Fabulism: a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting

Fabulist: 1) one who writes or tells fables; 2) a liar

Though (perhaps) an acclaimed journalist can be excused (somewhat) for one mistake in an otherwise illustrious journalism career, it appears that Sabrina Rubin Erdely has a history of – to be too kind – “fabulism” that extends back to the very beginning of her journalistic career.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely

Sabrina Rubin Erdely

Sabrina Rubin Erdely describes herself on her own website as “an award-winning feature writer and investigative journalist, and a Contributing Editor at Rolling Stone. Her work has also appeared in SELF, GQ, Philadelphia, The New Yorker, Mother Jones, Glamour and Men’s Health, among other national magazines. Her articles have been anthologized in Best American Magazine Writing and have received a number of awards, including two National Magazine Award nominations.”

Featured Stories

She goes on to say that she “specializes in long-form narrative writing, especially about crime, health and social issues. She has written about con artists, murder investigations, vicious divorces, power brokers, lovable eccentrics, bioweapons, cults, sexual violence, medical ethics, hackers, LGBT issues, and teachers who have affairs with students – among other subjects.”

What she doesn’t say, however, is that (apparently like a number of her article subjects) she’s a fiction writer with an ideological bent pretending to be a journalist.

In an October 25, 2012 interview at the University of Pennsylvania (Erdely’s alma mater) “Former 34th Street staff member Sabrina Erdely… treated listeners to her journalistic origin story, describing her escalating addiction to ‘the hunt’ of investigative journalism as an undergrad thrilled to discover a real-life application for her curiosity.”

34th StreetSabrina Rubin (she later married Peter Erdely, see conflict of interest below) admitted on air that her first story for Rolling Stone had serious factual problems. She had profiled singer-songwriter Michelle Shocked, a born again Christian, and was called on the phone by Shocked’s husband.

“Michelle Shocked’s husband called at my house… calling to tell me that he had read the story and just about everything in the story was wrong,” Erdely said.

“Was that true?” Erdely’s interviewer asked. “It actually was true,” Erdely replied.

“I went to the library and pulled up tons of clips on her, borrowed whatever I could find. I just borrowed whatever facts I could find. It turns out that those facts which were in mainstream publications and magazines were not actually factual. Which completely shocked me. I just assumed those were real and legit but they were not at all.”

Sabrina Rubin Interview

Sabrina Rubin Interview

In spite (or because?) of this acknowledged fabulism, college junior Sabrina Rubin won the Rolling Stone College Journalism Competition award, which was taken by Erdely as a “sign from God” that she should be a journalist instead of a psychiatrist (she had been a pre-med student). Perhaps that was the better choice.

After leaving Penn, Erdely went to work for Philadelphia before pursuing a career as a freelance (with the emphasis on “free”) magazine writer.

To paraphrase an old maxim: Fool us once, shame on you; fool us a dozen times, you’re busted.

After being exposed as a journalistic fraud and fabulist in her now infamous Rolling Stone article about gang rape at U-VA – “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at U-VA” – other better investigative journalists are uncovering a long history of deception on her part.

Ralph Cipriano found that Erdely made the exact same mistake of “misplaced trust” (or unwarranted credulity) that she now admits to in regard to the Jackie character in her rape story, in the star subject of her 2011 expose of the Philadelphia archdiocese’s sex crime scandal.


Sex-Abuse, False Imprisonment and Journalistic Scandal

Like the issue of sexual assault on campus (with all its ambiguities), the issue of child-sex abuse among Catholic priests and the cover-up by bishops and other prelates (for all its complexities) is quite real and quite concerning.

On both issues, a compelling tale can be told without resort to exaggeration, sensationalizing or highlighting the most egregious example that, on closer inspection, is full of holes, doubts and reasonable questions of veracity.

But this is exactly what Erdely did in her September 6, 2011 article (published in the September 15, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone) as “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files: How a scandal in Philadelphia exposed documents that reveal a high-level conspiracy to cover up decades of sexual abuse”.

Secret Sex Crime Files

As in the “A Rape on Campus” article, Erdely composed a broad-brush context for a serious social problem. But, as in her recent (and now notorious) article about the U-VA gang rape that may not have happened, Erdely organized her expose around the unquestioned experience of the pseudonymous “Billy”, who was also the central witness who allowed an aggressive District Attorney to put a Monsignor (the first Catholic Church official convicted for cover-up), two other priests and a schoolteacher in jail for child endangerment.

