I was reading Charlie’s excellent piece on the UVA story when I saw a reference to this tweet from Sally Kohn. She asked of me, “Wow, @JonahNRO, I’m curious when you last demanded that reporting on a burglary be independently corroborated by other outlets? Or a murder?”
I’m sorry I missed it while traveling. I don’t have the time or energy to explain all of the ways in which this is a ridiculous question. But let me take a quick stab. For starters, when news outlets report on a murder, there’s usually a body. There’s a criminal proceeding. There are witnesses. Grieving family members. There’s all sorts of paperwork filed with and by the police, prosecutors etc. Similarly, with robberies, reporters generally get their information from official sources who provide evidence of the offenses.
In the Rolling Stone story none of that is present — something Kohn presumably would know if she read the piece. Even Rolling Stone now admits they are going pretty much entirely on one person’s say-so about an absolutely heinous crime. If a news outlet not only reported on a sensational murder, but claimed it knew that the murderers were still at large, yet refused to provide anything more than a one-person account, you’re damn right I would ask for more corroboration. I’d also like it if the news outlet made some effort to identify the murderers.
The issue isn’t really whether other news outlets should corroborate the story. The issue is that Rolling Stone didn’t corroborate the story, at least not properly, in the first place. Lacking that corroboration, I think other outlets need to step in and do the work Rolling Stone didn’t — or wouldn’t — do.