Rolling Stone magazine is in hot water for publishing a story that proved to be false. According to the editor of the publication, a story titled “A Rape on Campus” was published that centered an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house.
The Washington Post uncovered details suggesting the assault could not have taken place, as Rolling Stone described, and “the truth of the story became a subject of national controversy.”
“We are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus’,” the Stone’s editor said in response to the controversy. “We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report.” The editor apologized to readers and “to all those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout.”
I personally work in the world of publications, so it is easy for me to identify with the pain that comes from publishing something that would turn out to be false; even worse, publishing something that tarnishes another’s reputation.
Now the publication where I work focuses on Gospel-centered, Christ-honoring stories that inspire, rather than expose journalism. That being said, there is more going on here in the Rolling Stone case than just expose journalism gone awry. So, as a fellow journalist and Christian, I wish to offer these three thoughts:
- Where’s the honor?
Many in the public were not satisfied with the retraction and apology from Rolling Stone. Many wish the publication went farther in restoring the reputations of those who were accused of rape and holding accountable the reporters and editors.
Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, had these pointed words. “Rolling Stone magazine printed serious criminal accusations against a campus group, accusations the periodical now admits are completely false. Despite all of this, both the article’s author and the magazine editor will keep their jobs according to the publisher. This matters, and matters to far more people than just those on the campus of the University of Virginia or even to the target demographic of Rolling Stone. Behind this scandal is a larger point. In our society, it’s become acceptable to lie about people and ideas, as long as the crisis created is in line with a perceived social good.”
If our society is ever to re-capture honor, it must start with upholding truth as paramount. A society, like a family or a church, who glosses over lying will be faithless, rootless and hopeless.
- Not just unfortunate, but wrong.
Politicians these days are fond of saying, “I misspoke,” when in fact they were just dead wrong. People have the habit of saying about a bad situation, “That is unfortunate,” when it fact it is wrong.
This Rolling Stone debacle is a reminder that some actions go beyond being incorrect. They are false and flat-out wrong. It is not just the world of journalism that needs to consider the weight of words. In a day and age in which a lie can travel halfway around the world before truth has a chance to wake up in the morning, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, we must call things like they are and stop using euphemisms that excuse inexcusable actions.
- Don’t rush to judgment.
These days, the moment an accusation is levied, that person is vilified and excoriated. With the rise of social media, people are casting judgments even before all of the facts are heard.
The court of public opinion, just like the court of law, would do well to hear all of the facts before pronouncing judgment. In that way, we will be more Christian. The Bible emphasizes there be at least two or three witnesses to a crime before a judgement can be made. There is wisdom and prudence in that practice, which is all but gone today.
Whether a false story published in a magazine, or an issue that is raging on social media, we each would do well not to rush to judgment. And so done, we will avoid being a hurled stone, rolling over people who may not have done anything wrong in the first place.