How Rolling Stone's rape tale became its 'worst nightmare'

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Journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely may be a two-legged version of the Big Dig, the disastrously executed rerouting of Interstate 93 in Boston. She's gouging out a bigger and bigger hole for herself as a result of her hellacious 2014 "Rape on Campus" article for Rolling Stone. Now she's detailing her own supposed post-publication qualms about a University of Virginia student's claim of gang rape — and doing so in an unpersuasive fashion.

In a pre-holiday court filing in a defamation case, she says she lost confidence in her key source just as other media were hot on the trail and suggesting flaws in her piece. "She wrote a late-night email to her editors alerting them that she no longer trusted the allegations, hours before the fraternity in question would publicly attack the story and The Washington Post would outline holes in the gang-rape narrative." (The Washington Post)

“The subject line of my email was ‘our worst nightmare,’ and that was true,” she writes in the filing about the story that was ultimately retracted. “The experience of losing faith in Jackie’s credibility was devastating and disorienting. I had been completely blindsided. I felt shattered.”

But while she underscores her complete faith in her source while she was reporting and writing, The Post finds that the new court documents, including Erdely’s reporting notes, "show that there were numerous red flags that Jackie’s account might not hold water. Her fraternity gang-rape tale appeared to mimic details included in books and a television show Jackie had seen — both of which were mentioned to Erdely in early interviews with the student — and some details she provided to Erdely clashed with witness accounts, though Erdely did not interview those witnesses, according to the court documents."

Her account only underscores her screw-up. A related Post piece yesterday combined the sagas of Erdely and the recently tarnished Gay Talese, alluding to, if not attributing, an admonition for young reporters that's actually associated with the defunct City News Bureau of Chicago: If your mother says she loves you, check it out. (The Washington Post)

How Kevin Durant leapfrogged the sportswriting world

ESPN switched from Wimbledon to a Stephen A. Smith-Chris Broussard shouting match after Kevin Durant, the biggest of pro basketball free agents, announced his decision to sign with the Golden State Warriors and thus leave Oklahoma City. (Deadspin) Notably, Durant did so on The Players' Tribune, the athlete-friendly site started by Derek Jeter and for which Durant is listed as "deputy publisher." (Players' Tribune) Presumably, Jeter does not insist on a sales, marketing or Harvard Business School background for his top strategic aides-de-camp. Players' Tribune is sort of like a Medium for jocks and their ghostwriter agents and branding consultants, who seek to cut journalists off at the pass with gauzy, self-serving proclamations like that of Durant on Monday. (The New York Times)

This revelation came after much speculation about his big-bucks future, which even prompted USA Today to run separate analyses in making the case for why he should sign with Golden State, Boston or once again with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder's hometown paper had made clear, "Anxiety grips the state as we wait not on neighborhood parades, homemade ice cream and Roman candles, but the employment status of a certain thin man who stands as high as an elephant's eye." (The Oklahoman)

Well, by afternoon, Oklahoma City was presumably left with parades, ice cream and Roman candles, if not its Washington, D.C.-bred sports icon. As it wallowed in a civic melancholy, everybody and his mother opined about the decision, including Slate. It argued the Warriors' lineup "will be, indisputably, the best non-Dream Team fivesome in the history of the sport." (Slate)

Perhaps. There were similar claims in 1968 when Wilt Chamberlain was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and joined Elgin Baylor and Jerry West. Ditto with many teams in other sports of more recent vintage (of late in soccer with Barcelona F.C. melding assembling the potent offensive trio of Argentine Lionel Messi, Brazilian Neymar and the Uruguayan Luis Suarez). Stuff happens. The assumptions of Warrior invincibility and Oklahoma City demise may be premature, even as it provides a midsummer cottage industry for sports journalism.

Brexit and social media

The Guardian's Emily Bell argues that the facts about Brexit didn't stand a chance in the new media world. "In the quaint steam age of Mark Twain it was the case, as the writer allegedly noted, that: 'A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.' Owing to significant changes in the media landscape since 1900, the same lie can now circumnavigate the globe, get a million followers on Snapchat and reverse 60 years of political progress while the truth is snoozing in a Xanax-induced coma, eyeshade on, earplugs in." (The Guardian)

Happy birthday, FOIA

It was surely lost in July 4 celebrations, but it was 50 years ago yesterday that a decidedly reluctant President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act. (National Security Archive) His qualms were underscored in his formal signing statement. (National Security Archive)

Real estate news from the Hamptons

"Now that Matt Lauer and his wife, Annette, have been unveiled as the new owners of Richard Gere’s former North Haven estate Strongheart Manor, a 6.2 acre waterfront beauty within minutes of Sag Harbor's Main Street that they snagged for 'half-off' the original $65 million price tag, the savvy real-estate moguls have now put their North Sea home up for sale." It's 1,800-square feet, has three bedrooms and two bathrooms and is being listened for just under $4 million. (Southampton Patch)

