Today, I saw an American Redstart. It’s another tiny little warbler. First I noticed the male, and then a few minutes later a little gray bird caught my attention. I didn’t know what it was, so I snapped a picture. I believe it’s the female.

Redstart-Male

Redstart-Female

At the edge of the lake, I saw a sizable bird that resembled a heron but was not one of the herons I know. Looking it up, I found out it was a Black-crowned Night Heron.

Black-crowned-Night-HeronWhen he turned his head, you could see the long plumes.

Black-crowned-Night-Heron-GroomingBy some bushes, I heard some loud cries. I watched and an adult American Robin hopped along the ground followed by two fledglings. The adult continued to hop forward and the babies followed making quite a noise. The adult appeared to be showing the young ones how to forage for themselves. It was very cute.

Robin-FamilyFinally, I saw the irises have started to bloom.

Iris-by-Lake

For my readers outside of the United States, the Pew Research Center is an organization that conducts data-driven social science research on issues and attitudes shaping both the United States and the world. They are “nonprofit, nonpartisan and nonadvocacy” and their research is widely cited and is generally considered reliable. They focus very heavily on polling and demographics. They have regularly published research on the United States’ religious attitudes and demographics.

The U.S. Census does not ask questions about religion.

The Religious Landscape Studies were designed to fill the gap. Comparing two virtually identical surveys, conducted seven years apart, can bring important trends into sharp relief. In addition, the very large samples in both 2007 and 2014 included hundreds of interviews with people from small religious groups that account for just 1% or 2% of the U.S. population, such as Mormons, Episcopalians and Seventh-day Adventists. This makes it possible to paint demographic and religious profiles of numerous denominations that cannot be described by smaller surveys.

A few key items that might interest people:

  • There has been a dramatic increase in the numbers of people identifying as “unaffiliated,” a group that includes agnostics and atheists. They are the second largest group after Evangelicals.
  • All major Christian groups, Evangelicals, Mainline Protestant and Catholics, have declined as a percentage of the population. Mainline Protestants and Catholics have declined dramatically. Evangelical Christians have grown in absolute numbers, but declined slightly as a percentage.
  • Non-Christian faiths have grown, with the main growth occurring among Hindus and Muslims.
  • Switching religions is a common occurrence in the U.S.
    • “If all Protestants were treated as a single religious group, then fully 34% of American adults currently have a religious identity different from the one in which they were raised.”
    • “If switching among the three Protestant traditions… is added to the total, then the share of Americans who currently have a different religion than they did in childhood rises to 42%.”
  • Religious switching has mainly resulted in gains among the unaffiliated. “But for every person who has joined a religion after having been raised unaffiliated, there are more than four people who have become religious “nones” after having been raised in some religion. This 1:4 ratio is an important factor in the growth of the unaffiliated population.”
  • The percentage of the unaffiliated who describe themselves as atheists or agnostic has grown.

You can read the report on the Pew website.

I don’t have any thoughts on the report yet myself, but I’d love to hear yours if you have any.

I took so many pictures yesterday, including flowers and landscapes, I’ve decided to just concentrate on some of my “birding” pictures. Right now, on the East Coast of the U.S., in the mid-Atlantic states, we are having what is known as “the warbler migration.” The wood-warblers, family Parulidae, are small song birds many of whom winter in the Caribbean, southern Florida and eastern Mexico. Central Park, as it happens, is a great place to look for birds. There is a lake in the park, and immediately to the north of the lake is a wooded area known as “the Ramble.” This is the prime place to go to look for warblers. I’m new to this, and I only saw a few species, and got photos of fewer.

I went to the park again. Under a tree, eating some seeds were two ducks. One was the oddly colored duck that I saw a few weeks ago.

Dark-Duck

A typical male Mallard was with her.

Two-DucksI may be jumping to conclusions, but in my mind the other duck is the same male I saw before and the dark duck is a female.

I also got some nice pictures of a pair of geese, one on a nest and another standing at a distance.

As people who stop by here regularly may have figured out, although I frequently agree with criticisms from the left about what is wrong with society, I tend to not agree about the solutions. For example, capitalism results in economic injustice, but we won’t bring about a more just society through a planned economy.

