sadder than fiction

This is tough. Really tough. My brain is struggling to structure the information, much less to process and analyze it. Let’s do it this way.

Here’s what we know:

Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely reported that Sept. 28, 2012, a young woman named Jackie attended a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on the University of Virginia campus. Erdely wrote about how Jackie was brutally gang raped by several frat brothers.

We know that since then, the pieces of the article presented as fact are now being questioned by other news organizations such as the Washington Post. The fraternity claims never to have had a party on the day of the alleged rape. Evidently, no Phi Psi man fits the description of “Drew,” Jackie’s rapist. And further, Erdely is being criticized because she did attempt to speak to “Drew.” One of the friends who ran into Jackie the night of Sept. 28 said that she was found a mile away from the frat houses, and that she was shaken but not physically injured. There are other apparent discrepancies, which you can read in the Rolling Stone apology letter.

So much credibility is being given to the agents who are pushing back on Jackie’s story–the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity especially. Critics are blaming Jackie for fudging details or making up the ordeal entirely. They are also blaming Rolling Stone for mistakes in fact-checking.

Here’s what Rolling Stone investigative reporter Matt Taibbi has to say about fact-checking at the magazine:

But in Rolling Stone‘s apology, Editor Will Dana changed the assertion that the magazine “misplaced” its trust in Jackie to: “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

Where does this leave us? Concerning the facts of the story, I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I’m not sure. But here’s what I do know. The backlash I’ve seen against this story is the most vicious I’ve seen in journalism. Why? I assume it has everything to do with the topic.

An estimated 1,929,000 women are raped per year in the States, according to the National Intimate Partner and Violence Survey. And yet every time a woman (or man) who has been raped is brave enough to come forward, society’s first instinct is to call her a liar. The percentage of rape allegations that are false is difficult to pin down, but it’s still very small.

We see the consequences with Jackie. Everybody’s favorite Twitter psychopath Chuck C. Johnson published her last name and is calling her a flat-out liar. Now, he’s opened her up to a world of harassment.

Here’s a Twitter vignette from Ta-Nehisi Coates that makes an insightful comparison with the notion of “crying rape”:

And what’s most infuriating is that since Jackie has been so ferociously hassled and ridiculed online, other rape victims are going to stay locked in silence. They look at what happened to Jackie, and they don’t want to live through the same consequences. So instead, they’ll stay under their blankets to try and find respite from painful memories. They’ll wonder what they could have done differently to avoid being raped. They’ll blame themselves, hate themselves and sink further and further into depression.

The system is rigged. No matter what, the loser will always be the victim of rape. 

lately

Things that are difficult:

Keeping your mouth shut when your political views on a topic are just begging to be shared with the whole world. You’re a journalist, Kasia. People can dismiss your credibility if you have an opinion, even if it’s backed by evidence. People don’t listen, not really. They divide the world into dichotomies and place you on whatever side makes the easiest sense.

Realizing that the dark bags under your eyes are slowly taking over your entire splotchy face. “Whoa, look at those circles under your eyes!” I was told yesterday. Three times. Who cares, who cares, who cares. I’ll get sleep tonight and I won’t look like a monster tomorrow.

Watching horrible things happen in the world and knowing that right now, at least, I feel utterly powerless.

Things that make the difficult stuff not-too-terrible:

Being assigned a story that excites you. Not feeling entirely powerless any more. (Stay tuned.)

Being able to have a conversation and ask insightful questions.

Getting good grades for hard work.

Doing cartwheels with friends in public spaces because it’s midnight and you’ve still got hours of work to go, so why not, really?

Playing with my dog.

ferguson/tempest/riots/racism

PROSPERO:

Abhorred slave,
Which any print of goodness wilt not take,
Being capable of all ill! I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which
good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison.

CALIBAN

You taught me language; and my profit on’t
Is, I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!

