Sunday, November 06, 2016

Jury finds Rolling Stone's debunked campus rape story defamed University of Virginia administrator

A US federal jury has found Rolling Stone magazine, its publisher and a reporter defamed a University of Virginia administrator who sued them for $US7.5 million ($9.77 million) over a discredited story about gang rape at a fraternity house.

The 10-member jury in Charlottesville sided with administrator Nicole Eramo, who claimed the article portrayed her as a villain.

Jurors found that journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely was responsible for libel, with actual malice, and that Rolling Stone and its publisher were also responsible for defaming Ms Eramo.

Ms Eramo claimed the November 2014 article falsely said she discouraged the woman identified only as Jackie from reporting the incident to police. A police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie's claims.

Rolling Stone's attorneys said there was no evidence that the reporter knew what she was writing about Ms Eramo was false or had serious doubts about whether it was true.

In a statement released on Friday (local time), the magazine apologized to Ms Eramo and anyone else impacted by the story.

"It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students," the statement read.

    "We will continue to publish stories that shine a light on the defining social, political and cultural issues of our times, and we will continue to seek the truth in every story we publish."

The jury found that Erdely acted with actual malice on six claims — two statements in the article and four statements to media outlets after the story was published.

Among them was one in which Erdely wrote in the story that Ms Eramo had a "non-reaction" when she heard from Jackie that two other women were also gang raped at the same fraternity at the university.

Jurors also found that the decision by Rolling Stone and Wenner Media, the magazine's publisher, to repost the story on December 5, 2014 with an editor's note acknowledging that there were discrepancies in Jackie's account counted as "republishing" the debunked story.

The magazine did not officially retract the story and remove it from its website until the following April.
The controversy: a recap

    Rolling Stone magazine published an article by reporter Sabrina Erdely that claimed to describe a group sexual assault at a university campus.

    The subject of the article was identified only as "Jackie" by the magazine.

    The story set off a firestorm at the university and in schools nationwide.

    Ms Eramo received hundreds of angry letters and emails calling her the "dean of rape", among other things, and faced protesters outside her office.

    The story crumbled after other news outlets began asking questions and police found no evidence to back it up.

    The article was officially retracted in April 2015.

Jurors heard closing arguments on Tuesday after listening to more than two weeks' worth of evidence.

Over the course of the more than two-week trial, the jury of eight women and two men watched 11 hours of video testimony, heard from a dozen live witnesses and examined nearly 300 exhibits.

The judge earlier this week dismissed Ms Eramo's claim that the story, when taken as a whole, implied that she was a "false friend" to Jackie. Rolling Stone had called that a "critical element" of her case.

Because the judge determined that Ms Eramo was a public figure, she had to prove that Rolling Stone made statements with "actual malice", meaning the publication knew that what it was writing about her was false or entertained serious doubts as to whether it might be true.

Ms Eramo's attorneys argued that Erdely came into the story with a preconceived storyline about institutional indifference to sexual assault and intentionally disregarded statements and facts about Ms Eramo that did not fit that narrative.

They claimed Erdely also ignored red flags about Jackie's credibility, including the changing account of Jackie's rape and her refusal to let Erdely talk to people who could corroborate her story.

Attorneys for Rolling Stone acknowledged that Erdely and her editors made serious reporting mistakes, but argued that there was no evidence they acted with actual malice.

The magazine's attorneys said that Erdely and her editors had full faith in Jackie until they realized she was no longer credible in early December after the story was published.


Bias at George Mason University

Being a conservative on campus is hard enough, at George Mason University (GMU) they have just made it even more difficult. On Saturday Oct. 22, 2016 Mason hosted celebrity Miley Cyrus on campus to promote Hillary Clinton and knock on student’s dorm doors to ensure they were voting.

While this fun, press event might have seemed harmless to some, for anyone outside of the Clinton fan base this partisan charade on campus was both distracting and disrespectful.

With suspicion regarding how this event handled university policies and campaign laws, Americans for Limited Government filed a Freedom of Information Act to obtain more knowledge. The information revealed that despite the media driven perception, Cyrus did not go door to door. Instead she knocked on the doors of pre-approved students led by a security team and had a photo opp with university President Angel Cabrera.

Mason administrators assisted in gathering the security team, selecting students to meet Cyrus, and coordinating the visit with the Clinton campaign. A clearly partisan event seemed more like a Mason sponsored event.