The extreme left seems to want to justify and romanticize the actions of the rioters in Baltimore last night. Baltimore is a poor city. It is bleak. There is great economic disparities and great injustices. However, the riots will only serve to exacerbate that injustice. Not only will no good come of it, but bad will come. Many areas of the city already lack basic things like drugstores and grocery stores. Businesses don’t want to open there. There’s a high unemployment rate. When businesses are robbed and set on fire, it makes it even less likely that the new businesses will want to open. That means fewer services and fewer jobs, and the cycle worsens.

The rich, the supposed oppressors, felt not one ounce of pain last night. Who was scared last night? Was it someone on an estate far away or someone in a small rowhouse? The cars that were torched probably didn’t belong to the wealthy, and if they did insurance would replace it. Here is an image from The Baltimore Sun of a woman who had to abandon her car at an intersection. There were images of cars at that very same intersection that were set on fire last night. Last night I saw a video of a family that had to flee their burning home. They were, in all likelihood, no wealthier than their neighbors.

Ta-Nehisi Coate’s article for The Atlantic criticizing non-violence is slightly less ridiculous than an article by Shawn Gude in The Jacobin, but they share the same image, one of young man on a bicycle, seen from behind, fist in the air, apparently defying a line of riot police. The concluding lines of The Jacobin article read:

If the future is uncertain, one thing is clear: it is only through resistance and struggle that a new, more just Baltimore will be born.

Another image shows the same young man from the front. It is a credit to the photographer, Algerina Perna, that it is such a compelling image. It is nearly monochromatic. The gray, smoke-filled background. The uniforms of the police officers creates a dark gray horizontal line. With the police slightly out of focus, the viewer’s eye is brought to the young man in sharp focus in the foreground. His red shirt pops out against the grays. Visually, his arm breaks the line of the police officers. His dark fist is prominent against the pale gray of the smoke. It is a strong image of defiance and rebellion. Yet, how much substance is behind that image?

Because in the second image we can see him from the front, we see that he is wearing a gas mask. This allows us to identify him as the person in this video. In the video, while the newscaster interviews someone who appears in multiple videos, we see a fire hose hooked up to a fire hydrant in the background. Someone punctures the fire hose. With the camera now focused on the hose, we see a thin young man wearing the same red and gray jersey, wearing the same gas mask, puncture the fire hose. He flees on a bicycle. There is something especially despicable about someone who hampers the efforts of firemen. Last night, in Baltimore, there were reports of rioters throwing rocks and bottles at firemen.

Later, elsewhere in the city, there was a building under construction that entirely burned to the ground. It was one of the most widely shown images because the fire was so dramatic and the news crews had good footage of it. The building was intending to be a center to provide community services and housing for seniors. A local church had been working on it for eight years. Eight years of work destroyed in one night. Eight years of work by local people for local people. Meanwhile, where were the rich of the area this past weekend? Attending the Maryland Hunt Cup. Frown at the privilege if you like, but recognize that the riots did not have any affect on the people who attended that.

It is simply a fantasy that riots and “rebellion” has even the remotest possibility of overturning the established order. However dramatic and compelling the image is, it is just that, an image, and it is a shame that people are seduced by it.

I’ve been meaning to draw more, but I never know what to draw. Sometimes, I just let my hand go and my mind follows. Most frequently, I draw faces. I don’t think that’s unusual.

Twinkie BanditSo, I’m calling this, “The Twinkie Bandit.” Long ago, I had a boyfriend that used to use that phrase all the time. I guess it’s sort of nasty, but he was aware that it described himself as a pre-adolescent. I don’t know if they have them outside of the U.S., but Twinkies are mass-produced vanilla cakes that you can buy in convenience stores and drugstores. They come as two small oblong cakes to a package and they’re inexpensive. When my sister and I were young, we’d ask our mother or grandmother for a few quarters and go to a nearby candy store. It was just about as far as we were allowed to go without supervision. It had a soda fountain, comic books, candy, popular paperback books and newspapers. We’d buy a package and split it. As it happens, I preferred Devil Dogs or Yodels because they were chocolate.

My doodle doesn’t really resemble my former boyfriend when he as a kid, but it does a little bit. Next year, he’ll discover girls and cut down on the Twinkies.

20150418_145839

Some Virginia bluebells

Last weekend I went to my sister’s place down in Baltimore to do a little work in the yard. Here are some pictures I took.

This is some sort of Trillium.  I won't be able to know what type it is until it blooms.

This is some sort of Trillium. I won’t be able to know what type it is until it blooms.