One of those priests died in incarceration, while handcuffed to a hospital bed, as his attorney was seeking a new trial because of judicial errors and prosecutorial misconduct.

The problem, however, is that the star witness’ testimony was riddled with inconsistencies and changes over time (just as was Jackie’s), contradicted by numerous other witnesses (including his own mother and brother), and undermined by the release of the Secret Archives of sexual abuse from the archdiocese’s vault.

Never-the-less, a grand jury report willfully misrepresented Billy’s testimony, which resulted in a trial in which exculpatory evidence was excluded, and one priest meekly accepted a plea bargain by which he would acknowledge guilt on two counts and not have to spend the rest of his life in prison. He later recanted his guilt when he was brought as witness for a subsequent trial, and explained that he was never directly asked if he had done any of the alleged acts.

The monsignor has been out of jail, under house arrest with a monitoring ankle bracelet, while he awaited an appeal to the PA Supreme Court after a Superior Court overturned his conviction (which the DA then appealed). On April 30, 2015 a judge revoked bail for Monsignor William Lynn, 64, and ordered him back behind bars, after the PA Supreme Court reinstated his conviction.

All the cases revolved around the testimony of one “Billy Doe” – the same person whom Erdely mentioned 37 times in her article about the Philly Church sex-abuse scandal. Just as with Jackie’s story about a two-year-old gang rape (Erdely uses Jackie’s name 116 times), there was no physical evidence or any corroborating witnesses in the Church case. All the prosecution had was “Billy Doe” and his allegations.

Erderly describes her prime subject as “a 10-year-old student at St. Jerome School in 1998, and an altar boy just like his older brother before him. A sweet, gentle kid with boyish good looks.” And, on the basis of this angelic image, never bothers to question or fact-check his story.

The grand jury issued its fallacious report on 2/10/2011, and Erderly published her story in September of that year. But, when detectives finally got around to investigating Billy Doe’s allegations, they discovered that just about everything he told the district attorney was contradicted by his mother, his older brother, and others close to the alleged events.

A defense lawyer for one of the priests described Billy Doe as “a walking, talking personification of reasonable doubt”.

Now, to be fair, I don’t know how much investigation Erdely did for her expose, nor how much of the contradictory evidence had yet surfaced or was reasonably available. Perversely, much of the investigation into the grand jury allegations by the District Attorney occurred after they issued their report.

I do know that legal blogger, Ralph Cipriano, was later able to dig up 20 obvious errors of fact in the 2011 grand jury report, including egregious misrepresentations of Billy Doe’s testimony, and a number of highly critical discrepancies and inconsistencies in Billy Doe’s narrative.

Perhaps, Cipriano had the benefit of more distance from the events of 2011 which was not available to Erderly. Or, perhaps Erdely had simply allowed her passion for a good story to supercede her journalistic responsibility and integrity – as she did again in the sensational U-VA gang rape story.

Cipriano details the story for Newsweek, and also notes a glaring conflict of interest that Rolling Stone never disclosed:

Rolling Stone can run a correction. But what do you do about sending four men to jail for a sexual crime spree that may have only taken place in the imagination of a junkie criminal scheming to get out of jail? That’s the problem we have here in Philadelphia.

Erdely’s Billy Doe story was published under the headline, “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files.”

It may not have been Erdely’s fault that the grand jury report was subsequently found by this reporter to be intellectually dishonest and contain more than 20 factual errors. But Erdely did write a one-sided story that Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, ripped at the time as yellow journalism for “the factual errors, the stereotypes, the grand omissions and the melodramatic language.”

Erdely had an undisclosed conflict of interest as the wife of an assistant district attorney, Peter Erdely, in the Philadelphia D.A.’s office. She only interviewed people who ripped the church, such as a couple of former prosecutors, two critical former priests, a sex abuse victim and a former seminarian kicked out for disciplinary reasons.

But Billy Doe had an arrest record; six busts as an adult for theft and drugs, including one bust with intent to distribute 56 bags of heroin. He’d been in and out of 23 different drug rehabs. And every time he told his story the details kept changing.


