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The Derb came up with the term “narrative collapse,” but what’s happening right now with the University of Virginia gang rape story is more like Narrative Apocalypse (to steal from commenter DNA Turtles).
This is a long post, but you’ll likely find it interesting …
My key insight into the Rolling Stone “gang rape” story came at 4 AM on Tuesday, December 2 as I was writing last week’s Taki’s Magazine column:
Strangely, just about the only people in America who don’t seem to have accepted at face value Jackie’s theory of a nine-man conspiracy to rape her are those portrayed in the Rolling Stone article as knowing the poor young woman well.
Much of this immense article is devoted to puzzling scenes in which Jackie’s friends and female mentors tell her to cheer up and get over it. If you read the article carefully, you’ll notice that almost everybody who knows Jackie closely treats her about the way you’d treat a friend who starts talking about having been abducted by aliens. You would try to find out what the real actual thing that happened to her was. But if she kept talking about alien rectal probing, you’d try to change the subject.
Morally, Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone should not have exploited an unsettled young woman.
This afternoon, the Washington Post has followed up with some crack reporting that confirms that the only failure in my insight was I wasn’t cynical enough. Jackie’s real story now appears to be a Gillian “Gone Girl” Flynn novel come to life.
By T. Rees Shapiro, December 10 at 5:12 PM
It was 1 a.m. on a Saturday when the call came. A friend, a University of Virginia freshman who earlier said she had a date that evening with a handsome junior from her chemistry class, was in hysterics. Something bad had happened.
Arriving at her side, three students —“Randall,” “Andy” and “Cindy” as they were identified in an explosive Rolling Stone account — told The Washington Post that they found their friend in tears. Jackie appeared traumatized, saying her date ended horrifically, with the older student parking his car at his fraternity, asking her to come inside, and then forcing her to perform oral sex on a group of five men.
“Forcing”? How exactly do you force such a thing? Hold a gun to her head? Maybe. Hold a knife to her throat? Probably not (I don’t want to get too graphic but consider the mechanics of the knife to the throat scenario). Hold her beloved grandmother hostage? Ply her with drink? Be so darn hot she can’t resist?
I think by this point we are owed a few follow-up questions eliciting some detail on how exactly she was forced so we can judge the plausibility of her latest story. For example, was shattered glass involved?
In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how the Rolling Stone article portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack.
The scene with her friends was pivotal in the article, as it alleged that the friends were callously apathetic about a beaten, bloodied, injured classmate reporting a brutal gang rape at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The account alleged that the students worried about the effect it might have on their social status, how it might reflect on Jackie during the rest of her collegiate career, and how they suggested not reporting it. It set up the article’s theme: That U-Va. has a culture that is indifferent to rape.
“It didn’t happen that way at all,” Andy said.
Instead, the friends remember being shocked. Though they did not notice any blood or visible injuries, they said they immediately urged Jackie to speak to police and insisted that they find her help. Instead, they said, Jackie declined and asked to be taken back to her dorm room. They went with her — two of them said they spent the night — seeking to comfort Jackie in what appeared to be a moment of extreme turmoil.
“I mean obviously we were very concerned for her,” Andy said. “We tried to be as supportive as we could be.”
The three students agreed to be interviewed on the condition that The Post use the same aliases as appeared in Rolling Stone because of the sensitivity of the subject.
They said there are mounting inconsistencies with the original narrative in the magazine. The students also expressed suspicions about Jackie’s allegations from that night. They said the name she provided as that of her date did not match anyone at the university, and U-Va. officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school.
And photographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night actually were pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs are of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.
Paging Gillian Flynn, paging Gillian Flynn, your next thriller novel about a manipulative woman is waiting …
The friends said they never were contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors. Though vilified in the article as coldly indifferent to Jackie’s ordeal, the students said they cared deeply about their friend’s well-being and safety. Randall said that they made every effort to help Jackie that night.
“She had very clearly just experienced a horrific trauma,” Randall said. “I had never seen anybody acting like she was on that night before and I really hope I never have to again. … If she was acting on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, then she deserves an Oscar.”
Who has ever heard of an 18-year-old coed at a top college with a fair amount of acting ability?
They also said Jackie’s description of what happened to her that night differs from what she told Rolling Stone. In addition, information that Jackie gave the three friends about one of her attackers, called “Drew” in Rolling Stone, differed significantly from details she later told The Post, Rolling Stone and friends from sexual assault awareness groups on campus. The three said Jackie did not specifically identify a fraternity that night.
The Rolling Stone article also said that Randall declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” He told The Post that he never was contacted by Rolling Stone and would have agreed to an interview. The article’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not respond to requests for comment this week.
