Difficulties of Seeking Out the Truth in Reporting on Sensitive Issues

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/08/business/media/rolling-stone-tries-to-regroup-after-campus-rape-article-is-disputed.html?_r=0

This article, regarding the aftermath of Rolling Stone’s false UVA rape story, poses some complicated questions in terms of reporting sensitive stories such as rape.

When reporting about a traumatic experience the interviewee had, accounts may often get skewed, because sometimes the mind works in a way that will shut out any unwanted memories. There is still much discussion around the UVA rape story and the way Rolling Stone reported it, but given the trauma of sexual assault, it’s hard to regard the story as simply a lie or a hoax, and put the blame on Jackie for the negative attention. However, Rolling Stone respected Jackie’s wish not to contact her assaulters, which was a big part of why the story came out the way it did, so for me it’s very hard to blame Rolling Stone. In searching for the truth, it’s hard to say at what point it’s an invasion of interviewee rights. Is the truth valued over the experience of the people involved for publishing a good story?

Nevertheless, as the author recognizes, there were some major consequences, like Rolling Stone loosing credibility and discouraging sexual assault victims from speaking up about their experience and raising awareness of the issue.

In order to avoid this, what do you think Rolling Stone could have done differently, while still respecting Jackie’s wishes?

Further, do you think it was a good idea for Rolling Stone to take on this story? What are the costs and benefits to Rolling Stone reporting a story like this one, instead of other news aggregators?

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2 Responses to “Difficulties of Seeking Out the Truth in Reporting on Sensitive Issues”

  1. I think the combination of Jackie not wanting the accused men being contacted and the lack of response from her friends should have been a red flag to do more investigation or not run the article for lack of factual evidence. I understand that rape is a sensitive topic and that women by no means want to confront the attackers themselves, but I don’t understand why so many feel uncomfortable with the reporter contacting the attackers. It is important to have both sides of the story before publishing a piece to ensure facts line up, as each individual has their own opinions or “edits” on how an event took place. This is even more important when specific people of groups are mentioned in the story. Whether Jackie’s tale is true, false, or somewhere in between, the University and the Fraternity may now have a negative view in the eye of the public. Also since this was Rolling Stone, their journalistic credibility gives the story credibility, which if they didn’t check up on all their facts, can be an issue for those accused in the story. I appreciate that they plan to do further reporting on the story to get to the truth and set it straight. I agree with what was said at the end of the article, that the media attention should not be focusing on whether or not Rolling Stone published a fully factual story, but instead on the bigger issue of rising sexual assaults across university campuses.

  2. After reading this article, I found that the key issue with the approach of the journalist was approaching a young woman who was probably still in an emotionally vulnerable position. As the New York Times article had stated, an experienced reporter would not have done a story on a woman who did not feel the emotional strength to go through the process of due diligence. I think this would be a good insurance policy for reporters, for the story to also be accounted for in a legal sense. However, I can see how a reporter may also like how a story may not be going through the courts so that they could have an early, unaffected take on it. With an issue like rape, however, it may be in the public interest for women to have their cases go through the courts and legal authorities so that other women may feel a solidarity and strength from observing the example of others.

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