Early Lesson in Fabulism and Success

Now, other investigators are uncovering a pattern of such fiction-as-fact journalism that extends throughout Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s career.

In a case of reality stranger than fiction, Stephen Glass once disciplined Sabrina Rubin for making something up for the University of Pennsylvania newspaper.

Glass became the Daily Pennsylvanian’s executive editor, and Rubin described how he threw a righteous fit when she and a colleague concocted a funny and obviously made-up travel story for 34th Street (the student run arts and culture magazine of the Daily Pennsylvanian) – going so far as to call an emergency session of student newspaper’s Alumni Association board to apprise them of the transgression.

This is ironic because Stephen Glass is perhaps the best-known fabulist of modern times. He also seems to have been something of a mentor to the young and impressionable Sabrina Rubin.

The Fabulist

Sabrina Rubin said she and the rest of the editorial board “adored” Glass, saying “There are reporters who get ahead because they’re great schmoozers, and I think Steve was definitely one of them.”

Glass “schmoozed” his way into a journalism career and then into infamy. Sabrina, apparently, followed behind. Yet in 2004, Erdely penned an article for the University of Pennsylvania’s alumni magazine, the Pennsylvania Gazette, in which she declared disgraced journalist Stephen Glass a “sociopathic creep” for fabricating stories. By 2014, Erdely may have joined Glass in that category as well.


Through a Glass Darkly

Glass attended the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an executive editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and was a classmate of Sabrina Erdely.

Stephen Glass

Stephen Glass

After his graduation, Glass joined The New Republic in 1995 as an editorial assistant. Soon thereafter, the 23-year-old advanced to writing features. While employed full-time at The New Republic, he also wrote for other magazines including Policy Review, George, Rolling Stone, and Harper’s, and contributed to Public Radio International’s (PRI) weekly hour-long program This American Life, hosted by Ira Glass (no relation to Stephen).

Though Glass enjoyed loyalty from The New Republic (TNR) staff, his reporting repeatedly drew outraged rebuttals from the subjects of his articles, eroding his credibility and leading to private skepticism from insiders at TNR. After the scandal broke, the magazine’s majority owner and editor-in-chief, Martin Peretz, admitted that his wife had told him that she did not find Glass’s stories credible and had stopped reading them. In the end, Glass’s final editor at TNR, Charles Lane, was instrumental in exposing Glass’s fraudulent writing.

Lane explained:

“We extended normal human trust to someone who basically lacked a conscience… We busy, friendly folks, were no match for such a willful deceiver… We thought Glass was interested in our personal lives, or our struggles with work, and we thought it was because he cared. Actually, it was all about sizing us up and searching for vulnerabilities. What we saw as concern was actually contempt.”

TNR subsequently determined that at least 27 of 41 stories written by Glass for the magazine contained fabricated material. Some of the 27, such as “Don’t You D.A.R.E.”, contained real reporting interwoven with fabricated quotations and incidents, while others, including “Hack Heaven”, were completely made up. In the process of creating the “Hack Heaven” article, Glass had gone to especially elaborate lengths to thwart the discovery of his deception by TNR’s fact checkers: creating a shill website and voice mail account for Jukt Micronics; fabricating notes of story gathering; having fake business cards printed; and even composing editions of a fake computer hacker community newsletter.

As for the balance of the 41 stories, Lane, in an interview given for the 2005 DVD edition of the 2003 movie Shattered Glass (about the Stephen Glass scandal), said, “In fact, I’d bet lots of the stuff in those other fourteen is fake too. … It’s not like we’re vouching for those fourteen, that they’re true. They’re probably not either.”

In 2003, Glass briefly returned to journalism, writing an article about Canadian marijuana laws for Rolling Stone. On November 7, 2003, Glass participated in a panel discussion on journalistic ethics (???) at George Washington University, along with the editor who had hired him at The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan, who accused Glass of being a “serial liar” who was using “contrition as a career move”.

After journalism, Glass earned a law degree, magna cum laude, at Georgetown University Law Center. He then passed the New York State bar exam in 2000, but the Committee of Bar Examiners refused to certify him on its moral fitness test, citing ethics concerns related to the TNR affair.

