Keep Apologizing Rolling Stone
By RU Guest Contributor Cora Kane
I admit to having a stack of Rolling Stone magazines. However, in my collection you won’t find one dated past 1987. The covers of these magazines are graced by the likes of David Bowie and a shirtless, younger Robert Plant. The stories inside are those such as the tragic loss of Lynyrd Skynyrd and the 1985 movie Perfect that coincidentally, is a movie based off a series of articles ran by Rolling Stone magazine.
It stars a younger (obviously) John Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis. And in my opinion, the movie is anything but Perfect.
While Rolling Stone has never shied away from covering the political as well as the music and film industry (because there are no bigger political voices than those who grace the silver screen or sing your favorite songs outside of Washington, DC) it seems that over the past couple of decades Rolling Stone has become a bit more focused on the sensationalism of news outside of the film and music industry.
Remember the story that ended with the firing of one this nations greatest? The one that rocked the country so much that the President himself got his feathers ruffled and fired General Stanley McChrystal. What about the aftermath, where it was quietly revealed that it wasn’t McChrystal at all who made those damning remarks, but that of one of his aids? President Obama, quietly, issued an apology. Rolling Stone did not.
Rolling Stone did however recently issue an apology for not fact checking allegations of rape at the University of Virginia. Isn’t that the first rule of journalism? To: “Take responsibility for the accuracy of work. Verify information before releasing it.” And yet, Rolling Stone ran the article and in doing so, potentially damned the reputation of several unnamed young men who otherwise could be fine, upstanding citizens. At least this time, they apologized?
But what if names had actually been named? What if the lives and livelihood of these young men had gone the way of McChrystal? What if they had been publicly humiliated and forced from their jobs? What if they had been hounded by the media and labeled “rapists” and “monsters” because of this woman’s unverified allegations? Do you think an apology from Rolling Stone would have done much for them after the stigmatism had already been applied to their names?
No. Because as Leonard Benton wrote in Remove The Emotion, Start A Conversation, “And the media wants a fire, because that means more readers and more advertising dollars.” And a fire this has been. How much attention did that article garner? That unverified account lead to policy changes and the suspension of fraternities at The University of Virginia. Can you turn on your TV right now without the news agency you use the most mentioning this at least once in one of their thirty minute segments?
How much of a fire followed General Stanley McChrystal after that initial Rolling Stone article ran? How many politicians and hungry journalists and two bit talk show hosts were chomping at the lip to get in on the action? How many segments were ran on the news? Even now, years later, one can’t google his name without the Rolling Stone article popping up on the first page of results. It was a wildfire and that one article completely overshadowed all of McChrystal’s prior achievements and accomplishments. One article swallowed thirty-four years of exemplary military service and removed arguably one of the best military leaders in modern history from what was probably the most important job in the world at that point in time.
I have never personally met General McChrystal, but I know several who have. From my understanding the man had an unnatural knack for remembering a name to a face he had only met once, for recalling diminutive details from conversations he had years prior and for taking a no-nonsense approach to all facets of life, personal and career. I don’t know how much, if any, of that original Rolling Stone article written about him to believe, but the quote used by the author Michael Hastings: “All these men,” he tells me “I’d die for them. And they’d die for me.” I’m apt to believe because of the way General McChrystal has been portrayed to me by several different sources. Several sources who all verified the same information. And then the kicker: the man took the fall for the words uttered by his aides. He never once pointed a finger, blamed someone else, or screamed that he had been misquoted. Instead he stood tall, apologized for words that while not his, came from his party, and was promptly fired by one bruised ego. All because Rolling Stone ran an article where the facts weren’t checked and the words weren’t attributed to the right speaker.
In no way am I saying that there isn’t maybe a tiny kernel of truth to: A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA. On a personal level, it’s hard to not sympathize with articles written by or about rape victims. However, as a writer, I’m beyond irked that the facts weren’t checked and story vindicated before it was published. As a military spouse and more than just a stand-by supporter, I am fiercely upset that Rolling Stone has not issued an apology to Stanley McChrystal.
At this point, it may not do a bit of good as far as un-associating his name with the dirt it was dragged in. But it would be, at least, a small victory for those of us who are both willing and able to separate sensationalism from the truth. It’ll be a win for the truth seekers. It’ll be one small step in taking control back over the media that has controlled us and our emotions for far too long. And all it takes to start it is an apology.
There is no denying that Rolling Stone is a media powerhouse. The words written within its pages are read all around the globe and believed without vindication because they were trusted to have checked the first box in the journalism code of ethics. There is no telling how many other stories that have lined the pages of Rolling Stone magazine that are products of their writer’s imaginations or were legitimate in origin. There’s no telling how many other boxes Rolling Stone or other nationally read “news” magazines or shows are not checking in order to sell a story.
There’s the saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Shame on me for believing the original words to the UVA rape article. I should have known better after the blatant disregard Rolling Stone showed for Stanley McChrystal. However, I now have hope. In the light of the recent retraction issued by Rolling Stone, it is my sincerest hope that they learn from their mistakes and the subsequent backlash against them and come forth with the truth and an apology for McChrystal.
Maybe they have learned how damaging a few words on paper can be to an individual, a community, or an entire nation. Rolling Stone, with an apology less than 300 words long (about one fourth of this article) has attempted to remove themselves from any harm they may have caused to those portrayed in the story by simply stating that their trust was misplaced. No Rolling Stone, your writers have once again proven that the sensationalism behind their stories, regardless of who they hurt are worth more than doing your ethical duty as a news outlet. Now do the right thing and keep apologizing.
You can view more of Cora’s work at http://corakane.com/