Politics & Media
Apr 08, 2015, 06:47AM

What We Know About Jackie

Haven Monahan says hello.

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It's too bad about Jackie: she's a big, big habitual liar. Either that or Sabrina Rubin Erdely has constructed a work of art, a fake pixel trail that fooled the people from Columbia University. “A Rape on Campus” is bullshit at its core because bullshit came out of Jackie's mouth. She lied about her friends and to her friends. She invented a boyfriend (a fact uncovered by the Daily Caller and other publications), then told her friends the boyfriend raped her, then told a reporter the friends had said cold, self-centered things, then told a second reporter that the first reporter had strong-armed her, kept her in the first reporter's big article when Jackie wanted out.

“Erdely said in an interview for this report that she was completely surprised by Jackie's statements to the Post and that Jackie never told her she wanted to withdraw from the story.” That's from the Columbia people, and Erdely is the Rolling Stone reporter. Here's someone else who had a surprise: Ryan Duffin, a friend of Jackie's from freshman year. Erdely wanted to talk with him, and Jackie said her friend had answered this way: “No!… I'm in a fraternity here, Jackie, I don't want the Greek system to go down, and it seems like that's what you want to happen… I don't want to be a part of whatever little shit show you're running.”

Ryan was surprised to hear he had said this. The Columbia report: “The entire conversation with Ryan that Jackie described to Erdely 'never happened,' he said. Jackie had never tried to contact him about cooperating with Rolling Stone.” At least Jackie had waited a while to dump on Ryan. Up until then, she'd been telling Erdely that the boy was the one friend who wanted her to seek help. The others shot down the idea as she stood there crying outside the frat house. They said the cold, self-centered things, callous things about maintaining their social lives, rape culture things: “She'll be the girl who cried 'rape.'” But Ryan Duffin had been on her side. Actually, it seems they'd all been telling her to go to the authorities, but Jackie's rendition gave that role to the one boy. Then this turnaround. The reporter wants to talk with the fellow, and Jackie comes back with an account of him raving about the Greek system. It's like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. But the reporter shrugs. “'Ryan is obviously out,' Erdely told Jackie a little later.”

The reporter said that, not the source. Erdely's major goal was to keep Jackie in the story. That way she had an article about a prolonged gang rape with broken glass and people saying “Grab its motherfucking leg” and “We all had to do it, so you do too” and “Don't you want to be a brother?” A gang rape apparently performed as an initiation rite, and in a fraternity the victim was willing to name. An article about that was something. An article just about campus rape really wasn't so much. Erdely and Rolling Stone went to some lengths to avoid getting stuck with such an article.

As Homer Simpson said, “It takes two to lie: one to lie and one to listen.” This is not true all the time, but in Erdely's case it was overwhelmingly true. A good reporter sees the truth as something that is extracted, not something that is given. But Jackie had given Erdely the glass-table extravaganza, and that was all Erdely wanted. Her goal became making sure that Jackie didn't take it away. The girl was skittish after all, a survivor. Who knew what could make her take off? For Erdely, the situation was like having a loose tooth: she became very, very careful. From her notes: “I work round Jackie, am I going to drive her from the process?” She couldn't just do some looking around and call kids likely to know Jackie from freshman year. But The Washington Post could, with cataclysmic results.

The Columbia people don't blame Jackie for the mess. Their focus is on the professionals, the Rolling Stone crew. Yes, the crew's performance was awful. Erdely collaborated in greasing her source's bogus account past the truth. She didn't just neglect to call the necessary people; when she contacted the frat that Jackie accused, she left out all the details of the allegations so there was nothing they could shoot down. Erdely says she assumed the frat was filled in by the university. If so, that's something she wanted to assume. If she had really wanted to verify facts, she would have given them in her email. Her editor also appears to have been hypnotized by the story. The two of them would kick around the need to contact the friends who were being vilified, or to locate the boy being accused of rape, and then they would figure, hey, just put fake names on everybody. The managing editor was fine with it. Biting his lip and looking back, he offers this analysis: “We never sort of allowed for the fact that maybe the story we were being told was not true.”

Obviously, somebody needs to be fired. Instead the magazine has affirmed that everyone will stay on and that it will buy more articles from Rubin Erdely. This is absurd. Yet I think that Jann Wenner, the boss of Rolling Stone, offers a good analysis of the overall situation. From the New York Times: “The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as 'a really expert fabulist storyteller' who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, 'but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”' He said it, but then he danced away.

As far as I know, a few parts of the Jackie story still hang on as true. She was crying and seemed traumatized, and her friends were sure she wasn't acting. A suite mate from freshman year says Jackie went from happy and outgoing to severely depressed. The police chief who investigated Jackie's story and found nothing was careful to add this comment: “That doesn't mean something terrible did not happen to Jackie on the evening of September 28, 2012.” I defer to his judgment, and when the story first broke I thought Erdely was the villain and Jackie the poor schmuck who was dragged along. But that was before her ex-friends stepped forward and Haven Monahan (her fake boyfriend) came to light with his duped phone numbers.

Maybe something terrible happened to Jackie. The evidence we have suggests that Jackie herself is something terrible. Maybe that's because of trauma, maybe it's because of character. Either way, people ought to factor it in and stop apologizing. There's no such thing as a perfect victim. There is such a thing as a liar.