Since 2004, Glass has worked as a paralegal at a Beverly Hills CA law firm. Glass has passed the bar exam in both New York and California, but he withdrew his application to become a licensed attorney in New York in 2004 after he was advised it would not succeed, and in 2014 the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that he should not be licensed in that state.

A court filing for Glass’s application to the California bar gave an updated count on his journalism career: 36 of his stories at The New Republic were said to be fabricated in part or in whole, along with three articles for George, two articles for Rolling Stone, and one for Policy Review.


Bad Experiences and Sixth Sense

It was the experience of former George editor and current editor-in-chief of Worth, Richard Bradley, that led him to publish a November 24 piece on his blog called “Is the Rolling Stone Story True?

Bradley had suffered the misfortune of collaborating with Stephen Glass at George magazine (co-founded by John F. Kennedy, Jr.). In 1998, after the Glass fabulism scandal broke, Bradley developed a skeptical sixth sense from that embarrassment.

In applying that skeptical perspective to Erderly’s U-VA gang rape story, Bradley realized that “something about this story doesn’t feel right”. His blog post was the beginning of the unraveling of Erdely’s story. Four days later, Washington Post reporter Paul Farhi wrote:

“The alleged assault, described in graphic detail, is presented largely without traditional qualifiers, such as “according to Jackie” or “allegedly”. The absence of such attribution or qualification leaves the impression that the events in question are undisputed facts, rather than accusations.”

In an article titled “Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Old Stories Sure Read Like Bad Lifetime Movies“,  Mollie Hemingway writes:

A story about a heroin using mother has virtually no facts that could be independently verified. Though it does include a line that names and other details have been changed.

Shooting Up in Suburbia

Hemingway continues:

Another story about a prostitute mother would be too unbelievable for a Lifetime movie. Here are just a few of the details mentioned in the story:

  • Dad is killed by the mob when she’s 9.
  • Runs away from home at 14.
  • Gets her GED and gets into Rutgers somehow.
  • Becomes a prostitute to pay for college.
  • Graduates with a business degree (natch).
  • Marries a man from a well-to-do family.
  • Transforms herself into a super successful businesswoman/prostitute/manager of prostitutes.
  • Complains that illegality of prostitution is just the worst.
  • Is also a devout Catholic who goes to church twice a week.
  • Anonymously mails the police listings of potential child molesters.


I’m pretty sure all the twice-weekly Catholic Mass attenders you know are very upset that some people find prostitution immoral. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to check these claims on account of the stories including accounts of people identified only by first names.

I guess we’ll have to trust the fact-checkers that everything checks out.

B4TuLfaCUAA07mD.png large

B4TtOzzCIAAa00Y.png large

B4TuWeICAAAm5vd.png large


Awards and a Career Based on Scandals (Others and Her Own)

Erdely’s 1996 story for Philadelphia, in which a woman alleged to have been raped by her gynecologist, was nominated for a National Magazine Award. A 2012 story for Rolling Stone, alleging bullying of gay students in Minnesota, was similarly nominated and went on to receive a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Magazine Article. Erdely’s 2013 Rolling Stone story “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer” chronicled the alleged drugging and rape of a US Navy female petty officer by three US Army soldiers.

In 2011 Erdely reported a story for Rolling Stone about child abuse within the Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia, built (as with Jackie’s story in “A Rape On Campus”) around the story of a fifth grade altar boy referred to by the pseudonym “Billy Doe” whom “brutal attacks turned … into a sullen, drug-addicted loner,” alleging a “high-level conspiracy” within the Church.

House of Sin

It was later charged 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” (much like Jackie’s evolving story to her friends and supporters).

In the first iteration of the rape “Billy Doe” claimed to have endured, he was knocked unconscious, stripped, tied to a church altar with sashes, and then anally raped on the altar for five hours. Subsequent iterations of the rape recounted by Billy Doe became increasingly less dramatic, and a final version omitted the five-hour altar rape. Instead, “Billy Doe” explained, he had been coerced into engaging in mutual masturbation. Erdely was also criticized for failing to include information on “Billy Doe’s” background that could have impugned his credibility.

The Catholic League, meanwhile, denounced what it described as “malicious distortions of the kind found in Erdely’s diatribe”.