Rolling Stone also declined to comment, citing an internal review of the story. The magazine has apologized for inaccuracies and discrepancies in the published report.
The 9,000-word Rolling Stone article appeared online in late November and led with the brutal account of Jackie’s alleged sexual assault. In the article, Jackie said she attended a date function at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in the fall of 2012 with a lifeguard she said she met at the university pool. During the party, Jackie said her date “Drew” lured her into a dark room where seven men gang-raped her in an attack that left her bloodied and injured. In earlier interviews with The Post, Jackie stood by the account she provided to Rolling Stone.
… Randall said that he met Jackie shortly after arriving at U-Va. in fall 2012, and the two struck up a quick friendship. He said Jackie was interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with him; he valued her friendship but wasn’t interested in more.
Hmmhhmmhmm … maybe all this had something to do with Jackie trying to make Randall jealous? Just speculation, of course …
The three friends said that Jackie soon began talking about a handsome junior from chemistry class who had a crush on her and had been asking her out on dates.
Intrigued, Jackie’s friends got his phone number from her and began exchanging text messages with the mysterious upperclassman.
Randall and the other two never met the Mystery Man? Just exchanged texts with him? That seems a little odd …
He then raved to them about “this super smart hot,” freshman who shared his love of the band Coheed and Cambria, according to the texts, which were provided to The Post.
“I really like this girl,” the chemistry student wrote in one message.
Assuming the “chemistry student” wrote those texts.
Some of the messages included photographs of a man with a sculpted jawline and ocean-blue eyes.
In the text messages, the student wrote that he was jealous that another student had apparently won Jackie’s attention.
“Get this she said she likes some other 1st year guy who dosnt like her and turned her down but she wont date me cause she likes him,” the chemistry student wrote. “She cant turn my down fro some nerd 1st yr. she said this kid is smart and funny and worth it.”
Is, by any chance, the 1st year “who dosnt like her and turned her down” Randall? And was the text intended to be read by Randall?
Jackie told her three friends that she accepted the upperclassman’s invitation for a dinner date on Friday Sept. 28, 2012.
Curious about Jackie’s date, the friends said that they failed to locate the student on a U-Va. database and social media. Andy, Cindy and Randall all said they never met the student in person.
Oh, boy …
Before Jackie’s date, the friends said that they became suspicious that perhaps they hadn’t really been in contact with the chemistry student at all.
U-Va. officials told The Post that no student by the name Jackie provided to her friends as her date and attacker in 2012 had ever enrolled at the university. Randall provided The Post with pictures that Jackie’s purported date had sent of himself by text message in 2012.
The Post identified the person in the pictures and learned that his name does not match the one Jackie provided to friends in 2012. In an interview, the man said that he was Jackie’s high school classmate but that he “never really spoke to her.”
The man said that he was never a U-Va. student and is not a member of any fraternity. Additionally, the man said that he had not visited Charlottesville in at least six years and that he was in another state participating in an athletic event during the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012.
“I have nothing to do with it,” he said. He said it appears the photos that were circulated were pulled from social media Web sites.
After the alleged attack, the man who Jackie said had taken her on the date wrote an e-mail to Randall, passing along praise that Jackie apparently had for him.
Randall said that it is apparent to him that he is the “first year,” the chemistry student described in text messages, since he had rebuffed Jackie’s advances.
The pitch is slammed deep to left field. It’s going, going, Gone Girl!
Jackie ultimately told her harrowing account to sexual assault prevention groups on campus and spoke to university officials about it, though she said in interviews that she was always reluctant to identify an attacker and never felt ready to report it to police. In interviews she acknowledged that a police investigation now would be unlikely to yield criminal charges because of a lack of forensic evidence.
Emily Renda, a 2014 U-Va. graduate who survived a rape during her freshman year and now works for the university as a sexual violence specialist, has told The Post that she met Jackie in the fall of 2013. Renda said that, at the time, Jackie told her that she had been attacked by five students at Phi Kappa Psi. Renda said she learned months later that the number of perpetrators had changed to seven.
The Rolling Stone article, which appeared on the magazine’s Web site last month
On November 19th, and was accepted with virtually no criticism from professional journalists for the rest of the month.
, roiled campus and set off protests, vandalism and self-reflection. U-Va. officials responded to the article by suspending the university’s Greek system until early January and promoting a broader discussion on campus about sexual assault and campus safety. University officials have declined to comment on the specifics of the allegations and the article.