(Shakespeare, The Tempest, I.ii.353-368)

office space

Sometimes you try to write what’s assigned, and it just doesn’t work. The words are forced, artificially connected by too many conjunctions. When you’re a journalist, though, you’ve always got to write that story. Meet the deadline, even if the article is boring and you’d much rather be finishing up that investigative piece into which you’ve invested a semester’s worth of time. Meet the deadline, even if you’ve got a list-of-things-to-do afterward that will keep you up all night.

I’m sitting at my designated chair in the office at Jefferson City. In front of me, stacked legal pads scribbled with my notes, today’s New York Times, my planner which induces panic attacks when lost, a bottle of Diet Dr. Pepper Cherry that isn’t mine (although I tried it anyway, and then remembered how much I hate artificial sweeteners), a dictionary that probably weighs as much as I do, with yellowed pages, open to page 1027 which ends with the word “hand-minded.” I’m not sure why it’s in front of me. When I want to confirm that I’m using the right word, I’ll look it up on Merriam Webster online. That physical dictionary sits open, though, thousands of pages. An ancient relic.

There are no windows in this office—or there were, at one point, but they’ve since been “walled over,” apparently. The sports writers sit behind me. They are pretty fond of expletives.

Right now, it’s November and a cold front has made its dramatic entrance in Missouri. It’s cold inside the office, too. I’m wearing my red H&M coat to keep myself from freezing a terrible and avoidable death. I’m always cold.

This post isn’t written for anyone but myself. I don’t want to forget this space, not because it’s glamorous or exciting, but because it’s a physical place where I once worked and learned and avoided writing one story by writing another story and that means something, probably.

vote baby vote!

Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images

Gabriel Hackett/Getty Images

In journalism school, we like to talk a lot about reporters’ role in a democracy. Inform the public of affairs! Power to the people! Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable!

Too bad there’s a lot of pre-election reporting that falls into the so-called Horse Race; rather than covering the issues, journalists pick up on the minute details of a politician’s behavior, or unflattering fashion choice, or accidental speech flub. When paired with the negative campaign ads that saturate the t.v., is it any wonder that voters get turned off from politics?

In fact, on Tuesday, only one-third of Missourians are expected to go out and vote.

Perhaps our election coverage should cover voting itself. We’ve come a long way since the new American nation considered land-owning white men as the only people worthy of voting. It’s important to remember that women and minorities had to fight for their right to vote.  It’s also important to remember that laws continuing to disenfranchise minorities still exist.

I know that the upcoming elections are only the mid-terms. Maybe it’s not glamorous or exciting to vote on state amendments or local ballot issues, but they have direct implications for you. You’ve got a day left–that’s plenty of time to get educated about your state, district or town. (If you’re in Missouri, by the way, here’s a good place to get yourself up to speed.)

So in the end, it’s up to you. Power to the people! Go and vote!

audie cornish walked right past me today

No, she really did. Probably three feet away from where I stood, if that. I was starstruck.

Photo Credit: Kurt Wilberding, "NPR: What Radio Hosts Really Wear" from the Wall Street Journal (no, really)

Photo Credit: Kurt Wilberding, “NPR: What Radio Hosts Really Wear” from the Wall Street Journal (really)

I shouldn’t have been there. She was speaking to a class at Mizzou called “Cross-Cultural Journalism,” which is a class that I do not T.A.
As it turns out, I was supposed to be entering grades for my own students into BlackBoard. But instead, I was in the back of that lecture hall, my feet glued on the floor as she walked past.

She spoke to the class for a little bit, and I had to force myself to dash out because, contrary to my wishes, those grades were not going to enter themselves.

Ms. Cornish is at the University of Missouri’s journalism school today to receive an Honor Medal for her work with NPR’s All Things Considered. There’s a fancy dinner and acceptance speeches and a whole lot of pizzazz.

I couldn’t go to the fancy schmancy dinner. Instead, I sat in the Jefferson City newsroom behind a couple of sports writers who were cursing at the World Series game playing on t.v.