ICNA irregularly shaped flower about 3 inches high with lacy leaves

Here are some Dutchman’s Breeches. There were more however some animal ate the others.

This is a squirrel I call Spot. She recognized me from last year.

This is a squirrel I call Spot. She recognized me from last year.

A chipmunk.

A chipmunk.

Some Primroses.

Some Primroses.

Addendum: I originally tried to post this from my phone, which is why I suppose the format looks a little strange. Also, the size of the photo files are a little large. Normally, when I post from my desktop, I try to make the file size smaller. I do have to say, however, that the phone takes surprisingly good pictures.

I’m a creaky old lady. Cranky, sometimes too. My age shows in attitudes that appear to be becoming quaint. For instance, I love technology, but I’m not oriented towards consumerism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no prude and am perfectly happy to have a new toy, but I don’t quite get the attitude that you have to have the latest even if it isn’t the greatest. The evident pride some people have in showing-off their new consumer devices is something I don’t quite feel. I’m happy enough to have an item myself, but I don’t really care if the whole world knows about it, or if they already have it.

Back when new technology came in a large, unsexy, beige box that sat at home and no one even knew you had, I was pretty much in tune with the attitudes of other people who were technophiles. Starting with the iPod, however, technology became something you took out of the house and was therefore easy to show off. Then the melding of a love of technology and consumerism created a new animal, technophile 2.0.

Which is a long-winded way of saying, “What’s up with that watch?”

Since I’m technophile 1.0, I’m more likely to read Tom’s Hardware than Gizmodo, which means I only have a vague awareness of what the new items are and what they do. Back when the new technology still sat inside, or at least was plugged into, that big, beige box, I had a tendency to buy technology that was not the newest. Right after the price dropped seemed to get you the biggest bang for your buck, then I’d use it until it was dead as a doornail. Back then, by the way, geeks were notoriously cheap. In recent years, that technique hasn’t been as functional because many of our new computer related items become less functional quite quickly. My cell phone, which was considered a “smart phone” when I got it, did about what an average “dumb phone” does today. However, despite not being able to access all sorts of applications, I was still using it until about a week ago when it became the worlds smallest doorstop. I just can’t bring myself to throw out something that’s still remotely functional. It feels unnatural. (And my apologies for any unreturned phone calls. It’s not you. For a change, it’s not even me. It’s my phone. As soon as I get a new one, I’ll return your call.)

Which brings me to the watch.

When I first hit that age when girls start pretending that they’re women and carrying purses, I learned a lesson. In fact, I learned the lesson many times. The lesson is this: Most people are really nice and very honest. You see, I had a bad habit of leaving my purse all over the place. Inevitably, it was returned. As a result, I’m absurdly trusting. Once, on a date, I lost my wallet. The man with me asked if I needed to cancel my credit cards. I said, “No, my wallet will be returned.” He thought I was being reckless. Perhaps, but I was right. (Thanks, Pia!) Still, over the years, I learned to not carry a purse. I adopted smaller men’s wallets rather than the strangely large things women carry. I seek out clothes with pockets. I go to the grocery store looking like I’m ready for a safari or a month in the Australian outback. Generally, however, I travel light. The rise of the cell phone has caused me to start carrying a purse again. How strange to have a whole bag just for one item. I’ve tried clipping it to my belt. I assure you that the old Blackberry could survive flying about ten feet and landing on hard pavement as you jog across an intersection. Despite the proven durability of the phone, I was less sure of the durability of my body and I felt that one day I might get hit by a car running back to retrieve my wayward phone. I gave up the belt clip.

So, my phone is now dead and, the other day, I roused myself to take a look at what was on the market to replace it. “OMG! A watch!” Ah, I had such fantasies of dashing around Manhattan, as free and bagless as I was in my twenties, phone strapped conveniently to my wrist. So what if the screen is a little small. I didn’t surf the web on my phone much anyway. I could feel like James Bond talking into my sleeve.

Alas, it seems that that unicorn was just a goat viewed from the wrong angle. On closer inspection, it seems that you still need a phone, and need to carry it with you. The watch apparently just syncs to the phone. It doesn’t appear to be particularly useful, just one more encumbrance, which leads me to wonder why anybody wants it.

I went for a walk in the park today with my camera. The weather was beautiful and I’d been meaning to get out. Over the next few weeks, we should be having the warbler migration. In fact, I saw a Yellow-rumped warbler today. Hopefully, within a few days I’ll be able to put up some of the pictures. I got lots of them. Mainly birds, but some turtles and squirrels as well. I saw a flicker, which always makes me happy for some reason.

