The Corner

‘Why Are Conservatives So Invested in Debunking the Rolling Stone Story?’

I have seen this question doing the rounds for a few days now, and I think it’s worth engaging with before it ossifies into conventional wisdom and is then referred back to by those who wish to make a point. 

The first answer is a simple one: They’re not. Thus far we have seen excellent, disinterested reporting on the case from Slate, the Washington Post, and The New Republic, among others. This morning, Emily Yoffe published a remarkable and comprehensive piece in which she pushed back against both the hysteria and the illiberalism of those who cry rape culture at a moment’s notice. And, across the web, progressive voices have joined those asking questions and demanding corroboration of the reported facts. Certainly, there have been prominent libertarian and conservative writers who have expressed their skepticism. But they have by no means been alone. This case has involved two “sides,” sure. But they have not been partisan. Instead, the debate has been between people who are interested in truth and people who are interested in narrative. Happily, the former has managed to prevail.

It seems to be the case that, regardless of their politics, the vast majority of people who have engaged with this issue are normal, reasonable, and enlightened, and that they simply want the truth. As a rule, these people do not believe that if the Rolling Stone story turns out to be mostly or completely false this will “prove” that rape “isn’t a problem” — nor do they have any interest in demonstrating such a thing. Likewise, they do not consider those who are asking questions to be necessarily possessed of an insidious or underhand agenda, or that anybody who requires clarification and presumes innocence is a disgrace. Rather, they recognize that there is more long-term damage done by the presentation and perpetuation of falsehoods than by the establishment of truth; they acknowledge that there are two potentially deleterious outcomes here — the first that Jackie is telling the truth but is not believed, the second that she is lying and is believed; and they understand that there is no virtue whatsoever in undermining our established cultural and legal axioms in the name of a broader goal, however important that goal may be. On these points there is no material difference between an Erik Wemple and a Robbie Soave. Truth is truth and justice is justice.

Why, then, does it appear that skepticism is a “conservative” trait? Well, I suspect it is because, in this particular case at least, the zealots happen to be on the political Left rather than on the political Right. Which is to say that the problem here is not that conservatives are overrepresented so much as that the Left is underrepresented, the crazies in this area largely belonging to its coalition.

As for the matter of why the original skeptics have been so outspoken since Rolling Stone admitted error, I should imagine that the answer is rather obvious. When a person is described as a “rapist” or an “apologist” or a “holocaust denier” simply for asking good questions about a report that doesn’t ring true, you should expect that person to be vocal when his suspicions are confirmed and his detractors are proven wrong. Want to stop writers saying “I told you so”? Try not to accuse them of hideous crimes when they ask for more information.

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