrity defenders have gone quiet. His publicists and lawyers are dodging reporters. The @StandwithJussie ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Lessons of the Mueller Probe

Editor’s Note: The following is the written testimony submitted by Mr. McCarthy in connection with a hearing earlier today before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on the Mueller Report (specifically, the first volume of the report, which addresses Russia’s interference in the 2016 ... Read More

Kamala Harris Runs for Queen

I’m going to let you in on a secret about the 2020 presidential contest: Unless unforeseen circumstances lead to a true wave election, the legislative stakes will be extremely low. The odds are heavily stacked against Democrats’ retaking the Senate, and that means that even if a Democrat wins the White House, ... Read More

Why Are the Western Middle Classes So Angry?

What is going on with the unending Brexit drama, the aftershocks of Donald Trump’s election, and the “yellow vests” protests in France? What drives the growing estrangement of southern and eastern Europe from the European Union establishment? What fuels the anti-EU themes of recent European elections and ... Read More
Energy & Environment

The Climate Trap for Democrats

The more the climate debate changes, the more it stays the same. Polls show that the public is worried about climate change, but that doesn’t mean that it is any more ready to bear any burden or pay any price to combat it. If President Donald Trump claws his way to victory again in Pennsylvania and the ... Read More
White House

Sarah Sanders to Resign at End of June

Sarah Huckabee Sanders will resign from her position as White House press secretary at the end of the month, President Trump announced on Twitter Thursday afternoon. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1139263782142787585 Sanders, the daughter of former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, succeeded Sean ... Read More
Politics & Policy

But Why Is Guatemala Hungry?

I really, really don’t want to be on the “Nicolas Kristof Wrote Something Dumb” beat, but, Jiminy Cricket! Kristof has taken a trip to Guatemala, with a young woman from Arizona State University in tow. “My annual win-a-trip journey,” he writes. Reporting from Guatemala, he discovers that many ... Read More