For now, however, I wanted to put up a picture of a bird I can’t identify.

strange-duckObviously, it’s a duck of some sort, but what type of duck. It just so happens he or she was swimming alongside a male Mallard.

two-ducksTheir profiles look very similar. I couldn’t help wondering if this could possibly be a melanistic Mallard. Has anyone heard of such a thing?

I’ve mentioned before that I could tone troll Amanda Marcotte on every third or fourth post she writes. I generally don’t because, while I believe her job mainly consists in voicing the outrage of her readers rather than enlightening or informing them, I’m usually in broad agreement with her. At some point, if I spend my time tone trolling other feminists, I have to ask myself what my priorities are. Don’t I have bigger fish to fry?

However, a couple of days ago, she put up a post with which I disagreed in substance, not in tone. The more I think about it, the more I think it is a subject I should address. By now, I think many people are aware of the scandal that has been swirling around the magazine Rolling Stone. In December, they published a story, “A Rape on Campus”, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was assigned to write an article about sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that has been of growing concern in the United States. She sought out an “emblematic college rape case.” The story she chose to write was centered on the University of Virginia and the alleged gang rape of a first year student named Jackie. The veracity of the allegations were brought into doubt. Rolling Stone retracted the story. Recently, a group from the Columbia School of Journalism released a report about the failures in the story.

Back when I was a college freshman myself, in the early 1980s, I took an introductory women’s studies’ class. For one assignment, I wanted to write a paper, not about the crime of rape itself, but how a fear of being raped affected women’s daily lives, what they did or did not do in order to avoid being raped. Having grown up in a sheltered environment where crime was almost unknown, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to write about rape on campus. At that point in time, I had only the vaguest awareness that it happened. As word spread that I was writing a paper “about rape,” other students started to come up to me to tell me about something that happened to them. I was in no way, shape or form prepared for what I was about to hear and it shocked me profoundly. Almost every story started with a similar phrase, “I don’t know if it was rape or not…,” and almost every story I would personally have considered rape. Clearly, they wanted to tell someone, and clearly they had no one to tell. One involved large amounts of drugs and alcohol. Most did not. One involved enough violence and bodily harm that the woman had to be treated at the local hospital, but most did not result in serious injuries. The amount of force varied. The degree to which the victim knew her assailant varied. It was readily apparent that it could happen to anyone, both the cautious and the reckless. This affected me greatly and I’ve taken the subject of rape very seriously ever since. At the time, the stories were shocking because I was naive. Now, older, I look back and I can say that they were almost all undramatic, anti-climatic and banal. None of the women had gone to the police. As far as I know, they put the episode behind them and got on with their lives. I add that last part, not to minimize the seriousness of the crime, but to try to reduce the sensationalistic aspects. The days when a woman was “ruined” by rape, when it was a “fate worse than death,” were the days when women had few economic options beyond marriage, and marriage was unthinkable unless one was a virgin.

The lack of drama in the stories I heard has a particular interest to me in light of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article. Erdely considers herself a “true crime” writer, and she writes with all the luridness that might imply.

Trust between a doctor and patient is never more fragile than in a gynecologist’s office. For many women, there is no indignity greater than lying supine and vulnerable, being touched with gloved fingers and cold metal instruments in the most private of places. At best it is an uncomfortable and highly charged situation to begin with – even more so if the gynecologist is male – never mind if something goes wrong.

I have great difficulty reading stories about rape, however, when I decided to write this post last night, I read the original article, “A Rape on Campus”, which I had avoided, I also read the report by the people from Columbia about the original story’s failures, several Washington Post articles criticizing “A Rape on Campus,” as well as a few other articles, including some in the University of Virginia’s student paper. There has been quite a bit more written about this scandal. I also read some of Ederly’s earlier work. That previous paragraph came from an article, “Intimate Intimidation,” that appeared in Philadelphia magazine in 1996. I’ve been going to doctors for gynecological examinations for over thirty-five years now, and I have to say that I can in no way relate to this lurid, sensationalistic description. In this case, the gynecologist was in fact convicted of molesting his patients in a court of law, but it is worth noting Ederly’s style. “Never more fragile.” “No greater indignity.” “Supine and vulnerable.”

