I feel sometimes as if I should turn this blog into a register of all of Sally Kohn’s logical fallacies and appeals to emotion. Her writing, while always long on passion, often lacks critical reasoning and analysis. Rather than look for truth, she starts with a pre-determined view and then disregards any facts which might contradict her chosen narrative. Her latest CNN column Rape culture? It’s too real upholds that tradition.
We can begin with the fact that everyone is in agreement that Rolling Stone’s article was poorly written, contained serious errors and was atrociously fact checked. Most people also seem to agree that the author committed grave journalistic errors when she agreed to certain conditions on her reporting, the result of which was to refrain from interviewing certain individuals she should have.
That seems to be where agreement ends. When I see the facts above, I think to myself that everything contained in the story now needs further analysis. Any presumption of truth has been destroyed. There are only two broad scenarios which are likely given what we know:
- Jackie told Erdely her story and Erdely faithfully recorded it but failed to fact check it which, based on the existing evidence, would indicate that Jackie was either lying or her memory was incorrect; and
- Jackie told Erdely her story and Erdely misunderstood what Jackie said or changed Jackie’s story, either unintentionally or to make it fit her narrative of a rape epidemic.
Within those broad scenarios there is obviously a lot of distance, from Jackie lying completely, to embellishing her story to telling the truth but being misquoted or misunderstood. We don’t know. However, we do know that substantial portions of the story are questionable and alleged facts are wrong. As a result, it is not only reasonable, but prudent, to examine all of the facts to determine whether the article’s problems are errors or intentional lies and, if the latter, whose lies they are.
But Sally Kohn doesn’t see it that way. Rather that acknowledge the possibility that the story may be false in it substantial part or in its entirety, she has determined that the right thing to do is to attack those who raised questions about it in the first place and to assume that the alleged attackers are guilty.
And new reporting by the Washington Post does reveal that Jackie’s friends, cited in the story, say they are skeptical about some of the details. Still, they all believe that Jackie experienced something “horrific” that night, in the words of one, and we do know that Jackie stands by her story. Most of the doubts about it were apparently raised by those she’s accusing, including the fraternity and main alleged assailant — whom, I guess, we’re supposed to believe instead.
This whole paragraph is wrong on multiple levels. First it is factually wrong. Doubts about the story were raised by third parties who, looking at the alleged facts, concluded that they sounded strange and merited further investigation. As it turns out, they were right! How on earth can Kohn have a problem with that? Had those third parties verified the story I presume Kohn wouldn’t be writing a piece disclaiming the validation. Second, wouldn’t you expect doubts about a story to be raised by those who are accused, particularly if they are innocent? If someone claimed I stole their car and I was in California the day it was stolen, I would definitely bring that to the attention of anyone looking into the matter. Third, there is the last sentence; it’s a perfect straw man. Nobody is arguing that we are supposed to believe the alleged assailant. Those questioning the story are arguing that we should try to get the truth. Moreover, given that Jackie’s story contains errors, whether intentional or not, and the alleged assailants stories, thus far, hold up, what should a rational and logical person think?
Looking at the situation dispassionately, when presented with the facts, I conclude that the party more likely to be telling the truth is the fraternity brothers. That may be completely wrong. They may have assaulted and/or raped Jackie, but no objective person could come to that conclusion based upon what we currently know. Perhaps new evidence will emerge tomorrow that shows the story is more true than false, in which case I will revisit my opinion. Sadly, the concept of weighing evidence, as opposed to motives, is not Kohn’s problem. Facts matter less than the source:
While Rolling Stone’s reporting was clearly shoddy, for example, some writers who initially poked holes in Jackie’s story did so for ideological motives. For instance, even before the reporting lapses were revealed, conservative commentator Jonah Goldberg called Jackie’s story unbelievable. “It is not credible,” Goldberg wrote in the Los Angeles Times. “I don’t believe it.”
How is it at all relevant that reporters poked holes in Jackie’s story for ideological reasons? Either it was true or it wasn’t. It’s amusing to see Kohn attacking Goldberg for not believing the story since he turned out to be right. Of course, that may be luck and he might have been wrong, in which case I assume Kohn would have taken him to task for making assumptions that were false.
More problematic, Kohn (and a number of others like her) still doesn’t seem to understand that what matters at the end of the day is the truth, not a political agenda. I will venture out on a limb and say that if you ask Americans, the vast majority will agree with that sentiment. But the Kohns of the world are different. They believe because they desire confirmation of their prejudices more than they care about the truth. Consider Kohn’s closing paragraph.
Anti-feminists have it wrong. No one, myself included, wants Jackie’s story to be true (that’s absurd and offensive), but we cannot apologize for erring on the side of a fair, compassionate and credulous hearing of a woman’s account. What feminists want — as we all should — is a culture in which it is safe for women to report sexual assault when it happens, where they can trust that their families, their peers, the police and courts and, yes, the media will respond with sensitivity and compassion, not skepticism and shame.
Kohn, even by her own account, is uninterested in the truth. She wants to err “on the side of a fair, compassionate and credulous hearing of a woman’s account.” That is fine for a person’s family and friends, but it is not fine for a policy discussion. Credulous is the opposite of inquisitive. Type credulous into Google. It is a word whose synonyms are “gullible,” “naïve,” “too trusting,” “easily taken in,” “impressionable,” “unsuspecting,” “unsuspicious,” “unwary” and “unquestioning.” She lumps together families and peers with the police, courts and the media and thinks they should all perform the same function, but that is most certainly not the case. Police, courts and the media should be seekers of truth and facts, wherever they lead, even if the results are uncomfortable or disappointing. It would be nice if Ms. Kohn, as a member of the media, would do the same.