Striking similarities exist between claims of Cardinal George Pell’s accuser and those in a discredited case hyped by Sabrina Rubin Erdely in Rolling Stone magazine.
Back in 2016, before the American presidential election that shook our politics, Catholic League President Bill Donohue was quoted in a NewsMax article entitled “Trump Taps into Mass Distrust.” Dr. Donohue, who happens to be a well-published sociologist, cited a poll by the Media Insight Project and the American Press Institute that measured the confidence voters have in American institutions.
Topping the list of those earning the public’s trust were, in order: The U.S. military, the scientific community, the U.S. Supreme Court, organized religion (yes, even still!), and America’s financial institutions. At the bottom of the list were the institutions Americans trust least. The last two came as no surprise. Only six percent of Americans reported having trust in the news media. Only four percent reported having trust in members of Congress.
Bill Donohue also cited another study. In 1985, a Pew Research Center poll revealed that 55 percent of Americans trust the news media to report facts truthfully. By 2011, that figure dropped to 25 percent. In the same poll in 1985, 45 percent of Americans thought the media was biased. By 2011, it jumped to 63 percent.
Bill Donohue gleaned from the fine print of these polls that the two most cited reasons for wide-spread mistrust of news media were inaccurate reporting and media bias. There is another reason, but it may not be so evident to casual consumers of the news. The media has abandoned skepticism in favor of quick and easy “gotcha” news.
The most articulate analysis of media bias comes from journalist JoAnn Wypijewski in a news-busting CounterPunch article about the Catholic priesthood scandal. Her against-the-tide article is “Oscar Hangover Special: Why ‘Spotlight’ Is a Terrible Film” (For full disclosure my own charges are examined therein).
“I don’t believe the personal injury lawyers … I don’t believe the prosecutors who pursued tainted cases, or the therapists who revived junk science or the juries that sided with them or the judges who failed to act justly or the people who made money off any of this…
“I don’t believe the claims of all who say they are victims or who prefer the tough-minded label, survivor – because ready belief is not part of a journalist’s mental kit, but also because what happened in 2002 makes it difficult to distinguish real claims from fraudulent or opportunistic ones without independent research.”
This article would never win recognition for public service from the news media because it goes so vividly against the current tide of political correctness. The news media has abandoned the necessary skepticism that was once “part of a journalist’s mental kit.” To be merely accused today is to be guilty.
MANIPULATING THE COURT OF PUBLIC OPINION
This, says JoAnn Wypijewski, is “the legacy of the courtroom of panic that made ‘the pedophile priest’ a cultural bogeyman, a devil, who need not be real but only named to light the fires of wrath.” I became a target of that courtroom of panic and those fires of wrath, and so, it now seems, did Cardinal George Pell.
In a time of moral panic, convictions happen in the public eye long before they happen in a court of law. For many prosecutors, arriving at the truth is now less important than winning. The necessary “independent research” cited by Ms Wypijewski happens only when the smoke of an unjust trial clears, if at all.
The case against Cardinal Pell had already raised concerns for real justice even before it ended in a courtroom. One of the best commentaries on this has come from David F. Pierre, Jr., host of The Media Report, in “The Witch Hunt Against Australia’s Cardinal George Pell: Five Facts You Need to Know.” The five facts summarized by David Pierre are these:
- The Australian government began investigating Cardinal Pell over five years ago even though there had been no crime reported against him.
- Pell’s publicly known accusers include career criminals, admitted drug addicts, and others who have lodged similar complaints before.
- Even secular observers have admitted that Pell is not being treated fairly at all.
- Accusations against Pell were widely circulated in a 2017 book that has been thoroughly discredited.
- Cardinal Pell vehemently and consistently denies the accusations against him.
Before the trial, some of the charges were withdrawn by prosecutors. Now there is a new source of grave doubt about the justice meted out to Cardinal Pell. An alert reader of These Stone Walls first spotted this story in an account at LifeSite News by Dorothy Cummings McLean entitled, “Cardinal Pell’s Accuser Copied Testimony from Old Rolling Stone Report, Journalist Claims.”
