Short Take: But Jackie and Duke Lacrosse?

I was taken in by the story in Rolling Stone by Sabrina Erdely about Jackie’s rape at UVA.

I fell prey to confirmation bias, as was made painfully clear in a subsequent post by Richard Bradley, which asked whether Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story of the gang rape of a University of Virginia freshman, identified only as Jackie, might be a lie.

At Reason, Robby Soave was not, which earned him this classic rejoinder at Jezebel.

‘Is the UVA Rape Story a Gigantic Hoax?’ Asks Idiot

That didn’t turn out well for its author, Anna Merlen, the same person who twitted for a Covington Catholic yearbook so she could dox the kid in the red hat. Lessons. How do they work?

Of course, the Jackie accusation was a hoax, a complete fabrication where Erdely was taken in because she wanted to believe, and Rolling Stone humiliated itself because how could it doubt such a truth? If you want to believe hard enough, you can. But back in 2014, there was still room for doubting voices to speak out, even if they had to endure people like Merlen calling them “idiots.”

And then there was Duke Lacrosse. KC Johnson chronicled that fiasco at Durham-in-Wonderland from start to finish. As with Jackie, there was no doubt whatsoever that these privileged white male lacrosse players raped a black woman. Who had the time to wait for a trial when the Group of 88, academics who not only condemned these students as rapists, but long after there was no doubt they were innocent, that prosecutor Mike Nifong was a lying, conniving dishonest worm, still clung to their narrative without regard to crime or guilt.

But the students were innocent. The charges were dropped. Every remotely rational person recognized the Duke Lacrosse scandal, like the UVA scandal, was a lie.

Of course, both the Duke and UVA hoaxes involved rapes, heinous and inflammatory crimes. It’s not at all surprising that passions would soar, that emotions would seize control, that critical scrutiny would be overcome.

These weren’t stories of equivocal rapes, the trendy sort of post-hoc regret or one-beer-wonders that have become the normal fare of college campus sex tribunals and sad traumatized tears. These were the real deal, hardcore forceful rapes. But for the fact that they never happened, they were awful.

So how is it possible that a kid in a MAGA hat, smirking, became so much more powerful than rape that it not only demanded instantaneous condemnation, but that once it became impossible to deny that the original video failed horribly to provide a serious view of what happened, so many people could not let go, could not admit confirmation bias, could not control their impulse to defend their outrage through any means necessary?

If we can’t manage to control our rush to condemnation, an understandable impulse in these days where nothing speaks worse of a person’s humanity than not being in the forefront of the mob, can we at least back off when the error of our ways becomes patent? Some could. Most couldn’t. Even now, they remain defiant in their contention that they are right, even if for the wrong reasons.

The questions appeared in the twitters from Jesse Singal, Robby Soave and others. There is a long stream of historic errors, going back to such glories as the Satanic Panic and Central Park Five, that have since been debunked despite the absolute certainty they were real. Is this possible now? If we can’t get past a kid who did nothing more than Smirk in the First Degree because he wore a MAGA hat, how will we ever overcome the lies and hoaxes that involve actual crimes, horrific offenses?

Who foretold the future better, Robby Soave or Cassie Delaney? Why bother to try a case if guilt or innocence no longer matters?

14 thoughts on “Short Take: But Jackie and Duke Lacrosse?

  1. PseudonymousKid

    Dear Papa,

    It’s all over. Post-fact means post-lawyer, at least as you see the job. Step down from the soapbox, shutter the blog, close up shop. Guilt will hitherto be determined by the mob without reference to “facts,” whatever those are.

    Speaking of which, do you think Jackie could still use a woke lawyer? It doesn’t matter if nothing happened, and Duke has deep pockets and all. Asking for a friend. In unicorn dollars, 33% of a billion is still a billion somehow.


    1. SHG Post author

      I’m often told by baby lawyers that I fail them for not providing a path for their feelz in the law, thus proving I’m either wrong or irrelevant. As long as they keep telling me this, I know they’re still reading. They can hate me all they want for my slavish adherence to facts and reason, but as long as I bug them, there is still hope.

  2. Turk

    Easy rule of thumb: Be wary of pitchforks and torches.

    They should be teaching this stuff in middle school and high school, going back to the Scottsboro Boys and the lynchings and the psychology of mob rule in general.