… Last week, Jackie for the first time revealed a name of her alleged attacker to friends who had known her more recently. That name was different from the name she gave Andy, Cindy and Randall that first night. All three said that they had never heard the second name before it was given to them by a reporter.
On Friday, The Post interviewed a man whose name is similar to the second one Jackie used for her attacker. He said that while he did work as a lifeguard at the same time as Jackie, he had never met her in person and had never taken her out on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
One obvious followup is to determine where those “Chemistry Student” texts came from.
… In interviews, some of Jackie’s closest friends said they believe she suffered a horrific trauma during her freshman year, but others have expressed doubts about the account. …
Nick Anderson in Charlottesville, Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report.
T. Rees Shapiro is an education reporter.
My speculation is that there is a fair chance the Chemistry Student texts were made up by Jackie (perhaps with the help of a confederate) to make Randall jealous and thus interested in her. The rape claim could be to make Randall feel sorry for her and comfort her, and/or it could be to imply to Randall that she’s so hot that five fraternity boys risked prison to force themselves on her.
What’s the word for this? Catfishing?
Of course, this is all still speculation. But …
From my Taki’s article of last week:
Late in her first year at UVA, depressed and in danger of flunking out, Jackie talks to Dean Nicole Eramo, Chair of the Sexual Misconduct Board. This dean patiently explains to Jackie the three ways she can file charges, but Jackie can’t make up her mind. Eventually, Dean Eramo suggests she join a campus rape survivors’ support group. There, Jackie makes new friends who appreciate her story (even though it’s more violent than their own).
In Erdely’s telling, Dean Eramo, a middle-aged lady, is a sinister figure, a sonderkommando who shields the rape culture by getting students to confide in her instead of exposing the vileness all about. But there’s a problem with the author’s interpretation: Jackie and numerous other young women love Dean Eramo. She listens. Jackie and others responded to the Rolling Stone hit piece against Eramo by writing a long letter to the college newspaper praising the dean.
My vague impression is that Jackie seems like a troubled soul who drew needed comfort from talking to listeners who were sympathetic. She doesn’t appear to have been in any hurry over the last couple of years to talk to people who might ask her tough questions about the validity of her allegations, such as police detectives or defense attorneys. That appears to have been prudent on her part.
Unfortunately, Rolling Stone was eager to use her for its own commercial and political purposes.
And so her story is now our latest national media crisis.
… During her sophomore year, Jackie became prominent in the struggle on campus against rape culture. But the patriarchy struck back brutally last spring, using its favorite tool of violence, the glass bottle. Outside a bar at the Corner:
One man flung a bottle at Jackie that broke on the side of her face, leaving a blood-red bruise around her eye.
That’s horrifying … assuming it happened. Or are we deep into Gone Girl territory now? (There’s nothing in the article about anybody calling the police over this presumably open-and-shut case.) Erdely continues:
She e-mailed Eramo so they could discuss the attack—and discuss another matter, too, which was troubling Jackie a great deal. Through her ever expanding network, Jackie had come across something deeply disturbing: two other young women who, she says, confided that they, too, had recently been Phi Kappa Psi gang-rape victims.
A bruise still mottling her face, Jackie sat in Eramo’s office in May 2014 …
Eramo had been listening to Jackie’s stories for a year at this point:
As Jackie wrapped up her story, she was disappointed by Eramo’s nonreaction. She’d expected shock, disgust, horror.
Erdely attributes this widespread ho-hum reaction among Jackie’s old friends and confidantes to a second massive conspiracy, this one to cover up the first conspiracy in order to protect that bastion of the right, UVA.
Erdely’s explanation for why those who know Jackie best didn’t rush her to the hospital or call 911 or even pay much attention to her claims over the next two years is that the University of Virginia is an alien, hostile, conservative country club with an
… aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings.
… I suppose that Erdely’s positing two conspiracy theories is logically consistent. But Occam’s razor suggests that the real campus conspiracy may have been to gently humor the unhappy girl.
This is not to say that something bad has never ever happened to Jackie in her life. People who like drama that much tend to have real, unfun drama happen to them.
It’s time to make up a list of all the voices of respectable thought who got lured in by this story from November 19 – November 30, while only a few wacko extremists questioned it.
Commenter Chris Anderson says:
In Gone Girl, a smashed glass table is the first sign to Nick Dunne that something is wrong, and also the first thing the cops notice that the crime scene might be a hoax.
So there’s that …
See the shattered glass table at 0:29 into the Gone Girl trailer.
In conclusion, Let the Recriminations Begin!
P.S. We should make up a table of links of prominent, respectable publications and individuals who promoted “A Rape on Campus” from November 19 through November 30. It would be an interesting list of the gullible and the ideological.