Admittedly, I read “A Rape on Campus” with a far more critical eye than I would have had it not been retracted. Still, the first thing that jumped out at me was this description:

A chatty, straight-A achiever from a rural Virginia town, she’d initially been intimidated by UVA’s aura of preppy success, where throngs of toned, tanned and overwhelmingly blond students fanned across a landscape of neoclassical brick buildings…

Overwhelmingly blond? It was such a strange descriptor I looked up pictures of students online. The university is one of the country’s better schools and the students are certainly clean cut, but I don’t know that I would describe them as overwhelmingly blond. However the atmosphere described at the school is integral to the story. Erdely continues to play upon the contrast established in that early sentence. The innocent, dark haired, country girl from a modest background and the rich, entitled frat boys. Although my own sympathies tend not to lie with rich, entitled frat boys, I couldn’t help the feeling that she was distorting the reality to make her case. The fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked was an “‘upper tier’ frat” that “had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving “Phi Psi” the undisputed best real estate.” The University of Virginia is described as “genteel,” lacking in radical feminists, not “edgy or progressive.”

Prestige is at the core of UVA’s identity. Although a public school, its grounds of red-brick, white-columned buildings designed by founder Thomas Jefferson radiate old-money privilege, footnoted by the graffiti of UVA’s many secret societies, whose insignias are neatly painted everywhere. At $10,000 a year, in-state tuition is a quarter the cost of the Ivies, but UVA tends to attract affluent students, and through aggressive fundraising boasts an endowment of $5 billion, on par with Cornell. “Wealthy parents are the norm,” says former UVA dean John Foubert. On top of all that, UVA enjoys a reputation as one of the best schools in the country, not to mention a campus so brimming with fun that in 2012 – the year of Jackie’s rape – Playboy crowned it the nation’s number-one party school. Students hold themselves up to that standard: studious by day, wild by night.

The story reported that Jackie’s friends discouraged her from reporting the assault because they were concerned with their social status.

A recent article in the Univeristy’s student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, takes exception with the way the school was portrayed in the article.

For University students, Rolling Stone did not just get one story wrong. It presented a skewed perspective of our student body; it vilified administrators without adequately explaining the constraints of federal law regarding these issues; it reduced the significance of organizations like One Less and One in Four, as well as the work of many students; it selected egregious elements of University culture — such as the “Rugby Road” song and the phrase “UVrApe” — and treated them as ubiquitous when they are not.

This portrayal interested me because it reminded me of another school that many people felt was inaccurately portrayed by Erdely in another Rolling Stone article, “School of Hate.” The school in that article, the Anoka-Hennepin school district which is located in Minnesota, experienced a suicide cluster. Several of the students who killed themselves were, or were presumed to be, gay. At the same time, the school district was experiencing an internal struggle between a religiously motivated conservative group and the rest of the community. The suicides and the political conflict had been previously covered by Mother Jones and The New York Times, both of which noted that people have drawn a link between the anti-gay conservative activism and the suicides. However, it was Rolling Stone article that some people from the town felt portrayed them unfairly and inaccurately. Again, it seems the drama was heightened at the cost of accuracy.

The errors in Erdely’s UVA article have been picked over by quite a few people and I might not have written about it myself if it hadn’t been for Amanda Marcotte’s post.

The various reporting and investigation that was released prior to this paints, I think, a fairly solid picture of what likely happened, which is that Jackie was telling a tall tale and even seems to have invented the guy who she claimed was the ringleader in a gang rape. (He seems to have been a composite character, constructed out of  pictures of one guy and biographical details from a couple more.) Her friends suggested to the Washington Post that this was a habit of hers, as they suspected her of making up a date with an imaginary friend in order to try to get the interest of a guy who rejected her. Whether or not she made the rape up whole cloth or embroidered/fictionalized a real event remains unknown, though either way, what she did was very wrong.

Strangely, Marcotte decides to be hyper-critical of T. Rees Shapiro, the reporter from the Washington Post who interviewed people at the University of Virgina and found the discrepancies which discredited the story. Shapiro reports that Jackie told him that she asked to be taken out of the story, a part of the article that Marcotte quotes. She continues:

They did reach out to Erdely for comment about this and she didn’t respond, so that’s on her. But the report from the Columbia investigators suggests that this was yet another lie from Jackie. But the fact that this accusation was printed gives me some pause. Unlike Erdely, T. Rees Shapiro seems to have gone into his conversations with Jackie with a suspicion that she was lying about the rape. Under the circumstances, it seems more suspicion was warranted that Jackie would make up more lies to make herself look better. The irony here is that Erdely is the only flesh-and-blood human being that Jackie appears to have falsely accused of anything.