Poignant effort on hospice care

The New Yorker's Larissa MacFarquhar offers a terrific profile of the world of hospice care by following a Brooklyn, New York nurse who visits as many as 20 patients once a week. Not too long ago “dying at home seemed, for a while, as unconventional as giving birth at home." These days, about twice as many Americans die in hospice as in a hospital. And this particular nurse “feels that it is a privilege to spend time with the dying, to be allowed into a person’s life and a family’s life when they are at their rawest and most vulnerable, and when they most need help." MacFarquhar pulls off a tricky challenge in chronicling the at-times complicated intimacy of these final days without seeming too intrusive. How, for example, does this nurse respond when a patient asks her just how much time they have left to live? And how does she deal with the occasional frictions created by family members? It's all here, including at least one seemingly uplifting ending. (The New Yorker)

A new Indian press chief's qualms

CK Prasad, a onetime judge on India's Supreme Court, is new chairman of the Press Council of India and clearly not as outspoken as his predecessor, who once said, "90 percent of Indians are idiots." When it comes to attack on journalists, the new guy says, "If someone is killed because he had a dispute with his brother-in-law or related to any property, then it is not an attack on journalists. The Indian press is not making this basic distinction. When a journalist is killed, then there is an attempt to convey that the journalist has been killed for his writing. In many cases, it is not true. (Hindustan Times) This doesn't seem like a precursor to a rabble-rousing tenure for Mr. Prasad.

The real "House of Cards"

The backstabbing and intrigue playing out in British politics following the Brexit vote tops any fictionalized tales in "House of Cards." Henry Farrell, a political scientist at George Washington University, also notes that it wasn't an accident that Netflix looked to Britain to find a TV show that had sharp things to say about politics. "American shows about politics tend to be sappy, banal and uplifting — 'The West Wing' is a perfect example. They usually assume that politicians are good, sincere people at heart. British shows tend to be far more cynical. People who are engaged with politics — including political scientists — tend to be cynical, too, and as a result often prefer British political TV to its American equivalent." (The Monkey Cage)

Life's counsel from a tech success

"By all accounts, especially her own, Diane Greene has had a fabulous career. Today she's running Google's cloud business, but she's best known as the cofounder and first CEO of the giant IT company VMware." She's done very, very well running businesses and also consulting and investing in startups. But she'd previously been a world-class sailor, designed ships and helped run a windsurfing company. Her counsel to one and all? "I just do what I want to do. I look at what’s interesting to me." Just keep your sense of curiosity. (Business Insider)

Sidney Blumenthal, Clinton defender par excellence

Sidney Blumenthal is a very smart and controversial media figure in Washington. He was a stellar alternative press reporter in Boston before heading to the capital and prominent (at-times disputed) stints with The New Republic, The Washington Post and The New Yorker before heading to the Clinton White House. Some have always seen him as too much the Clinton partisan, a reputation only heightened by release of Clinton's Secretary of State emails.

The Obama White House didn't trust him at all and derailed her desire to have him work for her at the State Department. In recent years he's mostly been a consultant as he's also started labor on a four-volume biography of Abe Lincoln. The first, well-received installment is out and offers some arguably coincidental, perhaps unwitting insights into his own self-image and relationship with the Clintons. Here's my profile of him ("The Hillary Confidant You Can't Escape") out today in Vanity Fair. (Vanity Fair)

Trump's holiday weekend

At least somebody was watching the Sunday morning shows on the long holiday. Tweeted Donald Trump: "Just watched @meetthepress and how totally biased against me Chuck Todd, and the entire show, is against me. The good news — the people get it!" Good news, also, that he didn't use the phrase "against me" three times in same sentence, only twice. Meanwhile, lots of journalists got into the action tweeting themselves on another Trump tweet of far more problematic nature. The candidate on Monday "defended a tweet that he sent, and then deleted, featuring a six-pointed star in criticizing his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign said the tweet employed clear anti-Semitic imagery." (The Wall Street Journal) Meanwhile, Jared Kushner, his 35-year-old rich kid son-in-law (Ivanka's husband) and publisher (The Observer in New York City), is portrayed as immersed "in virtually every facet of the Trump presidential operation, so much so that many inside and out of it increasingly see him as a de facto campaign manager." (The New York Times)

Before going into overdrive on veepstakes

Journalists know that vice-presidential running mates tend to have no impact in a campaign. But it hasn't stopped tons of speculation and, once Clinton and Trump make their decisions, tons of analyses on the ramifications. Frank Bruni probably gets it right, certainly with the inconsequence of Clinton's ultimate choice, given how well-known Clinton is and how polarized views are of her. Though the overriding realities seem clear, "We’re about to ignore that. We have paragraphs to write, airtime to fill. And like chefs talking up the momentousness of a meal, we’ll present Clinton’s and Trump’s running mates as crucially palate-priming appetizers, perfectly complementary side dishes, make-or-break desserts. Really they’re just garnishes — in Clinton’s case, a mere sprig of parsley." (The New York Times)

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    James Warren

    New York City native, graduate of Collegiate School, Amherst College and Roosevelt University. Married to Cornelia Grumman, dad of Blair and Eliot. National columnist, U.S. News & World Report. Former managing editor and Washington Bureau Chief, Chicago Tribune.


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