Nuclear Fallout and Missing In Action

After Erderly’s Rolling Stone epic, “A Rape On Campus”, began to unravel like a ball of yarn chased by a hyperactive kitten, both the Washington Post and Boston Herald issued calls for magazine staff involved in the article to be fired.

Rolling Stone at the Frat House

Steve Sailer, at the Unz Review, writes that “the most self-evidently implausible aspects of Erdely’s story are related to all the shattered glass all over the place – there are four separate incidents in Erdely’s article of glass shattering. Is all this purely coincidence?”

Shattered Glass

In Erdely’s review of the movie “Shattered Glass”, which tells the story of Stephen Glass’s journalistic fabrications, she muses:

“I found the movie riveting – although, due to the personal connection, plus the fact that Shattered Glass portrays my own line of work (realistically, I might add), I’m an admittedly biased viewer. As the lights came up, however, I felt dissatisfied by the film, because it never attempts to resolve the big question: Why did he do it?”

Natasha Vargas-Cooper, a columnist at The Intercept (the news and commentary outlet begun by Glenn Greenwald), said that Ederly’s story showed “a horrendous, hidden bias”. And she continues:

“If you are a front-line warrior in the war against patriarchy, know this: facts, no matter how complicated or unpleasant, should not be obscured because they “help the other side”… It is remarkable and depressing how many SlutWalkers, members of The Progressive Internet, and Earnest Feminists, believe that good reporting somehow equates to victim shaming.”

A staff editorial in the Wall Street Journal charged that “Ms. Erdely did not construct a story based on facts, but went looking for facts to fit her theory”.

As to the question “Why did she do it?”, an answer may be revealed in this passage from “A Rape on Campus”:

“[L]ike most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no “sex-positive” clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn’t an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch.”

Erdely’s “horrendous, hidden bias” and the reason she “went looking for facts to fit her theory”, can likely be found in contemporary ideological feminism, which castigates men as congenital rapists – whether in the form of Catholic priests or over-privileged frat boys.

As criticism of the story mounted, Erdely disappeared from public view, with various media outlets describing her as “MIA” and “off the grid”. Rolling Stone subsequently issued three apologies for the story.

On December 10, 2014, the Washington Post published an updated account of its inquiry into the Rolling Stone article. Summarizing that report, Slate noted that it “strongly implies, without outright saying so, that the gang rape at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article might be fabricated”.


Another Sensationalized Rape Story

An April 7th, 2015 article in RedState, titled Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s OTHER Possibly Fake Rape Story, suggests that Erdely’s penchant for finding a sensational (even if untrue) rape and institutional neglect story to substantiate her pre-conceived conclusions is not isolated to the U-VA gang rape fiasco.

The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer

The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer


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.

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.

It turns out, Erdely may have been guilty of the same journalistic errors she committed in reporting the UVA rape story on at least one other rape story that garnered national attention at the time. The story in question was published in 2013 and was titled “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer”.

Erdely’s reporting of the Blumer story is eerily similar to her reporting of the UVA story. In each case, Erdely uses a central figure who has a similar tale to tell: she was a victim of a horrific rape, she reported the rape to authorities, and her concerns were ignored and/or used against her. The narrative in each case is used to advance the theory that the institution in question (college administrators in the UVA case, military command in the Blumer case) is indifferent to the problem of systemic sexual assault occurring right under their noses. In both cases, the stories read suspiciously as though Ms. Erdely arrived at her conclusion before writing her story, and simply set out to find the first person who would constitute a credible vehicle for the narrative she wanted to create, without regard to the factual accuracy of her story.

The evidence is clear…that Erdely – as enabled by her editors at Rolling Stone – has a serial habit of reporting rapes without conducting any more fact checking than she did of the UVA story. It is facially obvious that she did not talk to the accused rapist because there wasn’t one. There is no evidence that she talked with anyone who was present at any of the bars where Ms. Blumer drank on the night before her DUI to attempt to verify even her story about meeting the three guys. And, again: the sources who spoke to RedState (multiple members of Navy command who were either personally involved in the investigation of Ms. Blumer’s allegations or who had firsthand knowledge of the facts of this case) were clear that Ms. Erdely made no effort to contact any member of the Naval command who was involved with the investigation to get their side of the story with respect to what manner of investigation was conducted into Ms. Blumer’s allegations or what that investigation revealed.