Upon discussion about the event with students on campus prior to Cyrus’s visit, students with the universities College Republicans chapter noted that this was even permissible since Ivanka Trump was expected to have a similar visit the following week. However, Trump’s visit never happened.

Cyrus gathered a crowd outside the Piedmont dorm hall to chant her songs at her as she spoke with students inside, as a Mason student myself, the charade seemed to cause a publicity nightmare certainly not exemplary of the Mason environment.

Aside from being distracting and blocking nearly all access to the Piedmont dorm, the event isolated Republican students on campus.

Harvard University’s own Crimson newspaper embarrassingly had to explain in an Oct. 2015 report, “The Elephant in the Room: Conservatives at Harvard,” that conservative students on campus often feel overwhelmed by the liberal presence of students and faculty. This isolation prevents students from working on political campaigns and silences students in classrooms.

When GMU courted Cyrus onto campus to promote the Clinton campaign, they sent a clear message about who they supported in the 2016 election. Despite student hopes of a balanced campus environment, our own President was pictured with Cyrus during her pro-Clinton campaign.

One Mason student writing for The Odyssey noted that while speaking to a police officer in the crowd watching Cyrus he told her that “they chose Piedmont 4th because many of the students who live there are affiliated with the GMU Democrats or were actively involved the Hillary campaign.”

It is not like Cyrus spoke on campus about political issues and ideas, she went into dorms and pretended to visit random students while instead speaking with known Democrats about why Clinton was the best option.

Students refusing to support Clinton in the 2016 election did not have their voices heard on campus this October, they were subjected to a fabricated press show to boost Clinton, Cyrus, and the University in a partisan manner. Instead of pursuing an open and inclusive political environment, GMU did little besides isolate political opinion on campus.


A charter school success story

Last of four stories on how families could be affected by charter school expansion. For other entries in the series, click here.

Janeé Jones gave birth to her first child nearly 12 years ago, a son named Angelo, at 7 p.m. He weighed 7 pounds and 7 ounces, and on the week of his birth, family and friends played “0777” in the Massachusetts State Lottery and won more than $500.

Last year, as Angelo “Seven” Jones entered the sixth grade, he and his family won a different lottery, which allowed him to transfer this fall from a traditional public school to Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy charter school in Dorchester.

With that stroke of luck, Angelo was plucked from a waiting list of more than 100 children and he, according to his mother and other relatives, drastically improved his educational experience. They praise the Davis Leadership Academy’s no-tolerance approach to discipline and its particular attention to African-American history and culture.

“My son is definitely progressing,” Jones said. “He’s more attentive to his homework, to his appearance because of the dress code, and he has a different sense of responsibility.”

The family said Angelo needed a change. He had attended fourth and fifth grades at McKinley South End Academy, a district school that focuses on therapeutic and supportive education for students with unique social and emotional needs.

Altercations among the students there were commonplace, Angelo said, and he admitted to being involved in his share. He said he was reprimanded for throwing chairs, verbally berating other students and teachers, fighting, and even sprinting out of school.

Davis Academy, Angelo’s new school, which serves 6th through 8th grades, boasts a strict disciplinary structure where obedience is required, not rewarded. On a recent afternoon, neatly dressed, uniform-clad students walked silently from class to class, in tight single-file lines uncommon for preteens.

At his old school, “I was behind. I felt that I was not doing as much as I should be,” the 11-year-old said recently at the family’s home in The Charlesview Residences in Brighton. “Davis taught me about how to be respectful in class. How to sit down and do my work.”

The organizational structures of public education are lost on Angelo, a gregarious, playful, and sometimes rebellious child who knows more of scratch tickets than of enrollment lotteries — or of the fiercely contested state ballot question on charter schools, for that matter.

But the change in school environments is not lost on Jones — a 32-year-old single mother of two — who says without hyperbole that moving her son to another school was a matter of life and death.

If Angelo did not change schools, “he would’ve been gun-toting in two years,” Jones said. “We already grew up in Boston, in the hood, and he’s seen enough. ... I needed to keep him focused on his life and his choices.”

In Davis Academy, Jones selected an educational environment that drastically differs from nearly all schools in the state — whether charter, parochial, or traditional. It offers a curriculum that stresses self-confidence of students, a vast majority of whom are black.

