Torture? Cosby Rapes? Almost Everyone Is Missing the Point of the Rolling Stone UVa Article

Bill Cosby's wife, Camille, long a character in her husband's stand-up, released a statement yesterday defending her husband against the rape and assault allegations made by around 20 women. Camille Cosby is standing by her husband of 50 years, and, as a way of saying that the allegations are not true, she draws a media parallel: "We all follow the story of the article in the Rolling Stone concerning allegations of rape at the University of Virginia. The story was heart-breaking, but ultimately appears to be proved untrue."

People who are defending the CIA and the Bush administration against the Senate's torture report routinely cite the UVa story as proof of the dishonesty and/or blind credulity of those who think torture is wrong. Erick "Erick" Erickson, in his gracious fellatio of Dick Cheney, writes, "The very same people embracing the Democrats’ report as some fountain of wisdom and salve to wash sins away were only two weeks ago claiming there’s a 'rape culture' on American college campuses and anyone who dismissed Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Rolling Stone article was siding with rapists." On Fox "news," mumbling commentator Brit Hume said what's become a talking point about the torture report: they didn't talk to the CIA officials who approved or did the torturing, just like Erdely didn't talk to the students who were accused of rape by "Jackie," the victim who claimed she was gang-raped at a fraternity party.

Obviously, invoking Rolling Stone's "A Rape on Campus" has become the way to introduce doubt into any story. Because serious questions have arisen about Erdely's telling of Jackie's story, as well as the editors' failure to fact check and follow-up on such an explosive allegation, just a mention of the article suggests lying and incompetence and mistrust and myriad sins. Which would be a fine analogy except for one major problem: the Rolling Stone article isn't just about Jackie and her story.  It's not a nonfiction retelling of a single incident. It's about rape on college campuses, with the University of Virginia as a prime example of how the schools screw over the victims.

There's the 1984 case of Liz Seccuro, who was raped at the Phi Kappa Psi house and had to wait until 2006 before her rapist was brought to justice. There's Emily Renda, who was raped after a party in her first year at UVa. There's this: "UVA furnished Rolling Stone with some of its most recent tally: In the last academic year, 38 students went to Eramo about a sexual assault, up from about 20 students three years ago. However, of those 38, only nine resulted in 'complaints'; the other 29 students evaporated. Of those nine complaints, four resulted in Sexual Misconduct Board hearing." There are other statistics and facts from other cases at UVa and elsewhere.

The Jackie story is no doubt the central example of the article and the most sensational. But whatever happens with the veracity of Jackie's story does not take away from the parade of awful incidents and the use of various academic studies in the article. This is not to let Rolling Stone off the hook. But even if Jackie's story turns out to be an utter fabrication that was left unchecked by Erdely and her editors, the larger truth of the article remains: Young women are treated as prey by predatory men at universities, and the administrations are often more concerned with their school's image than fair treatment of victims. In fact, that stark, depressing conclusion has not been challenged.

So invoking the article to make some pathetic point about how credible this or that report may be is an insult to the very real survivors of sexual violence, not just to crazy liberals who dared to believe Rolling Stone. And the comparison is not only unfair, it's doesn't work when you deal in the reality of the article.

See, with that reality in mind, Camille Cosby is implying that one of the women might be lying about Bill Cosby raping her, but that her husband is indeed guilty of raping multiple victims. And the torture apologists are saying that while one of the tales of abusive interrogations is not true, the CIA did have a program of torturing detainees. The discredited example does not change the overall point.

As for everyone else just outright dismissing the Rolling Stone article, get over yourselves. Perhaps the main victim misled a gullible writer (and, remember, the investigation into Jackie's story was done by the Washington Post, not by some conservative stooge), but the rape epidemic continues. Are you going to do anything other than crow over the bruised and battered bodies? Or sigh in relief that you can use "Jackie" as a reason to dismiss them?