After an exhaustive investigation that spanned a year and a half (which Erdely and Rolling Stone ignored and/or did no research into whatsoever), no one was able to produce any evidence, physical or otherwise, that a sexual assault had occurred. The alleged victim herself had no recollection of it happening, did not report it to the police who arrested her, and had a ready motive for latching on to the narrative, which is that it would have stopped or possibly prevented punishment at the hands of her military superiors and possibly prevented her from permanently losing the top secret clearance necessary to keep her job.

And yet, it appears that Rolling Stone brushed all this aside in the service of a story that fit a narrative that their reporter had going into the story. And it appears that Ms. Erdely’s failure to fact check her alleged victim’s story by contacting the “other side” for comment or explanation was every bit as egregious in this case as it was in the UVA case.


From Fabulist Journalist to Hollywood

In 2013 it was announced that Craig Brewer would adapt Erdely’s story “Gangster Princess Of Beverly Hills” (Heiress, actress, singer, model – Lisette Lee wanted everyone to think she had it all, but beneath the bling were secrets, lies and private jets filled with weed) into a motion picture.

Gangster Heiress

Gangster Heiress

Erdely’s August 31, 2012 story begins:

“What’s going on here? I’m a model,” Lisette Lee shouted, flinging open the door of her Escalade and assuming her most indignant expression. Her Chanel heels clicked on the tarmac, police lights flashed and sirens blared, as she faced down federal agents swarming in with guns drawn. Behind Lee, the two other cars in her convoy – a van and a Suburban – had also halted, its passengers emerging with their hands in the air.

The agents who had been waiting for her at the Columbus, Ohio, airport regarded Lee with wariness and curiosity, taking in her expensive-tart look – false lashes, lavender eye shadow, tight black pants, lace-trimmed fuchsia satin camisole – and imperious demeanor, all befitting a woman who had just arrived from Los Angeles via a Gulfstream jet now idling in the twilight.

Rolling Stone received the following letter from Lisette Lee following the publication of “The Gangster Princess of Beverly Hills”:

I realize that the article written about me was not going be a puff-piece; that, like any normal human being, there would be things that I would not like hearing about myself. Fair enough. This was a time in my life when I was involved with some pretty unsavory characters, and my actions were completely out-of-integrity for myself. This is indisputable.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely had been “tracking this story” and contacting me since 2010 to gain my participation for an article she had been paid to write for Rolling Stone. Sabrina explained that she had “always been intrigued” by my story and “wondered why does a person of privilege take such an unexpected turn with her life?” Sabrina specifically promised to “humanize me” and write about a “very complex character with a lot of richness and depth”. These are Sabrina’s own words, and the exact promises she made to me.

After her many, many exhortations and overtures to land an interview with me, and with the promise that I would be “well served” to participate, I believed that Sabrina would write a fair and accurate portrayal of what actually happened and why. In hindsight, it was a mistake to trust Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

Understandably, I didn’t want anything to impact my appeal to the Court, so I held off participating. But Sabrina went ahead anyway, wrote a first draft and submitted it to her editors. By her own admission, she only had half the story (again, her words verbatim): “All I have is the point of view of other people, as well as the portrait that’s been painted in legal documents, and they are not particularly kind” and that the theory she had about me was “kind of speculative”.

When I agreed to sit down to tell my side of the story with Sabrina in early May, no topic was off-the-table. Even though there were some private family matters that Sabrina knew, in advance, that I would need to dance around. Immediately afterwards, Sabrina told my people that I was “terrific”, “wonderful”, “enchanting” and “great to meet in person”. Apparently, the colored contact lenses matching my regulation blues and supposed penchant for “slippery talk” was not an issue then, when Sabrina literally squealed with delight in finally securing her interview.

My greatest fear was that this would be a “takedown piece”: a total hatchet job. That fear, unfortunately, has been realized.