Davis also boasts a nonwhite principal, a diverse staff of teachers and administrators, and an executive board composed of members of the Dorchester community.

Ghanaian artwork graces the walls of the administration’s office, and the faces of black heroes from past and present line the hallways. Educational cohorts are named after historically black colleges and universities. Every year, students take a trip to a foreign country, often in Africa.

This year, on the first day of school, Angelo and his classmates were greeted with dancers demonstrating Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art that combines acrobatics and music.

“It’s been two months of school, and it’s been a drastic difference,” Jones said.

Of course, other factors could have contributed to Angelo’s change in behavior. During his time at McKinley, the Jones family was going through a traumatic and transient period, according to his mother, which included Angelo staying with family members while Janeé and Angelo’s father were breaking up.

There is also Angelo’s ADHD diagnosis, which occurred when he was attending the William Monroe Trotter elementary school in Dorchester and led to his placement at McKinley, his mother said.

Students are referred to McKinley if they have not made progress using school-based interventions, said Dan O’Brien, spokesman for Boston Public Schools.

“The McKinley School is highly regarded for effectively educating students with a primary diagnosis of emotional impairment but who often have other disability diagnoses,’’ O’Brien said in a statement. “The McKinley’s successes are credited to its use of positive behavior intervention and supports; a strong staff with clinical backgrounds and therapeutic supports for students and families; and the only K-12 empowerment program for boys of color in BPS.”

Jones did not provide data to quantify her child’s improvement at Davis Academy, since the first marking period has not been completed. Neither BPS nor Davis could provide specific educational information about Angelo’s academic achievement, due to privacy restrictions.

However, after her first parent-teacher conference at the Davis in late October, Jones said, she felt confident her son was improving at the Fields Corner school.

“He used to wild out so badly. Things that I’ve never seen him do. I wondered where that was coming from?” Jones said. “I don’t think that all kids should go to charter schools, but I do think charter schools are onto something.’’

Proponents of increasing the state’s cap on charter schools say voting yes on Question 2 on Nov. 8 will make Angelo Jones’s story a common one, where more children come off charter school waiting lists and into their desired classrooms. Opponents focus on a broader picture, including the financial impact more charter schools could have on Boston’s school district, which educates the majority of city children.

For Jones, who is between jobs but previously worked as a cook, the matter is concrete, not abstract. Before enrolling her son, Jones said, she “didn’t have an opinion” about charter schools, since she had attended traditional Boston public schools throughout her life. Now, the mother is transforming into a Davis Academy evangelist.

“It works,” Jones said of the charter school system.

She found Davis Academy through members of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network, a statewide group of charter and district parents who provide advice and support for underserved families. Jones said she was immediately drawn by Davis’s holistic model of education.

“It’s important for every child here to leave with a strong sense of self,” said Karmala Sherwood, executive director of the Davis. “Students need to have an understanding of who they are and where they come from, so they can know where they are going.”

O’Brien said Boston Public Schools also has a bevy of programs for students of color, including 43 schools with extracurricular options designed to empower nonwhite students. Angelo did not take part in these programs when he attended BPS schools, his mother said.

However, at Davis Academy, Angelo has no choice. The school says everything it does is informed by its model of Afro-centrism, reminiscent of the Freedom Schools from the Jim Crow American South or the Oakland Community School founded by the Black Panther Party.

During a recent tour of the school, Sherwood equated the school’s philosophy with an age-old saying in black communities: “be twice as good.”

“The work is a little harder than the other school,” Angelo said of Davis Academy. “But I like that. It’ll make you smarter.”

When asked what he enjoys most about the new school, Angelo chose the artwork of black history makers, such as Jamaican American chessmaster Maurice Ashley and civil rights stalwart Fannie Lou Hamer. The 11-year-old also says he prefers the structured atmosphere, because it will help him get a job.

Jones said she enjoys that Angelo takes pride in his daily appearance and disposition.

As if to prove his devotion, Angelo then recited Davis’s student mission, which students must repeat every morning.

I pledge “to inspire others and to catalyze educational, economic, and political advancement within their communities and the broader nation,” Angelo said as he sat at the family’s kitchen table.

As he spoke, his mother wiped away prideful tears, hopeful for the man her son could become.

“How’d I get so lucky?” she wondered aloud to her sister.


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