The Corner

Lena Dunham, Rolling Stone, and Rape

In the November 3 issue of National Review, I wrote about Lena Dunham’s memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, and, among other things, examined her story about having been raped by a Oberlin College campus Republican by the name of “Barry.” As it turns out, the most prominent Republican on the Oberlin campus during Dunham’s time there was, in fact, a man named Barry, whose identity can be discovered easily through contemporary press reports. The man in question says that he has never even met Dunham, much less had a sexual relationship with her. Subsequently, other media outlets examined the story, and the Barry in question retained legal representation to help him to clear his name. Dunham’s publisher, Random House, plans to amend the book in order to make it clear—get this—that the Oberlin campus Republican named Barry whom Dunham characterizes as a rapist is not, in fact, the Oberlin campus Republican named Barry with whom she attended college, that “Barry” is a pseudonym that just happens to be the name belonging to the campus’s most prominent Republican at the time. What are the odds? Not very good: “Barry” is not an especially common name and is not even among the 100 most common men’s names in the United States.

For a point of comparison, imagine that you read in a memoir that a horrible crime had been committed during Lena Dunham’s college years by a contemporary Oberlin undergraduate by the name of “Lena,” a progressive activist from New York who was interested in film and television. Would you find a publisher’s note to the effect that some identifying details in the book had been changed entirely satisfactory, or would you assume that the writer in question had intended to underhandedly indicate a certain well-known television actress and writer?

Dunham’s account is rendered somewhat more suspicious in my mind by the fact that in her book proposal (which had been published by Gawker but was taken down after threats from Dunham’s lawyers), Dunham gives a slightly different account of the episode, and identifies the man as the son of a National Public Radio host. In my research, I have not been able to identify a contemporary Oberlin student who exactly matches her description.

I find it implausible that the bread crumbs leading to Barry were present in this purported work of nonfiction as the result of a Random House random coincidence, and it was of course grossly irresponsible and arguably libelous on the part of the author and her publisher to have presented the story in this way. Random House has agreed to pay such legal fees as real-life Barry has accumulated so far, though this, too, seems to me inadequate. As the Rolling Stone fiasco has dramatically demonstrated, the damage done by handling these sorts of allegations without care is not easily undone. 

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