—Follow C.T. May on Twitter: @CTMay2

  • The existence of Jackie is barely necessary to the story. SRE has done the same thing at least twice; once wrt the Navy and once wrt Catholic priests. It also appears Jackie was not bloody. The cop was saying, in effect, since you can't prove a negative, I am not going to get myself called a rape apologist. Somebody had to tell Jackie which frat to blame. My question is whether PTB at RS were dumb enough to believe SRE or whether they knew better but figured they'd get away with it because anybody who knew better would prefer not to be slagged by Jezebel &Co.

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  • Bloody -- I wasn't thinking of Longo's summary, which I agree was a can't-prove-a-negative. As to Jackie's necessity, she was very necessary to this particular account. Hence the hoops that Erdely and the rest jumped thru. That certainly doesn't mean that I think Erdely is honest. "Somebody had to tell Jackie which frat to blame." A UVa student needing an outside reporter to point her at a particular frat? I doubt it, especially when this was one of the most prestigious and big-name frats on campus.

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  • You're right about bloody. Her friends said she "appeared traumatized" but that "they did not notice any blood or visible injuries." (Washington Post) I'll ask the editors to fix my mistake.

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  • C.T. What I meant was that Jackie could have been a completely fictitious person and this story would have gone just as well. It would require her friends to be fictitious. Which would not be much different than how they were portrayed in the article. When queried about said fictitious person's interaction with the U, the U's insistence they had no record would prove they didn't care. IOW, this story, as BS as it was, was only a step away from being pure fiction insofar as the readers could tell. Had it been, nobody would have been the wiser until somebody decided to risk being called a rape apologist ("idiot" said Merlan) and actually looked into it. Not sure the RS staff would have objected, either.

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  • To extend it beyond Jackie, a couple of admin officials have said they didn't say anything nearly like what SRE had them saying. Some have suggested they may sue, as well as the frat. According to the report, one of Jackie';s' friends had to point out a frat house for Jackie to blame because...Jackie hadn't been in one to party, hadn't been in one to be assaulted and, if assaulted, it was at a different time in a different place by a different bunch. I've never been to UVa, and so I have to take...SRE's word that the house in question was the biggest and most prestigious. Somebody familiar with the campus said it wasn't, was middle of the road for Greeks. What interests me is why RS figured they'd get away with it. Did they figure the power of The Narrative would cause critics to self-censor? They may have been close.

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  • I've seen the frat described as a big deal in other news stories. At any rate, it wasn't the reporter who told Jackie, it was another student. True about the admin officials who say they got ripped by Erdely. But the heart of the article was Jackie's rape account, and all indications are that came from her. Not to mention the charming accounts of what her ex-friends supposedly said to her.

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  • Lot of blame to go around, and people have been focusing on the journalists' share of the fiasco. I don't think Jackie should be left off the hook. As to why the RS team thought they'd get away with it, most likely they didn't know they were getting away with anything. They wanted the story to be true, and they thought it was.

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  • I suppose you can lay a lot of blame on Jackie. But if a sensible grown up had ignored her, we wouldn't be talking about this. It appears that when SRE went looking for the Perfect Rape, she didn't find the right "feel" on other campuses. But an activist named Renda steered her to Jackie who, once she got started, had to keep going, faster and faster. The president, Sullivan, couldn't do anything about the threats from town (see Hannah Graham aka "who?" who is currently unavailable for comment) but when the opportunity arose to DO SOMETHING and to be seen as doing it resolutely, she took the opportunity to do it to the innocent. Thing is, as Greeks, they were the standard Other and Enemy of the Right Sort of People. Nothing wrong with screwing them.

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  • "I suppose you can lay a lot of blame on Jackie." I sure can. She "had to keep going"? No, she didn't. This is not deny that the RS bunch behaved execrably.

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  • People can stop at that point, if they even started, speaking of ordinary people, presuming ordinary people have gotten themselves so far into rape activism and what not. Jackie as a type could not.

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  • So Jackie's lying wasn't the result of Erdely's actions, just the result of Jackie being the kind off person she is. Hmm. I think you're slipping away from the point you set out to make.

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  • Nope. Jackie was a fabulist, got involved in anti-rape issues, discovered that being a "survivor" meant more creds andy sympathy. Renda aimed SRE at Jackie who was, at the time, catfishing about "drew", and made up a fake boyfriend for jealousy's sake, or something, then faked up a horrid rape, details--like the frat--to be determined later. SRE got to her and managed to put these disparate factors into a story. My point is, Jackie, being the person she is, could not have not lied, could not have stopped. Particularly when she was in too deep to back out and, due to her type, doubled down. Sort of like being the proprietor of a ponzi scheme when folks are looking for their money. SRE, loving the story--better than she could have expected--took care to avoid finding it was BS. Careful questioning can organize disparate impressions, too. If SRE didn't know she was being put on, I'm Einstein. She had the story--uncaring university, if she misrepresented the facts correctly--and a horrendous lede (as the journos call it). Yeah, Jackie's initial lies were hers and as time went on, she filled in the necessary gaps for SRE. Who ate it up.

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