Megan McArdle: The most surprising thing about the UVA case was not that a single reporter got rooked, but that her editors let the story go ahead, and a Columbia Journalism School professor defended them for publishing the story without making a serious effort to get a response from the accused.
I understand completely the humanitarian impulse behind this. Being raped is incredibly traumatic; being treated with suspicion afterward adds insult to terrible injury. But this is not, as is often implied, a problem that is unique to rape cases. If your spouse is murdered, or simply dies under suspicious circumstances, it is quite likely that soon afterward you will find yourself subjected to interviews with police who think you were involved. You have just lost the person most important to you in the world, and now you are also being tacitly accused of having committed a crime. You are possibly facing jail or execution. It is horrible. Police don’t like having to take someone who’s grieving and make them sit through hours of interviews. But investigations are the only tool they have; they don’t know any other way to keep bad people from murdering their spouses.
And in the long run, the “I believe women” standard is not only bad for people who are accused (most of whom are men), but also bad for rape victims (most of whom are women). The Jackie debacle was an enormous setback for campus rape activists. I don’t blame the activists for having listened to Jackie without interrogating her claims too closely; a support group is not the place for rigorous investigations. But that’s why the journalists who tell their stories to a wider public are supposed to vet them carefully. (please read the whole thing)