    A riot is an ugly thing:

  3. JimEd

    The truth is a thing I hold dear
    So tight lest the facts interfere
    I stoke my own bias
    Content to be pious
    All doubts will be met with a sneer

  4. B. McLeod

    Back in the day when the UVA fiasco came to light (i.e., was revealed to be, in fact, a hoax), a poster wrote in on the ABA Journal site (where I was allowed to post as well, in those days) and argued that the “Jackie” account should be a permissible mechanism to draw attention to an issue that was a real problem at UVA (in the poster’s perception). The theory was that, even though the account was completely false, the “reporter” and “Jackie” should have no consequences, and even though there were real-world victims of the lie, they were simply acceptable collateral damage.

  5. Casual Lurker

    The nature of confirmation bias and conspiratorial thinking are different aspects of the same mechanism that distort perceptions, especially during heightened emotional states. I’ll spare you the technical details.

    Back in the 1950s, UFO nuts “enthusiasts” would report seeing flying saucers, and truly believed what they reported seeing. Of course, after investigations by both civilian and military authorities, with 10K+ man-hours spent during the first few years of reporting, after nothing turned up even warranting additional investigation, most sightings were deemed a form of mass psychosis, largely propelled by science fiction of the time and media reporting.

    Subsequently, when official reports were issued, in essence saying “it’s all in your head”, that was the cue for all the conspiracy nuts “aficionados” to come out of the woodwork, claiming “cover up!”

    Shortly thereafter, some reporter, after talking with an assortment of psych experts, coined the saying “UFOs are there, only if you care”.

    However, thanks to all the publicity UFOs had received, the possibility of a cover-up by the U.S. Govt., and general public interest, a whole new subset of authors, publishers, “experts” available for interviews, Etc., had — much like UFOs themselves — appeared out of nowhere, creating whole new sources of revenue. Some built careers out of hustling this type of BS.

    The National Enquirer, before switching to mostly celebrity news, could always get a reliable spike in sales with headlines like “Woman Gives Birth To Alien’s Baby!” The accompanying artwork made clear they weren’t referring to some Mexican national.*

    Regardless of how a hoax is started, there will always be those with a pecuniary interest in further perpetuation of said hoax. As I’ve previously said, “In the behavioral prediction racket, with few exceptions, when in doubt, follow the money”. As to the unaffiliated, non-commercial, Twitterati, they serve as both a gauge of possible economic viability for commercially aligned interests, and as useful idiots, to be further stoked by those same interested parties.

    In the nearly seven decades since UFOs first entered the public consciousness, the public’s ability to critically parse information has remained largely unchanged. In that same time, changes in technology has put an oversize bullhorn in the hands of anyone, qualified or not, regardless of motivation, making it possible to spread fear and misinformation farther and faster than anytime in previous history. Not exactly a recipe for facilitating a calm, rational, discourse among the tribes.

    *Folks were somewhat more cautious after being taken in by a previous headline that read “Man Drills Seven Holes In Head And Lives!” For those that bought the paper and bothered to read the whole story, they found out he died on the eighth.

    1. ShootingHipster

      TL; but I read it anyway.
      Great quote from a blogger you may have heard of. I won’t link because rules:

      “We all have pre-existing biases. The problem isn’t ridding ourselves of them, since we can’t, but recognizing that we have them and doing everything possible to overcome them.”

      1. Casual Lurker

        “So you’re saying we should outlaw drills.”

        Don’t give ’em any ideas. You may kid, but at this very moment some folks in Albany are saying “something must be done!” (If not about drills, then some other common object/device previously considered mostly harmless and otherwise mundane).


        Cop: “Upon exiting Krispy Kreme, I spotted the suspect leaving Home Depot with a portable electric drill in his hand, brandishing it in a threatening manner… It had an extremely dangerous quarter-inch masonry bit in its chuck! Amid all the loud honking of those wanting to exit the mall parking lot, I yelled ‘drop the drill and show me your hands!’ When the suspect failed to comply I discharged my weapon, hitting the suspect. I was in fear for my safety and the safety of others in the surrounding area.”

        Lt: “EMTs were called to the scene and treated Officer Belchmeister for shock [at having lost almost a dozen Bacon Maple donuts] that occurred as a result of the incident. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene. Subsequent investigation showed the drill was unregistered, and the suspect had been previously cited for littering and J-Walking!” He was clearly one baaad hombre!”

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