The Corner

The Origins of the Rolling Stone Fiasco

As Rolling Stone tries to figure out how so much went wrong with their University of Virginia “gang rape” story, it won’t take a Sherlock Holmes to find a prime suspect.

Will Dana, the managing editor at Rolling Stone, is a graduate of Vermont’s highly progressive Middlebury College. He returned to campus in 2006 for a lecture explaining his magazine’s approach. The provocative title was “The Myth of Fair and Balanced: A Defense of Biased Reporting.” 

Dana didn’t hold much back. The Middlebury campus newspaper celebrated his “brazenly refusing to adhere to classical reporting standards.” Dana said that traditional journalists “worship the grail of objectivity” and “play twister to hide their bias.” By boldly exploiting its biases, Dana crowed that Rolling Stone could be “the seed pod of great things.” As an example, he pointed to Fast Food Nation, and expose of American eating habits that began as a two-part series in Rolling Stone. Dana says the magazine knew the subject was “potentially very volatile.” Therefore there had to be “exhaustive research” so “its validity was never to be in question.”

In explaining how he did that, Dana claimed his magazine had to make sure bias “sets the bar higher for Rolling Stone’s writers. They have to exercise extreme depth of analysis and reporting in writing their stories.”

That appears to be precisely what Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely failed to do in her story on the alleged University of Virginia rape case. Dana’s flamboyant 2006 talk at his old alma mater may make an interesting exhibit as part of whatever libel suits will be filed against Rolling Stone in the future.

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