That’s okay, I thought. That’s okay because for fifteen minutes, after sneaking into that cross-cultural journalism class, I got to listen to the voice of Audie Cornish without the help of the radio. She’s the sort of woman who demands respect, makes you wish that she was both your friend and your mentor. She’s clever and well-spoken. She gets to the point, no fuss. To survive this week, I need to be Audie Cornish.

re: jian ghomeshi

Having a stressful day? Easy relief: switch on NPR.

Listening to the familiar voices of Garrison Keillor or Terry Gross or Ira Glass is comforting, even ritualistic. Radio is made up of disembodied voices, free from the faults that come with being human.

This is Jian Ghomeshi, one of those radio hosts.

jian

Photo Credit: Nightlife.ca

He hosts–excuse me, used to host, as of two days ago–a radio show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation called Q. I discovered it when I was apartment-hunting around Kansas City in the summer of 2013. It was a hot summer, and my car didn’t have air conditioning. My comfort during hours of driving and sweating was listening to Q on NPR.

But Ghomeshi’s voice isn’t one of those disembodied comforts any more.

The CBC fired Ghomeshi this week, after some incriminating “information” was brought to their attention.

Ghomeshi didn’t leave quietly. He’s suing the CBC for $50 million for breach of contract and bad faith. To boot, just a few hours ago, he published an open letter on his Facebook page. Here are some bits and pieces from it: 

I’ve been fired from the CBC because of the risk of my private sex life being made public as a result of a campaign of false allegations pursued by a jilted ex girlfriend and a freelance writer. …

We saw each other on and off over the period of a year and began engaging in adventurous forms of sex that included role-play, dominance and submission. We discussed our interests at length before engaging in rough sex (forms of BDSM). We talked about using safe words and regularly checked in with each other about our comfort levels. She encouraged our role-play and often was the initiator.

Bold move, getting his story out before CBC could release the findings of its own investigation. According to him, all the freaky bedroom stuff was consensual. According to his “jilted ex-girlfriend,” apparently, it was not. According to Ghomeshi, he was fired due to his private life. According to a whole lot of people, he’s a creep.

I’m not writing about this to gossip. I’m writing because of the implications of this situation. The crux of the story–do we believe Jian Ghomeshi?

If he’s not lying and the CBC fired him for the potential scandal that could grow from his private sex life, that’s obviously problematic. Ghomeshi is a journalist, and it’s a horrible phenomenon when journalists become the story. It’s a scary thought, that my professional life could be damaged by rumors and reputation. Reporter Gary Webb allegedly took his own life after this happened to him.

But what if the ex is not lying?

False accusations of sexual harassment and rape do exist. The percentage of rape accusations that are untrue is an incredibly difficult statistic to pin down, with estimates ranging from 2 percent (largely debunked) to 41 percent (thanks to men’s rights activists, so not a trustworthy number either).

And what about all the women who do endure sexual harassment who don’t speak up? They often choose not to, because their remarks will immediately be written off as false by the accused. They’re labeled as “attention-seeking whores,” demonized, having to relive that moment of violation every time they are verbally attacked. No wonder they don’t want to come out with their stories. Because of the gendered power relations of our culture, people are more inclined to doubt the accuser and believe the possible rapist.

Ghomeshi has already received hundreds of comments of support on his Facebook page. When the ex’s name is revealed, I guarantee you, she’ll receive hundreds of comments of the opposite sort. Hate, definitely. Threats, maybe.

So, I implore you. If you’re going to be skeptical of the ex-girlfriend, be skeptical of Ghomeshi too. He knows a lot about narration and molding stories to fit his frame. He is a journalist, after all.

UPDATE: The Toronto Star is reporting that it conducted extensive interviews with three women who claimed that Ghomeshi was sexually violent with them without their consent. He allegedly hit them and choked them. Another woman, one who worked at the CBC, said that Ghomeshi groped her buttocks and said that he wanted to “hate fuck” her.

None of these women were willing to give their names. They don’t want to be the object of threats and ridicule. In journalism school, we’re taught to never go with sources who speak off the record. It hurts credibility. But I believe protecting sources who are victims is even more important.

Talk about an ethics moment. This is tough.

UPDATE, Oct. 29: Eight women. Eight.