The writer who first uncovered this is Keith Windschuttle, an Australian journalist and historian. He used the professional skepticism and deep-sourcing that were once mainstays of the news media but have sadly been abandoned in favor of quick sound bites and the strip-mining of news.
Mr. Windschuttle discovered some eerie similarities between the claims brought against Cardinal Pell and a lurid story of abuse by American Catholic priests that appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in 2011. His findings listed a series of identical, sometimes verbatim, allegations seemingly lifted from the pages of Rolling Stone.
The magazine and that article would have been readily available to Pell’s accuser when he first described his “abuse” to police in 2015. The LifeSiteNews summary of the article lists the similarities, and they leave little doubt, according to Windschuttle:
“What is the difference between this account of child sex abuse in a Catholic church in Philadelphia and the evidence given by a sole accuser in the Victorian (AU] court case that convicted Cardinal George Pell? … Not much. The two stories were so close to being identical that the likelihood of the Australian version being original is most implausible. There were too many similarities for the likeness to be dismissed as ‘coincidence.”’
SABRINA RUBIN ERDELY & THE PREDATORY NEWS MEDIA
You may read for yourselves in the LifeSiteNews article the striking similarities that raise a specter of plagiarism in the charges against Cardinal Pell. The 2011 Rolling Stone article from which Pell’s accuser seems to have copied his claims was “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex Crime Files” written by a now disgraced and discredited former journalist, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Readers may remember that name from “A Rape on Campus,” an explosive story in the November 2014 issue of Rolling Stone. Sabrina Rubin Erdely profiled the story of “Jackie,” a student at the University of Virginia who claimed to be a victim of gang rape at a UVA fraternity party in 2012. Rolling Stone’s front page cried out:
“A RAPE ON CAMPUS: Jackie was just starting her freshman year at the University of Virginia when she was brutally assaulted by seven men at a frat party. When she tried to hold them accountable, a whole new kind of abuse began.”
Erdely’s account depicted OVA administrators as having callous disregard for the pain and suffering of the anonymous “Jackie” and, by extension, for the plight of other victims of sexual assault on campus. The story helped launch a national debate about rape on college campuses across the nation.
It contributed to a moral panic that went all the way to the Obama White House where legislation was promoted to drastically curtail the due process rights of accused college students. In the fallout from the story, UVA administrators called for resignations and expulsions even before all the facts were in. Like most such media events, the story was accepted as Gospel truth once it appeared in print.
But then someone began to do some of the independent research that journalist JoAnn Wypijewski calls for above. “Jackie’s” account turned out to be a massive lie, and Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s coverage of it a massive betrayal of journalistic standards. No one could corroborate any of “Jackie’s” story and Erdely never even bothered to try. She did no fact checking. She just ran with the story, riding a wave of public hysteria about sexual assault and abuse.
A civil trial took place just before the 2016 presidential election. From the witness stand, Sabrina Rubin Erdely cited the same tactic that countless contingency lawyers have used against the Catholic Church: “It takes trauma victims some time to come forward with all the details,” she testified to excuse her disregard for journalistic standards.
“It is not unusual,” Erdely testified to explain away “Jackie’s” ever-changing details of her story. In the end, with streaming tears, Erdely blamed it all on “Jackie,” saying, “It was a mistake to rely on someone whose intent was to deceive me.”
The bar for proving defamation and negligence against a journalist is steep. A jury must conclude, as it did in this case, that a journalist or media venue published what it knew to be false, or did so with reckless disregard for truth. In the end, when the entire account was heard, a jury found Rolling Stone guilty of negligence and defamation, and imposed a $7.5 million dollar jury award to the falsely accused fraternity students.
Sabrina Rubin Erdely was found liable for actual malice in the writing and publication of this story. By the December 2016 edition of Rolling Stone, her name was removed from the masthead of contributing editors, and she disappeared from the world of journalism.