There are so many things I dispute about the article. Three things jump out. First, the overall context Sabrina creates: hardly the “richness and depth” she promised. Sabrina takes every cheap shot possible to make me look like a complete head case. Second, the article is not a fair and accurate portrayal of me; instead, it relies on a very small subset of people who knew me, and apparently not very well. Then, even after she confided that calling someone a liar is a “terrible thing to ascribe to a person”, she proceeds to call me a “sociopath”, a “great liar”, a “master of deception” and an expensive tart. All completely defamatory, salacious and, frankly, catty. Third, the article closes with a glib statement – notice no quotation marks whatsoever – that I expect my prison sentence to be shortened by a judge any day now. I never said that, nor would I ever presume the judge in my case to treat me any differently than he always has; which has been nothing but professional and fair.

Thank you for the opportunity to rebut the article, its context and content.

Lisette Lee

Dublin, California


A film, titled “The Girl Who Conned the Ivy League” and based on Erdely’s story of the same name for Rolling Stone, is currently in development with Rob Epstein as director and Amanda Seyfried cast in the title role of Esther Reed.

Ivy League

Hollywood may be a far more fitting home for the now Missing In Action Sabrina Rubin Erdely. But only time – and authentic investigative journalism – will tell.

As the Shattered Glass DVD box suggests: “Read between the lies”


For the complete story on the unraveling of the U-VA gang rape story, see:

Yellow Journalism and the Meme of “Rape Culture”


Now that the Columbia Journalism School report has thoroughly exposed Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s journalistic crimes (as well as those of her editors and publisher), the humbled Erdely has issued a generalized apology, first to “Rolling Stone Readers”, as if they were the principle victims of her failure of integrity – and insisting that “These are mistakes I will not make again.”

…and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again…


In an excellent analysis of the source of the journalistic failings that the Columbia J-School review uncovered, Charles C. W. Cooke, a writer at National Review and a graduate of the University of Oxford in modern history and politics, wrote Fighting Against ‘Rape Culture’ Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.

His key point was this:

Even if we suspend our disbelief and give Erdely an extremely generous benefit of the doubt – if we assume, that is, that she made all of her mistakes in a good-faith attempt to spare the feelings of her source – we will still come up against a considerable institutional problem: that being that whether or not they are setting out to deliberately mislead their audiences, journalists writing about claims of rape are operating under rules of engagement that have been set by zealots.

Certainly, it is feasible that Erdely is a conscious fabulist, in the mold of her classmate at UPenn, Stephen Glass. It is possible, too, that she was genuinely taken in by Jackie, and that she intended only to do right by her. And yet, here’s the thing: It doesn’t especially matter which one is true. Ultimately, it is downright impossible to divorce Erdely’s conduct from the cultural pathologies that informed it. At UVA, at Rolling Stone, and within the media in general, the malleable specter of “rape culture” is prompting good people to behave like fools.

Over the last decade or so, we have witnessed the rise of a political movement that hopes to set the investigation and punishment of sexual assault outside of the limitations that are imposed by respect for due process, for rational inquiry, and for common intellectual decency. By and large, this movement is populated by people who despise the truth if it contradicts the narrative; who regard evidence and process as tools of oppression; who interpret skepticism and questioning as acts of hostility; and who, at least as it relates to “rape culture”, consider unthinking credulity as a virtue and not a vice.

[Hyperlinks within his quoted words are my own, not Cooke’s.]


by Robert Riversong: may be reproduced only with attribution for non-commercial purposes

See also:

When Progressive Social Change Becomes Regressive Ideology: From Women’s Liberation to Cultural Misandry – ReHonoring Masculinity & Achieving Gender Justice

Misandric Feminism vs. Progressive Gender Equality (excerpt of above)

Male Victims of Sexual Violence (also an excerpt of above)

Yellow Journalism and the Meme of “Rape Culture” – Rolling Stone and U-VA Gang Rape

Dear President Sullivan – letter from 17 attorneys involved with campus sexual assault claims throughout America, detailing specific reasons why they “are concerned that the University’s Proposed Student Sexual Misconduct Policy is both vastly over inclusive in attempting to define prohibited conduct and ill equipped to guarantee a procedure for resolving allegations that is fair and impartial”.