Marcotte misunderstands the nature of the criticism of Erdely’s article. In her style, which the Colombia team called “narrative,” Erdely presents much of Jackie’s story without attribution, leading the reader to believe that many of the events were corroborated by other people. Shapiro, however, notes clearly that Jackie told him this.

It is important to note that Jackie never approached Erdely with the story. The team from Columbia that examined the failures in the reporting note that one thing that caused Erdely to not question Jackie’s friends or seek out the alleged perpetrator was because she was afraid that Jackie would pull out of the story.

Jackie proved to be a challenging source. At times, she did not respond to Erdely’s calls, texts and emails. At two points, the reporter feared Jackie might withdraw her cooperation. Also, Jackie refused to provide Erdely the name of the lifeguard who had organized the attack on her. She said she was still afraid of him. That led to tense exchanges between Erdely and Jackie, but the confrontation ended when Rolling Stone‘s editors decided to go ahead without knowing the lifeguard’s name or verifying his existence. After that concession, Jackie cooperated fully until publication.

Unlike Marcotte, I am far less sympathetic to the notion that a forty-something journalist with approximately twenty years of experience was manipulated by an undergraduate who was a compulsive liar without feeling that there must be some underlying problem in her approach to journalism.

I am personally so opposed to the political views espoused by the founder of the site Red State that I find it actually embarrassing to quote an article from the site. However, Leon H. Wolf makes an excellent point when he notes that:

One of the painful things the New Republic was forced to undertake when it first came to light that reporter Stephen Glass had fabricated certain details of his stories was to go over all his stories with a fine toothed comb to determine exactly how systemic the problem had been with Glass’s reporting. After all, a reporter who faked details in one or two stories might well have done so in others. To TNR’s credit, they promptly performed an exhaustive, line-by-line review of each of Glass’s stories over the years and laid bare the gruesome results for the world to see, exposing that the infractions for which Glass was eventually caught were only the tip of the iceberg, and that fabulist reporting by Glass was the rule, not the exception.

By way of contrast, in the wake of a damning CJR report on the reporting practices of Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the editorial and fact checking practices of Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone has shown absolutely no inclination to engage in a similar soul searching over whether Ms. Erdely might have engaged in similarly shoddy reporting in the past, and whether such shoddy reporting (if it exists) might have slipped through their fact checking and editorial system. Ms. Erdely by all appearances has not been professionally disciplined at all for her blunders and the Rolling Stone brass is acting as though this is an isolated incident in which they were blameless victims of an exceptionally clever con artist.

By coincidence, the Stephen Glass scandal was fresh in my mind because, a few days ago, I was about to throw out my old copies of The New Republic when I decided to go through them to see if there were any interesting stories I’d overlooked. There was one about Stephen Glass.

Before I came across the Red State article, I’d already looked up the Wikipedia page on Erdely. On her Wikipedia page, there is information about another article she wrote about shocking sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, including information about a boy who alleged that he had been gang raped by priests. According to Wikipedia:

Ralph Cipriano wrote in Newsweek that “Erdely didn’t know or bother to find out … that Billy had already told his story to the archdiocese, police, and a grand jury, and would subsequently retell it to two different juries in two criminal cases. And every time he told his story, the details kept changing.”

The Red State article by Wolf is concerned with yet another article about a sexual assault written by Erdely, “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer.” All the articles I can find criticizing this piece by Erdely are unfortunately from websites with an acknowledged conservative agenda. Where is the soul searching on the left? Her work needs to be examined without the defensiveness. It needs to be gone over with a fine toothed comb, just like the work of Stephen Glass.

In “What Went Wrong,” Coronel, Coll and Kravitz write:

The story’s blowup comes as another shock to journalism’s credibility amid head-swiveling change in the media industry. The particulars of Rolling Stone‘s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail.

Unfortunately, they fail to note what some of those “head-swiveling” changes might be. One thing that had changed in recent years is a changing attitude towards journalistic objectivity. From Media Ethics:

The past two decades have witnessed a conscious push away from the traditional journalistic value of objectivity, often deeming it an impossible goal…. Scholars have noted that advocacy journalism promotes societal change. Thus it tends to advocate more for “leftist” causes, serving as a progressive counterweight to the intrinsically conservative nature of objectivity. And advocacy journalism as a whole—including much “rightist” activity—is growing.

Research has shown that members of the press have a strong, widespread politically liberal orientation. At the same time many scholars and journalists argue that, despite this inherently progressive attitude, the ethical value of objectivity exerts a powerful moderating influence and that liberal bias in the media is for all intents and purposes non-existent…. A highly partisan press corps cannot produce politically unbiased journalism without respect for the value of objectivity….

Despite scholarly findings of “balanced” political news reporting, the public increasingly views the media as politically partisan, with nearly half of poll respondents specifically citing a liberal bias in the press. As charges of bias have risen, media credibility and trust in journalism have plummeted. While this is prevalent among Republicans, independents have also shown a substantial drop in trust of the media with ratings much closer to Republicans than to Democrats (Morales, 2012). More than three-quarters of the respondents in a 2011 Pew poll indicated belief that the media favored one side. With some journalism organizations continuing to enshrine “objectivity” in their ethical codes and others, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, are moving away from it, one can understand the public’s confusion about the place of objectivity in journalism.

… Some scholars have found evidence supporting the idea that perceived bias drives audience members away from use of traditional media as a common source of news, and toward alternative outlets, exacerbating partisanship. For example, Hollander (2008) found evidence that partisan viewers were migrating to media that reflected their own viewpoints, while casual news consumers were moving to entertainment rather than news programming. … As distrust in the media increases, voting becomes correspondingly more partisan. Malone (2008) and others have suggested that this represents a danger not only to the future of news organizations but to the American democracy.

Conclusion

This essay is not meant to suggest that objectivity is the only laudable goal of ethical journalism. Nor should it be taken as an assault on either the ethical or practical merit of advocacy journalism. It is instead intended as a call for the re-evaluation of objectivity and advocacy as ethical values in journalism. As a practical matter, perceived objectivity has a demonstrable impact on journalism. Some have asserted that a lack of objectivity has been responsible, at least in part, for journalism’s reputational decline. Others declare that objective journalism has grown stale and that advocacy journalism offers an opportunity to make it fresh and relevant in a society overloaded with information. News organizations need to understand what members of the public mean when they express a desire for the press to be objective, the extent to which the public is aware of the advocacy movement within journalism, and their reaction to the virtues of both objectivity and advocacy. Media ethicists should assert a central role in furthering our understanding of these vital concerns.

Which leads me to why feminists in particular are obligated to speak out against the work of Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

The best predictor that a person will believe in a conspiracy theory is that he or she already believes in another conspiracy theory. While belief in conspiracy theories affects women as much as men and, in the U.S., Republicans as much as Democrats, one thing that many conspiracy theorists have in common is a distrust of the mainstream media and a tendency to seek out alternative sources of news. From an article in the MIT Technology Review:

In particular, people who engage with debates on alternative news posts are much more likely to engage in the debate about false news posted by trolls. “We find that a dominant fraction of the users interacting with the troll memes is the one composed of users preeminently interacting with alternative information sources–and thus more exposed to unsubstantiated claims,” they say.

That’s an interesting result. Quattrociocchi and co point out that many people are attracted to alternative news media because of a distrust of conventional news sources, which, in Italy, are strongly influenced by politicians of one persuasion or another.

But this search for other sources of news seems to be fraught with danger. “Surprisingly, consumers of alternative news, which are the users trying to avoid the mainstream media ‘mass-manipulation’, are the most responsive to the injection of false claims,” they conclude.

If you read posts by men’s rights advocates, a picture of feminism emerges in which powerful people, in this case often professors in the academy, spread lies and propaganda. Feminism is, in short, a conspiracy. So, Erdely’s article did not just undermine the credibility of rape victims as her editor worried, but she has undermined the credibility of feminists, liberals and the mainstream media, especially leftward leaning sources among mainstream news outlets.

Many people have said that Erdely was not guilty of fabrication, but of confirmation bias. Because we are all, to some degree, capable of confirmation bias, it seems that many people are interpreting this to have absolved Erdely of the guilt that ended the career of Stephen Glass. In fact, a straight out liar presumably knows that he is lying, can repent and change, as Stephen Glass has claimed to have done. However, if Erdely has not confronted her biases, she is very likely to make the same error again. It is worth asking exactly what her biases are.

I, for one, will never again trust her or Rolling Stone.

 

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