THAT LYING SCHEMING ALTAR BOY AGAIN!
But there is another reason readers of these pages may recall Ms Erdely and Rolling Stone. A news media in pursuit of the whole truth instead of its own agenda would have scoured Ms Erdely’s previous work, but they did not. They did not because doing so would have required delving into another story by Ms Erdely that raises the same hard questions. It is a story that I have written about in multiple posts, including “The Lying, Scheming Altar Boy on the Cover of Newsweek.”
Three years before “A Rape on Campus,” Sabrina Rubin Erdely and Rolling Stone launched another moral panic by exploding a story of a Pennsylvania Catholic sex-abuse ring among priests in “The Catholic Church’s Secret Sex-Crime Files.” It is a story, as I have written elsewhere in These Stone Walls, that turned Father Charles Engelhardt into a martyr and Daniel Gallagher into a millionaire.
And lest you have questions about media influence on judges, Father Engelhardt’s judge, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge M. Teresa Sarmina, objected to a defense question posed to jurors:
“Anybody that doesn’t think there is widespread sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is living on another planet.”
Before falling for “Jackie’s” fraud, Ms. Erdely fell for a much larger one brought by Daniel Gallagher, assured anonymity by Ms. Erdely as “Billy Doe” in the pages of Rolling Stone. It is this story, and Rolling Stone’s presentation of it, that is now the apparent source of copycat testimony in the case against Cardinal George Pell.
But, like Erdely’s “A Rape on Campus,” this story was also a fraud. It was written with the same malice and disregard for truth as Erdely’s other story, but it nonetheless launched a witch hunt in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania with tentacles extending into the present day. Now it seems that some of those tentacles washed up in Australia as well.
The facts in this story are staggering, and though I have written extensively of them, the best source for a succinct summary is by journalist Ralph Cipriano writing for the January-February issue of the Catholic League journal, Catalyst in “The Legacy of Billy Doe.”
It is ironic that Cardinal Pell’s accuser picked this story to serve as a model to concoct false charges. Of course, this happened long before the story of Daniel Gallagher was exposed as a fraud. Up until last year it was a great success for the newly minted millionaire, Daniel Gallagher, who is yet to be brought to justice because it would be greatly embarrassing for Pennsylvania justice officials to do so.
I highly recommend Ralph Cipriano’s “The Legacy of Billy Doe.” In only two pages, he blew apart the narrative that has prevailed in the media to date. It’s a narrative that now raises questions about the character of the case against Cardinal Pell as well. We owe it to him to make this known. There is a reason why no other news media figure has taken up this story as Mr. Cipriano has, and as I have here at These Stone Walls.
And it is a frightening reason, frightening for anyone concerned with the integrity of our news media and the tyranny it can create through false witness. No one has articulated this better than The Wall Street Journal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning expositor of truth in justice, Dorothy Rabinowitz, in her 2005 book, No Crueler Tyrannies: Accusation, False Witness, and Other Terrors of Our Times:
“Arguing for due process on behalf of a person charged with child sex abuse violated the progressive views held by many toward crimes involving special categories of victims like women and children. [T]here [is] a school of advanced political opinion of the view that to take up for those falsely accused of sex abuse charges was to undermine the battle. It was to betray all other victims of sexual predators. Where advanced reasoning of this sort prevailed, the facts of a case were simply irrelevant.” (No Crueler Tyrannies, p. 17-18)
And that, my friends – for anyone who has counted on the news media to champion truth and justice – may be the cruelest tyranny of all.
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Note from Father Gordon MacRae: Please help share this story with others. I believe we owe that much to Cardinal Pell. You may also wish to consult these related posts from These Stone Walls:
- For Cardinal George Pell Justice Descends Down Under by Malcolm Farr
- Cardinal George Pell Is on Trial, and so Is Australia
- Cardinal George Pell and other Martyrs for a Nefarious Cause
- A Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts, Just Dirt