It’s Time for a U-VA Apology – Op-Ed from a 25-year U-VA professor and his U-VA junior son

New Puritanism – New Paternalism – The “Rape Culture” Narrative Demeans Women, Demonizes Men, and Turns Universities into Witch Hunt Tribunals

Dear Senators – letter from 20 attorneys critical of the Campus Accountability and Safety Act (S. 2692)

Sexual Assault and Justice: Can we reconcile the belated attention to rape on campus with due process? by Nancy Gertner, feminist lawyer, retired federal judge and Harvard Law professor

The Pendulum Reverses – Again – The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses & Men Strike Back against Title IX Tribunals

HELP for DOE Regulatory Excess – A Senate Task Force Report Recommends Scaling Back the Mountain of Regulations Strangling Higher Education Institutions

Men are Twice-Raped – Domestically and Globally, Men and Boys are Victims of Sexual Violence at rates Equal to those of Women, and are Assumed to be Villains whenever a Woman Accuses

Two Sexual Assault Studies Contradict Stereotypes

All Sex is Rape – All Men are Rapists : Patriarchy = Rape Culture

A Model of Campus Gender-Based Harassment – The Columbia University “Mattress” Story

A Case Study in “Politically-Correct” Reactionary Response – The Duke Lacrosse Team Stripper Rape Hoax

When the Megaphone becomes the Gavel – Two legal experts on sex discrimination law and procedure argue that the current Title IX mandates for America’s colleges and universities are legally unsupportable and both practically and ethically indefensible.

Two Over-Privileged Millennials Engage in Sex and Get F-cked – The Stanford “Model” Student and her Silicon Valley Mentor

Insurance Industry Revelations and Prescriptions about Campus Sexual Assault

The Feminist Movement has Cannibalized Its Own Core Values and Become Its Own Worst Enemy

The Rape Culture Meme – It’s to authentic human culture what genetically modified corn is to maize.

Illiberalism & Hypocrisy on America’s Campuses – Stifling Free Expression in Deference to the Sensibilities of Self-Declared Victimhood

Emancipation From Feminism – My Personal Journey in the New Left and A Dissident View on Feminism



4 Responses to “Journalistic Fabulism and Ideological Agendas”

  1. Jane said


    JUDY WOODRUFF: It was also disturbing to read that her friends didn’t encourage her to report it. Did you find that this is something that is common on this campus and maybe on other campuses as well?

    SABRINA RUBIN ERDELY: That was an incredibly common and very disturbing thing that emerged from this article, was that when Jackie confided in her friends, they dismissed it, they laughed it off, they told her to brush it off and get over it. Some of them called her a baby for wallowing in it. They had asked her why she was still crying about it.

    And that was incredibly common among rape survivors at the University of Virginia and elsewhere, that these women are sort of shamed and blamed and they’re told to just shake it off and get back to the party culture. And, really, students see this as — sexual assault not so much as a serious crime, but as this unfortunate casualty of the party culture.

  2. Riversong said

    The PBS interview was just one of several in which Erdely exposed her motivations as well as her utter indifference to seeking the truth.

    Later in the interview, Erdely said “But the idea that they [the university administration] didn’t know some of the details of Jackie’s case, that sounds a little disingenuous to me, only because, when I approached Jackie about this article, she was very forthcoming about all the details.”

    Jackie was all too forthcoming about details she never told to even her closest friends because they have been proved to be fabrications – at best, gross exaggerations of what might have occurred that night (though none of it has been corroborated by anyone else or by any evidence, and much of the story has been proved to be false).

    That Ederly blindly accepted the story from a single person without any attempt at fact-checking, makes evident that she began with a plot line and sought out the most incredible example to fit it. And “incredible” it was, in the literal sense of the term.

    The alleged indifference from friends, fellow students and administrators is pure fabrication, as well. What is more common is the experience of the U-VA rape victim advocate, Emily Renda, who put Ederly in touch with Jackie.

    In testimony to a US Senate committee in June of 2014, Renda said:

    “In my own case, despite explicit force (e.g. strangulation, loss of consciousness and injuries to my head and torso), I still felt responsible for the assault because I had been drinking and had willfully gone to my assailant’s dorm room. … I resisted formally reporting and seeking disciplinary action after the assault because I fixated on the fact that my assailant had parents who cared about him, and that I did not want to ruin his life over what I then viewed as a mistake.”

  3. Amy said

    Awesome article. Good job.

  4. Good article, thanks.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: