Rolling Stone’s retraction of University of Virginia gang rape story


By David Walsh
7 April 2015

On April 5, in a major and well-deserved humiliation, Rolling Stone magazine, the US biweekly devoted primarily to popular culture, was forced to retract its story “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” published November 19, 2014. The 9,000-word piece reported as fact the claims of “Jackie,” a female student at the University of Virginia (UVA), about a horrific gang rape alleged to have taken place in September 2012 at a fraternity house on the campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The sensationalist article, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, caused an uproar. Major publications such as the New York Times, including its columnist Nicholas Kristof, and the Washington Post, along with the entire crowd of pseudo-left and feminist activists, leaped on the story, asserting that it confirmed the existence of a “rape culture” in the US and on college campuses in particular. The obvious inconsistencies and implausibilities in the Rolling Stone “exposé,” however, impelled other journalists, including some at the Post, to look further into the allegations. The article’s claims began to unravel within a few weeks of publication, with Rolling Stone editors noting “discrepancies” and backing away from the story on December 5.

On December 11, the WSWS described the piece as “a defamatory travesty of journalism,” adding: “The article, in fact, is a mass of unsubstantiated allegations and anecdotes, stereotypes and dubious statistics. There is almost nothing in the article that can be pinned down as fact. It is neither convincing nor believable.”

As a damage control measure, Rolling Stone management eventually commissioned Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and two colleagues, to investigate the writing and publication of “A Rape on Campus.” The release of their results Sunday evening prompted the magazine’s retraction. In another response to the report, the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity in question, announced plans Monday to launch a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, accusing the magazine of “reckless reporting.”

The Columbia inquiry (available online here) documents Rolling Stone’s failure to apply the most elementary journalistic standards and procedures.

The report argues that the magazine’s “repudiation of the main narrative in ‘A Rape on Campus’ is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.”

In fact, the lengthy and inflammatory article was published on the say-so of one young person, with virtually no corroborating facts. For example, Jackie said she had spoken to three friends the night of the alleged attack, September 29, 2012, and told them she had been sexually assaulted. However, Jackie asserted that the three had later turned against her, and Jackie discouraged Erdely from contacting them. The reporter made no serious effort to get in touch with these key witnesses. When they were eventually contacted, the trio contradicted Jackie’s story in important ways. Coll and his colleagues comment: “The episode reaffirms a truism of reporting: Checking derogatory information with subjects is a matter of fairness, but it can also produce surprising new facts.”

Erdely never provided Phi Kappa Psi the details of the alleged assault, including its date. The Columbia report notes that if Rolling Stone “had given the fraternity a chance to review the allegations in detail, the factual discrepancies the fraternity would likely have reported might have led Erdely and her editors to try to verify Jackie’s account more thoroughly.”

Similarly, incredible as it may seem, Erdely and Rolling Stone accepted Jackie’s refusal to provide them with the name of the supposed ringleader of the attack, a lifeguard at the university aquatic center she claimed had asked her out on a date that night.

“There was, in fact, an aquatic center lifeguard who had worked at the pool at the same time as Jackie and had the first name she had used freely with Erdely. He was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi, however. The police interviewed him and examined his personal records. They found no evidence to link him to Jackie’s assault.

“If Rolling Stone had located him and heard his response to Jackie’s allegations…this might have led Erdely to reconsider her focus on that case. In any event, Rolling Stone stopped looking for him.”

These failures to establish the basic facts of the case—even as to whether the alleged ringleader actually existed!—are so egregious that they hardly permit an innocent explanation. Either Rolling Stone, in existence for almost five decades and with a readership of 1.5 million per issue, is run by complete amateurs or incompetents, or, more plausibly, something else is at work. That “something else,” in this case, is the gravitational pull of identity politics and the upper middle class circles obsessed with sex, gender and race. The rational and objective consideration of facts flies out the window when these fixated layers perceive their interests to be at stake.

Erdely’s own notes from a July 2014 conversation with a UVA staff member, commented on by the Columbia report, reveal “she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case that would show ‘what it’s like to be on campus now…where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture.’”

The Columbia report is extremely narrow, limiting itself to the immediate facts of the case. It never asks the obvious: how was such a “journalistic failure” possible? In fact, the authors of the report accept the essential ideological framework within which the Rolling Stone article was produced. They bend over backward to offer excuses for Erdely and company: “Social scientists, psychologists and trauma specialists who support rape survivors have impressed upon journalists the need to respect the autonomy of victims, to avoid re-traumatizing them and to understand that rape survivors are as reliable in their testimony as other crime victims. These insights clearly influenced Erdely, [and editors Sean] Woods and [Will] Dana.”

This is nonsense. The issue is not whether rape is a terrible crime. What’s taking place, however, is not a sudden outpouring of sympathy for sexual assault victims, in the face of an epidemic, on the part of the government, the media and university officials. In fact, a layer of right-wing political scoundrels, in and around the Democratic Party, is cynically making use of an emotive and painful issue to advance its own agenda.

The Columbia investigation notes the role of the White House in this process: “The Obama administration took up the cause [of sexual harassment on campus]. It pressured colleges to adopt more rigorous systems, and it required a lower threshold of guilt to convict a student before school tribunals.”

As we noted last November in regard to Harvard University’s new, anti-democratic sexual misconduct policy: “Obama’s sexual assault publicity stunt is directed in particular at shoring up support for the Democrats among those liberal and ‘left’ layers of the upper middle class mesmerized by questions of personal identity.”

The “progressive agenda” today of the affluent left includes and hardly goes farther than support for gay marriage, opposition to the “rape culture” and an obsession with race. All of this is meant to divert attention from the crimes of the White House and the relentless attacks on the working class in the US. The hysteria over supposedly widespread rape in the US and elsewhere is part of the effort to bamboozle some people and intimidate others.

For certain selfish layers, Obama’s initiative on sexual assault on campuses far outweighs his role in murdering thousands through drone strikes, ordering NSA spying and launching undeclared wars in various parts of the globe.

The “Rape on Campus” incident is a fiasco for Rolling Stone. However, the publication has made clear it has no plans to dispense with Erdely’s services or anyone else’s, and that it is quite happy with the “safeguards” in place. Everything will go as before, including the editors’ devotion to identity politics.

After apologizing in a perfunctory manner to “all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students,” the magazine goes on to worry about the impact its article might have on similar allegations in the future: “It is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.”

Along the same lines, the Columbia report authors write: “It would be unfortunate if Rolling Stone’s failure were to deter journalists from taking on high-risk investigations of rape in which powerful individuals or institutions may wish to avoid scrutiny but where the facts may be underdeveloped.”

“Rape culture” advocates like Jessica Valenti of the Guardian, formerly of theNation, will certainly not be deterred. After the Charlottesville Police Department issued a report March 23 indicating that it had “exhausted all investigative leads” and concluding “that there is no substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article,” Valenti insightfully commented, “‘No evidence’ of a rape does not mean that a rape didn’t happen” and referred to the police merely finding “inconsistencies” in Jackie’s story. In fact, the police found no basis whatsoever not only for the allegation of a crime in 2012, but for other incidents the young woman initially reported.

The UVA incident has to be seen in the context of the ongoing assault on democratic and constitutional rights in the US, spearheaded by the Obama administration and acquiesced to by the pseudo-left. Neither in Rolling Stone’s apology nor the Columbia report do the critical questions of democratic rights, including the presumption of innocence and due process, come up. Allegations of sexual misconduct are treated as fact, unless a debacle like the present one makes that untenable. The implications are profound.

The author also recommends:

Rolling Stone magazine and the University of Virginia rape allegations
[11 December 2014]

Harvard’s new sexual harassment policy, democratic rights and the new right
[11 November 2014]

Politics, Money And Religion: 5 Things We Learned From Indiana’s RFRA Debate

The uproar caused this past week by Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act proved one thing about America. Nothing stirs up conversation more than the intersection of religion, money and politics.


On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed a “fix” for the RFRA, stating explicitly that the law cannot be used to discriminate based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

That isn’t good enough for some opponents of the law, such as Angie’s ListAngie’s List, which wants to see the RFRA appealed completely. And, it may take quite a while for Indiana’s image to recover from the national battering that it received.

I spoke about the business reaction to RFRA on PBS NewsHour on Thursday night, and it struck me that the situation was something of a milestone in changing perceptions about the business community.

Here are five things we learned this past week during the RFRA debate.

1) Customers trump conservatism. Dozens of corporations, from Eli LillyLilly to Angie’s List to Apple Apple, spoke out against RFRA this past week. To be sure, Apple’s opposition might be a given, since its CEO, Tim Cook, is openly gay.

But other firms on the list can hardly be considered bastions of liberal attitudes. In the case of RFRA, however, the law threatened to discriminate against, employees, customers, and their friends.

When it comes down to it, companies want to do business in places where they are welcome. RFRA put lie to “Hoosier hospitality” in a big way.

2) All local is politics. In the 20th century, former House Speaker Tip O’Neill contended all politics are local. Now, all things local are political. You can thank the internet and social media for creating a sense of community across the country.

When something happens in one state, we now hear about it in rapid fashion. And, while it is still possible for political moves to take place under cover of darkness, there is a lot more light when the sun rises than there ever has been before.

The vehement reaction to Indiana’s law is why Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson insisted on a revision before he would sign an RFRA there, and why Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder told his legislature to not even bother sending him one.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

3) America is in a protesting mood. Why was there uproar over Indiana when there are at least 20 other RFRAs across the country? The answer is timing. The Indiana debate took place in an atmosphere when people are willing to protest.

Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen the Occupy movements. We’ve seen the marches in Ferguson, and the reverence paid to the commemorations in Selma. It’s been a long time coming, but Americans are once again ready to collectively protest when they see something that they feel is unjust.

That also goes the other way, in the case of Indiana. The pizza parlor owners who said they wouldn’t serve a gay wedding have actually received $500,000 in donations from supporters.

4) Fixes have to come fast. The lightning fast speed of the modern world means that there’s no time to dawdle, because your state’s image can be blotted in the blink of an eye.

Last Sunday, I predicted that Pence would ask the legislature to repeal or fix RFRA by the end of the week. It seemed clear there was no other choice, to quiet the upset. And, Indiana responded with alacrity.

In February, 2014, the same thing happened in Arizona, whose legislature passed an RFRA bill. Within days, it became clear that the NFL might pull the 2015 Super Bowl from Phoenix should the bill take effect. Rather than risk losing a prestige event, former Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the bill.

5) Gays have a lot of friends. As I reported earlier this week, Indiana only ranks No. 19 in the U.S. in terms of its LGBT population. Despite seeing its population diversify as it has embraced the tech sector, Indianapolis is hardly San Francisco or New York.

But as I said on NewsHour, the actual number of gays and lesbians in a city or state doesn’t matter much any more. Their friends will come to their assistance. As I said on the NewsHour, we all know someone who is LGBT, and the community enjoys a circle of support.

In Indiana, that circle of support demanded action, and got it. And, we all learned a lot from that.


Originally published at on April 3, 2015.

American Apparel now airbrushing nipples and pubic hair off models

The chain recently made a bold move to embrace the bush. Now it seems to think natural bodies are too risqué

American Apparel now airbrushing nipples and pubic hair off models

It wasn’t so long ago that American Apparel introduced mannequins with pubic hair into one of its stores, but oh, how times have changed. The brand, which has long been known for its “natural” model aesthetic (meaning that some of its scantily clad, overwhelmingly thin/white models sport visible pubic hair in advertisements), now seems to be taking a different approach to portraying women’s bodies. It’s one that includes no pubic hair and no nipples, and also a whole lot of airbrushing.

According to ANIMAL New York, there have been several striking changes in the lingerie section of American Apparel’s website over the past week, with models that had previously been shown with both nipples and pubic hair suddenly devoid of both. ANIMAL’s Prachi Gupta (formerly of Salon) took a series of screenshots to illustrate the changes, which show women “airbrushed to look like plastic dolls rather than real women.”

The alterations were initially flagged by anti-censorship activist Michelle Lytle, who accused the company of trying to distance itself from the infamously provocative marketing strategy instituted by ousted founder and former CEO (and alleged sex offender) Dov Charney. And, as Gupta points out, the change likely does reflect American Apparel’s efforts to overhaul its advertising, which has been criticized for sexualizing girls and objectifying women:

New CEO Paula Schneider is trying to distance the brand’s from its “borderline pornographic” aesthetic, as the New York Times described it. In July, she told the Times that she wanted to make keep the brand edgy without being overtly sexual. “This is an edgy brand and it’s always going to be an edgy brand, and it’s about social commentary, it’s about gay rights, and it’s about immigration reform. It’s about the things millennials care about,” she said.

But the fight to uncensor nipples and body hair in media, on the Internet and in real life are very much issues that millennials care about. For years, feminists have been arguing for equal rights to be topless with Free the Nipple movement, which has gained the support from the likes of Scout Willis, Miley Cyrus and Rihanna. Activist and Free the Nipple documentarian Lina Esco framed the problem when she shared a surprising statistic: “Did you know an American child sees over 200,000 acts of violence and 16,000 murders on TV before they turn 18 and not one nipple?”

As Lytle put it, American Apparel’s strong stances on other key social issues only makes its approach to gender equality more upsetting. “It’s kind of laughable for them to think that removing nipples from their images of their sheer lingerie is the best way to do this considering their questionable ad choices in recent years,” she told ANIMAL. “This is a step in the wrong direction and is contributing to the sexualization of a woman’s body at a time where there is a large and growing movement for equality.”


Jenny Kutner is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on sex, gender and feminism. Follow @jennykutner or email


“Better Call Saul” humanizes the smooth-talking “Breaking Bad” sidekick in a surprisingly solid spin-off

Vince Gilligan’s new antihero origin story has more in common with “Mad Men” than “Breaking Bad”

“Better Call Saul” humanizes the smooth-talking “Breaking Bad” sidekick in a surprisingly solid spin-off
Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul” (Credit: AMC/Ursula Coyote)

I’m surprised how much I liked “Better Call Saul.” We might as well start there.

“Better Call Saul” isn’t exactly supposed to be good. It’s a spin-off of a beloved television show, “Breaking Bad”; and unlike “Friends” or “Cheers,” which both spawned spinoffs, “Breaking Bad” isn’t a feel-good sitcom with a happy ending. The five seasons of the original AMC show were a slow, brutal transformation story, from Walter White the man to Heisenberg the monster, and if the drug-dealing arc didn’t interest you, the incredible direction and once-in-a-lifetime performances might.

So when AMC announced the production of “Better Call Saul,” I was skeptical—not because I thought something from Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould and actor Bob Odenkirk couldn’t be good, but because I worried that the spin-off might tarnish the original. (I wish I could forget the “Star Wars” prequels. I wish I could.) The production decision is undoubtedly an attempt to make more money off of a successful franchise with an established fanbase—a situation that can privilege hacky fan service over quality and creativity. (Think “Joey,” the spinoff from “Friends,” as opposed to “Frasier,” the spinoff from “Cheers.”)

Vince Gilligan and his team, as usual, have surprised me. I haven’t totally fallen for the prequel series “Better Call Saul”—it doesn’t quite feel like its own show yet—but it did make me care about the man who becomes Saul Goodman in a way I never did in “Breaking Bad.” And though the story of Walter White is done and dead, series creators Gilligan and Gould have found a way to tell the story of Saul—currently known as Jimmy McGill, public defender—in a way that echoes and parallels White’s story without necessarily covering the same ground. The general premise is the same: The world makes it hard to be a good man (or a Goodman). But the sordid particulars will always vary.

When we meet Jimmy McGill—six years before the events of “Breaking Bad”—what’s fascinating about him is that he seems to know this already. Not exactly for himself, although his career has already brushed the wrong side of the law. But definitely for others. Jimmy makes ends barely meet by defending criminals in county court, where he is forced to come up with a narrative of explanation and redemption for possibly guilty defendants, multiple times a day. Jimmy’s a talker—that’s what he’s good at. That’s why he’s a lawyer, that’s what he brings to the table. But he’s not just a talker, he’s a storyteller of sorts: a salesman, a charlatan, an ad man. He’s got a plausible explanation for his clients’ many missteps, a ready tale of sympathy for anyone willing to listen—the judge, the jury, the prosecutor, the woman validating his parking. And though it sounds glib, it’s not effortless—we see him rehearse in mirrors, practice in his car, work through talking points before knocking on doors. He has to work up the energy to bluster. Maybe because he just wants to build momentum, and maybe because when you’re essentially a legal con man, you have to be careful to get your words right. But there’s a hint of something more tragic, too: Jimmy has to convince himself of the truth of his words so that he can have the most impact. He’s got to believe that his clients are innocent-ish in order to fight for them; he’s got to become the lie, or to become, more specifically, the most convenient version of the truth.

It’s there, in Jimmy McGill’s fast-talking attempt to come out on top, that “Better Call Saul” really shines. Despite being a spin-off of “Breaking Bad,” McGill has more in common with “Mad Men’s” Don Draper—not the womanizing or the mythos, but certainly that same fanatical commitment to selling a version of reality that both men end up half-believing, just to survive.

By the time we meet him in “Breaking Bad,” Bob Odenkirk’s Saul is a static figure—he’s part of the criminal environment that Walt and Jesse break into. His answers and advice are all world-weary and polished. “Better Call Saul” offers the viewer a chance to see how he would become that man. It’s more than a little convoluted—there’s a brother, a situation with a big law firm that is only explained in bits and pieces, a scheme gone wrong and the familiar landscape of the desert-suburbia of Albuquerque, shot with the same golden filters and wide angles. At times, the familiarity is exciting; at other times, it’s jarring. And the rest of the time, it’s vaguely frustrating—we’ve explored this landscape of abandoned strip malls, remote gas stations and cheap flip-phones before. There are a few familiar faces in the first three episodes; at least one made me roll my eyes. But there’s something a little delicious about the continuity, too: Spin-offs are the type of weird pop-culture artifact unique to serialized forms, and television in particular. It’s absurd and intriguing to see a master of the form take it on.

So for right now, I’m willing to go along with “Better Call Saul’s” smooth-talking appeal. Gilligan did masterful work with “Breaking Bad,” telling a story not just about Walter White but also about the culture that shaped and enabled him. Now he’s taking on another type of criminal—a trickster, not a mastermind. Jimmy McGill is very good at what he does, and as the first few episodes with him show, at least several years ago his heart was mostly in the right place. But he started to believe his own ready supply of lies, and that was the beginning of the end. You can’t talk your way out of the truth forever.

“Better Call Saul” premieres on AMC at 10 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 8. The second episode will air at 10 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 9. The series will air on Mondays.

“River’s Edge”: The darkest teen film of all time

“River’s Edge” understood ’80s kids — and what they’d do to combat that horrible feeling of emptiness

"River's Edge": The darkest teen film of all time

Keanu Reeves and Crispin Glover in “River’s Edge”

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed Daniel Waters, screenwriter of the enduring and dark teen comedy and media satire “Heathers” for the book (“Twee”) I was researching at the time. The conversation was genial and funny, and I could tell he was what we used to call at my old employer Spin magazine a “quote machine.” Soon, the subject got around to films of the late American auteur John Hughes, particularly his iconic high school trilogy of “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985) and “Pretty in Pink” (the 1986 romantic comedy that he wrote but did not direct). “I felt like Hughes was trying to coddle teenagers and almost suck up to them, idealize them,” Waters said, with almost no fear of reprisal from the many millions who hold these films (and Ferris Bueller … and even, to paraphrase Jeff Daniels in “The Squid and the Whale,” minor Hughes efforts like “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “She’s Having a Baby,” dear), “[With ‘Heathers’) I was more of a terrorist coming after John Hughes. What drove me nuts about the Hughes moves was the third act was always something about how bad adults were. When you grow up your heart dies. Hey, your heart dies when you’re 12!”

One could make an argument for Waters’ “Heathers” (directed as a gauzy, occasionally surrealist morality play by Michael Lehmann) as the darkest teen film of all time. The humor is pitch-black, there’s a body count, a monocle, corn nuts and an utter excoriation of clueless boomers who wonder, as the supremely camp Paul Lynde did a quarter of a century earlier in the film adaptation of “Bye Bye Birdie,” what (in fuck) is the matter with kids today?

But it’s not. Not even close, when compared with a film that preceded it by only three years, the Neal Jimenez-penned, Tim Hunter-directed 1986 drama “River’s Edge,” which is released this month on DVD after years of being difficult to find for home viewing. No other film captures more accurately what it’s like to be dead inside during the end of the Cold War, the height of MTV and the invasion of concerned but impotent parents. “River’s Edge” was the one film that seemed to understand that it wasn’t the rap music, heavy metal music or even drugs that made ’80s kids, it was … nothing. As in the feeling of searching your soul for what you should feel and finding it empty, and slowly, horrifyingly getting used to it to the point that at least one, maybe more of us, will do anything, even commit murder, in order to combat that horrible void. I didn’t want to kill anyone or even myself, but I wanted to disappear, or at least be frozen and wake up in art school in the early ’90s, when bands like Nirvana gave that feeling a voice, and a few anthems.

There’s a lot of Nirvana in “River’s Edge.” Most “what’s the matter with kids today?” films have their juvenile delinquents in some kind of drag: black leather jackets (“Blackboard Jungle,” “The Wild One”) or spiked hair and safety pins and pet rats (“Suburbia,” “Next Stop, Nowhere,” aka “the Punk Rock Quincy episode”). But the kids in “River’s Edge” dress in ripped jeans and T-shirts and chunky, shapeless sweaters. It’s sexless (the only sex scene takes place under a shitty maroon sleeping bag with bullfrogs croaking in the distance and a dead body being simultaneously disposed of not too far off). “The thing about a shark,” Robert Shaw famously observed during the “USS Indianapolis” speech in 1975’s “Jaws” just before all hell breaks loose, “is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… till he bites ya.” The kids who populate “River’s Edge,” Keanu Reeves’ Mike, Ione Skye’s Clarissa, Daniel Roebuck’s Samson, etc., don’t seem to be living, buzzed on sixers, many of which they must steal from a harried liquor store cashier (the great, recently late Taylor Negron), as they’re underage. Until they bite you. It’s hard to capture boredom on film without boring an audience (Richard Linklater’s “Suburbia,” for one, tries and fails). What keeps viewers of “River’s Edge” on, well, edge is the sense that these black-eyed, dead creatures in inside-out heavy metal tees (Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, even the band logos are muted) is that they might bite. It’s a sickening feeling and you cannot turn away.

The first thing we see is a preteen kid, Tim (Josh Miller), a juvenile delinquent fast in the making, with an earring, holding an actual doll. We notice, with a little required deduction as he barely reacts, that he is staring across the river at a murderer and his naked, blue-ing victim, while holding the doll he stole from his sister: All four have doll eyes, the corpse (Danyi Deats’ Jamie), the killer (Roebuck) and the doll, which Miller casually drops into the river despite knowing well it’s his little sister’s security object and probably best friend. We are soon with Jamie and Samson after the crime has been committed. Samson is smoking. Despite the occasional feral howl that he knows nobody will hear (except Tim, which is the same thing), it feels like some kind of test for the audience. How much apathy can we weather? How many dead eyes can we stare back at? This is, of course, a testament to the young cast, all of them brilliant and committed (it can’t be easy to portray those bored soulless, can it? You want to react, you want to break). Jamie, a stunned look on her face, lies there, in the cold, also a committed actress, and there is simply nothing like this in any other teen film, or even a teen-populated horror film. Horror films, as the “Scream” franchise would soon remind us, have rules. I wanted to enter the screen, like Jeff Daniels’ genial explorer in Woody Allen’s charming comedy from the previous year, “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and cover her body somehow. But Hunter forces us to look, which could not be easy for him as an artist, and must have been a challenge for him to ask it of his young cast. In his review, the late Roger Ebert wrote, “The difference is that the film feels a horror that the teenagers apparently did not.”

“Where’s Jamie?” Samson’s crew asks once he leaves the crime scene (for more beer).

“I killed her,” he says.

Most don’t believe him but Layne (Crispin Glover, top billed but unmistakenly launching his freak phase, only a year after playing Michael J. Fox’s bumbling dad in the blockbuster “Back to the Future”). Layne sees the event, the tragedy, as both fait accompli (“You’re gonna bring her back? It’s done!” he squeals in a reedy, wired voice) and a life-changing (and -saving) break in the day-in, day-out living hell; a kind of moral test. He believes Samson, he rallies around Samson, and he tries to motivate his crew to do the same. The corpse is a gift to Layne and Layne returns the favor by pledging his loyalty. He can’t help stifling a smile when he is led to the site. “This is unreal! Completely unreal. It’s like some movie, you know?” Layne enters the movie, doing a reverse “Purple Rose …” Even Samson doesn’t want in. He wants out … of the world, and yet he becomes strangely proud when he displays the body to his group of friends, who borrow a red pickup truck to end their suspicion that they are being jerked around. Most of them instantly recoil at the site of the corpse (still naked!) and cannot get back to the torpor (arcades, sex, beer) quickly enough. Only Reeves’ Mike is conflicted and contemplates going to the cops. Similar terrain was covered in the hit “Stand By Me,” which was released the same year. “You guys wanna see a dead body?” Jerry O’Connell’s Vern asks his pals River Phoenix, Corey Feldman and Wil Wheaton, but they are clearly spooked and remain so into adulthood (as the narrator, Richard Dreyfuss, attests). The kids of this bumfuck town go about their bumfuck business, sleeping through class, hating their non-bio broken-home inhabitants (“Motherfucker, food eater!” Reeves yells at the slob who’s moved in with his mom). They’re not stupid. They’re just … unequipped for reality that does not repeat on a loop, sun up and sun down. Layne, in his makeup, watch cap, black clothes and muscle car is the only one among them who wants to feel “like Starsky and Hutch!”

“River’s Edge” is based, loosely, on reality. In late 1981, a 16-year-old student, Anthony Broussard, from Milpitas High School, near San Jose, California, led a group of his friends and his 8-year-old brother into the hills to see the barely clothed body of the 14-year-old Marcy Renee Conrad, whom he’d strangled days before. “Then instead of reporting the body of their dead school chum to the police,” reporter Claire Spiegel wrotein her coverage of the case, “they went back to class or the local pinball arcade. One went home and fell asleep listening to the radio.” She added, “Their surprising apathy toward murder bothered even hardened homicide detectives.”

Jimenez, then a college student in Santa Clara, California, read about the events and was inspired to begin working on a story based on this behavior. In the age of “Serial,” it’s hard not to see “River’s Edge” as prescient, and when I listened to the podcast last year, I thought a lot about the film. But its power comes not from reality, but from its craft: the script, the performances and the cinematography by David Lynch collaborator Frederick Elmes, who shot “Blue Velvet,” another milestone ’86 release. The beauty of the exteriors (the grainy opening, the murky drink, the perfect blue and shadows when Layne half-heartedly disposes of the body in it) make the ugliness of the behavior all the more disturbing.

Director Tim Hunter knew his way around a “youth gone fucked up” film by ’86. He was the co-writer of “Over the Edge,” known mostly as the film debut of then 14-year-old Matt Dillon who utters the pull-away line, “A kid who tells on another kid is a dead kid.” Loaded with excellent power pop (Cheap Trick’s “Downed,” and “Surrender,” especially), Dillon and his J.D. friends spoil the planned suburban community of “New Granada” on their dirt bikes, shooting off fireworks and BB guns. Dillon starred in Hunter’s directing debut, 1982’s “Tex,” based on a book by go-to wild, but sensitive, youth writer S.E. Hinton. Who knows why he didn’t appear in “River’s Edge.” Maybe it was too easy to see the heart beating under his flannel. Even Judd Nelson’s John Bender has a heart under his, and at the end of John Singleton’s 1991 film “Boyz n the Hood,” Ice Cube’s scowling gang member Doughboy has a monologue that provides evidence that he’s got a big one. (“Turned on the TV this morning. Had this shit on about living in a violent world. Showed all these foreign places, where foreigners live and all. Started thinking, man. Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood.”)

The parents of New Granada are pretty pissed that their utopia has been vandalized and rally in protest, but the boomers of “River’s Edge” don’t even have the fight in them. There’s no Ms. Fleming from “Heathers” among them. Nobody will call when the shuttle lands. “Fuck you, man,” one of them rages in vain at his class. “You don’t give a damn! I don’t give a damn! No one in this classroom gives a damn that she’s dead. It gives us a chance to feel superior.” “Are we being tested on this shit?” a student asks. Even the media don’t really care. And if the kids themselves are apathetic (“I don’t give a fuck about you and I don’t give a fuck about your laws,” Samson tells Negron’s clerk before brandishing a gun), the new generation cares even less. Not even teenagers; they smoke weed, pack heat and drive big gas guzzlers they can barely see out of, when not speeding through nowheresville on their bikes or shooting trapped crayfish in a barrel, literally. Full disclosure: I was friendly with Josh Miller in Hollywood in the early ’90s. For a time, he was going to star in and produce a pretty decent screenplay I’d co-written, which eventually fell through. In person he was sweet, generous and caring, but I always, always looked at him sideways because he was also … Tim, who utters the following line: “Go get your numchucks and your dad’s car. I know where we can get a gun.”

There’s irony and black humor in “River’s Edge.” I don’t want to portray it as some kind of Fassbender-ish downer, 90 minutes of misery. Samson promises to read Dr. Seuss to his incapacitated aunt. And there’s, of course, Layne, who doesn’t even seem to realize that nearly every line out of his mouth is absolutely ridiculous (which makes him beyond endearing, sociopath that he likely is). When he is rewarded his sixer for chucking the corpse in the river, he complains, “You’d think I’d at least rate Michelob.” I wonder why Reeves became a star (this is only his second film, after a small part in the Rob Lowe hockey drama “Youngblood”) and Ione Skye, more briefly a sought after actress. Perhaps because his albeit belated actions make him as close to a hero as the film has … discounting, of course, Feck.

You know you are dealing with a dark film when its only true beating heart belongs to a crippled biker, weed dealer and fugitive murderer who is in love with a blow-up doll, having blown the head off his previous paramour. Feck lives alone. Feck, at the behest of Layne, briefly hides Samson. And, realizing he is dealing with a soulless and dangerous generation, Feck does what dozens of teachers and parents cannot, and will not do. He reacts. Perhaps it’s a testament to his skill, but Dennis Hopper the man looks genuinely heartbroken at what’s happened to the youth he fought so hard to liberate with his “Easy Rider.” In the midst of a glorious comeback (he’d appear in “Blue Velvet” and receive an Oscar nomination for the basketball film “Hoosiers”). It’s Feck that Samson finally opens up to (“She was dead there in front of me and I felt so fucking alive”). We don’t know why Feck shot his ex, but we do know that he maintains that he loved her. He sees none of that emotion, no emotion at all, in Samson. “I’m dead now,” Samson says. “They’re gonna fry me for sure.” Thanks to Feck, they won’t get the chance.

“River’s Edge” doesn’t end in a trial, but rather a quiet, plain, sparse church funeral and a bit of long-absent dignity returned to the victim. It somehow relieves the viewer. Sanity, as it is, has been restored. No one would call it a feel-good ending but somehow, strangely, bloodily, perversely, love wins in the end. “There was no hope for him. There was no hope at all. He didn’t love her. He didn’t feel a thing. I at least loved [mine],” Feck explains. “I cared for her.”

Released in May of ’87 in limited theaters, the movie quickly made a mark with critics, if not audiences, and began to amass a loyal cult of viewers who appreciated its unique and revolutionary qualities. It beat out Jonathan Demme’s “Swimming to Cambodia,” the acclaimed Spalding Gray monologue film, at the Independent Spirit Awards, as well as John Huston’s final film, “The Dead.” And while far from a box office hit, it effortlessly set a precedent for films about teens. They no longer had to be either good or evil or anything at all. They didn’t have to dress or look like James Dean or Droogs or get off in any way on their heroism and their villainy. “River’s Edge” made all that seem quaint. It’s a singular film that foresaw the ’90s and freed the cinema teen to be a loser … baby.

Turns out “Friends” treated fat people as punch lines and kind of had a homophobia problem

“Chandler’s treatment of his gay father is appalling”: Everything critics realized while watching “Friends” in 2015


"Chandler's treatment of his gay father is appalling": Everything critics realized while watching "Friends" in 2015

“Friends” hit Netflix for the first time in 2015, and while it’s certainly not the first time people have had the opportunity to rewatch the show since it went off the air in 2004, it has provided a handy excuse for people to ruminate belatedly on the show’s impact — and for crazy super-fans to binge-watch all 10 seasons, obviously — and perhaps learn something new about the gang in the process. And they did! Some revelations were goofy, some light, and others pretty damning. Here’s what the Internet dug up about our favorite sitcom when viewed in the cold harsh light of 2015:

Chandler is the worst, and he’s also pretty homophobic.

As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate: “Chandler’s treatment of his gay father, a Vegas drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, is especially appalling, and it’s not clear the show knows it. It’s one thing for Chandler to recall being embarrassed as a kid, but he is actively resentful and mocking of his loving, involved father right up until his own wedding (to which his father is initially not invited!)… his continuing discomfort now reads as jarringly out of place for a supposedly hip New York thirtysomething — let alone a supposedly good person, period…. When it comes to women, Chandler turns out to be just as retrograde as Joey, but his lust comes with an undercurrent of the kind of bitter desperation that I now recognize as not only gross, but potentially menacing.”

Although, this, of course, is not the first time the show’s homophobia has been addressed:

Refinery29, meanwhile, delved into the issues with the show’s use of “Fat Monica” as a punchline.

“In the show’s storyline, Monica loses weight in college after overhearing Chandler make fun of her size. Shamed into thinness, Fat Monica becomes just Monica — desirable and (finally) human. Monica is many things: funny, uptight, loving, competitive. Fat Monica is just fat… and always hungry. I was grateful for Fat Monica as a kid. She was proof I could overcome my disgusting plumpness and be seen as lovable, too. True, I would always bear the shame of my inflated past, just like Monica did, but I was willing to live with that if it meant I’d be a person instead of a punchline.”

The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, meanwhile, asked if nostalgia for “Friends” is all about white privilege.

“The issues of race and ‘white privilege’ make some Americans deeply uncomfortable. Maybe, at a time when mainstream U.S. TV is finally airing shows with ensemble casts that look like the ensemble that is America, and after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and after the shooting and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and all the attendant questions raised, there’s an instinctive need on the part of some to return to the bubble of white-bread America that is epitomized by ‘Friends.’”

Yet while some griped about the show’s retrograde identity politics, others were able to find a feminist message.

Refinery29 picked out 21 of “Friends’” most surprising feminist moments. Meanwhile, Bustle listed the nine most feminist things about “Friends,” such as:

“When Rachel got pregnant, she turned down marriage proposals from both Joey and Ross. Being married and having a family don’t necessarily have to be connected, and Rachel was the hottest single mom on network television, and everyone respected (and applauded) her decision.”

In an interesting morsel of critical theory, Maggie Wheeler — aka Janice —  suggests her character is a stand-in for the viewer. As she tells EW:

“This crazy girl who is not particularly self-aware who still gets to be at the party. This interloper, this outsider managed to find her way into this little community of friends, and I think that was a vehicle for a lot of viewers who were sitting around in front of their televisions going, ‘Well, how do I hang out with those people?’”

There were also some novel discoveries on a more micro level — like the fact that the Friends intro without music is super creepy:

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all: Some geniuses at Bustle discovered the answer to the age-old question — How was the gang always able to get a seat at Central Perk?

While, as part of their comprehensive friends countdown — which is full of gems —Vulture reminded us that “Friends” actually invented the term “friend zone.” 

There was much discussion about why the Netflix episodes were shorter than the DVD episodes.

Turns out that, back in 2012, co-executive producer and director Kevin S. Brightexplained that the DVDs had a few minutes of extra footage: “The deleted footage was, frankly, added specifically for one home video release,” he said. “If fans are particularly interested in additional footage, those versions are still available. But for this, we wanted something that we, the creators, felt represented the show as we always wanted it to be remembered, which is the original NBC broadcast versions, which have never before been released as that, combined with fantastic new picture and sound, a new documentary and other new features.”

Still, just remember, no matter how these revelations may make you see “Friends” in a new light, it’s still okay to love the show (albeit with a grain of salt”).

As Vulture’s Margaret Lyons wrote in her “Stay Tuned” TV advice column, in response to a reader expressing discomfort with the show’s homophobia: “You can still love ‘Friends,’ but why would you want to love it like you did before? Love it the way you see it now, with the things you know now and the values you have now. I love ‘Friends,’ but I do not love its body or queer politics. Those things can be true at the same time.”

How Israel Covers Up Its Ugly Racial Holy War


As the incitement to violence by Israeli leaders ramped up, so did racist attacks by Israeli citizens.

The year 2014 will be remembered as a banner year for violence in Israel and Palestine; most of the casualties occurred in the Gaza Strip, and most of these were Palestinian civilians killed by the Israeli army. Six months later, however, these tragic deaths are almost forgotten, chiefly because the powerful propaganda of the Israel lobby is able to explain them away with a well-rehearsed narrative: “Israel only wants to live in peace with its neighbors, but the Palestinians hope to kick us all out of the country, so we have no choice but to retaliate.” Zionist hasbara can be even further condensed, distilled down to just six words: “They hate us for our equality.”

Within Israel, however, the messages emanating from the government have been nothing if not the diametric opposite of these platitudes. Anti-Palestinian incitement has always existed in Israeli politics, but in 2014 this racist discourse took a sharp turn for the worse. When three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian militants in June, Israeli political leaders did not call for the criminals to be caught and convicted. Rather, they demanded that mutilation and mass murder be visited on the general Palestinian population.

Prime Minister Netanyahu called for vengeance, and his coalition partners called for ethnic cleansing and genocide. Government faction whip Ayelet Shaked wrote: “Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people… are all enemy combatants… this also includes the mothers,” while ruling party faction leader Moshe Feiglin wrote: “The civilian population will be concentrated” and “Gaza will become part of… Israel and will be populated by Jews.”

Other public figures were even more specific, calling for sexual violence. A top Israeli academic announced that terrorism could only be averted by threatening to rape the mothers and sister of Palestinian militants. The leader of the largest religious Jewish youth group in the world called for the Israeli army not only to kill at least 300 Palestinians, but to bring back their foreskins as war trophies. The Jerusalem councillor in charge of the city’s securityimplored Jewish youth to “commit acts of Phineas,” a coded call to kill Palestinians and the Jews who befriend them. (Phineas is a reference to the Biblical figure who is said to have murdered an interracial couple in the middle of love-making by skewering their intertwined genitals, some rabbis say.)

As the incitement to violence by top Israeli leaders ramped up, so did the racist attacks by regular Israeli citizens.  Vigilante assaults on Palestinians have been the most common type of attack. A third of all Palestinian bus drivers working in Jerusalem for Israel’s largest bus company Egged have left their jobs since the summer, because racist attacks on them have become a daily occurrence. Hardly any Palestinians venture into downtown Jerusalem at night anymore, for fear of being attacked by gangs of Jewish thugs who patrol the streets, looking for Arabs to assault. In July, Israelis kidnapped a Palestinian teenager, forced gasoline down his throat, and burned him to death from the inside out. The suspects later told police they were inspired by the acts of Phineas.

Another type of racist assault that has become increasingly common in Israel is attacks on Africans. Incitement against the 50,000 non-Jewish Africans who have sought asylum in Israel in recent years, including top government officialscomparing them to cancer and Ebola, has made them a popular target for racist ruffians in Tel Aviv. Locals report it is not uncommon for Israeli youths tothrow dog feces at African mothers nursing their babies. In January, an Israeli man stabbed a one-year-old African baby in the head and later explained to police that he did it because “they said that a black baby, blacks in general, are terrorists.”

A third type of racist assault that is occurring with increasing frequency in Israel is attacks on public spaces which are shared by Jews and non-Jews. There are fewer than 10 integrated schools in all of Israel in which Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking students learn together in the same classrooms, yet these have continuously been the targeted with Hebrew graffiti reading “End the miscegenation,” “There is no coexistence with cancer” and other racist messages. In November, Israelis vandalized the only mixed school in the Jerusalem area, torching schoolbooks and the first-grade classroom.

Increasingly, Jewish Israelis who protest the racist incitement and assaults are also subject to verbal and physical attacks on the streets of Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities. Although these pale in comparison to the threats against Palestinians, Africans and other non-Jewish groups, many of these liberal Israelis are now afraid to express themselves in public or even on the Internet, for fear of losing their friends, their jobs, or worse. Increasing numbers of Israelis are applying for second passports and job opportunities abroad, despairing over the direction the country is headed in and their inability to bring it back from the brink. Instead, they are seeking to save themselves and their families.

Despite painstaking efforts by mainstream media gatekeepers, word of Israeli incitement and racist attacks against non-Jews is finally starting to seep out. Outside observers who had previously assumed that Israel’s war with Palestinians is based on age-old enmity and an intractable battle over land are starting to wonder if a Zionist drive for ethno-religious purity might actually be a main cause of the conflict.

Last year, the European Union announced it would specifically label goods made in Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank, to distinguish them from other Israeli products. In recent months, one European parliament after another has voted in favor of officially recognizing the “State of Palestine”: Sweden, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom.

In North America, progressive churches and labor unions have started supporting the BDS movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel until it treats all citizens equally, ends its military occupations, and solves the problem of Palestinian refugees. With anti-racist advocacy in the United States experiencing a resurgence, communities of color are re-establishing ties with global allies, including Palestinian activists.

The visions of average Americans for the future of Israel and Palestine are also starting to shift. A survey published earlier this month by The Brookings Institution found that a third of all Americans want Israel and Palestine to be a single state with equal rights for all, regardless of race or religion.

Asked which alternative would be preferable if the option of separate sovereign states of Israel and Palestine proves to be impossible, 71% of Americans surveyed (84% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans) said they would prefer that it become a single democratic state. Of the Jewish Americans and Jewish-Israeli Americans surveyed, 61% expressed the same preference; only 34% said they would rather Israel discriminate in favor of Jews and against non-Jews.

In recent years, fearful of losing these last bastions of unqualified international support, Israeli leaders turned to American marketing managers for guidance. The advice of these ad executives was to re-brand “crazy” Israel as “sexy” and “cool.”

To make Israel seem sexy instead of brutal, conventionally attractive Jewish Israeli women would be chosen to represent Israel, sometimes wearing elements of Israeli army uniforms, and often in various states of undress. To make Israel seem cool instead of racist, token Jewish African-Israeli success stories would be said to represent the rule in Israel, when they are only the few exceptions that prove the rule of state racism towards people of color.

I delineated these two tactics, called “sex-washing” and “black-washing,” respectively, in a series of lectures at Florida colleges in October. Israel’s strategic use of sex-washing and black-washing are misogynist and racist in and of themselves, to be sure, but they also harbor deep internal inconsistencies. The woman who best embodies the overlap between both campaigns, the first Black Miss Israel, perfectly illustrates this contradiction. During her hasbara tour of the United States in February, Yityish Aynaw used her limelight to defend Israel’s persecution of non-Jewish African refugees.

As the government rounds Africans, who have committed no crime except for requesting political asylum, off the streets of Tel Aviv into desert detention centers, Aynaw smeared them as rabid rapists, one of the oldest and most disgusting anti-black tropes. Israeli police statistics show that African crime rates, including for violent crimes, are far lower than those of native Israelis.

Likewise, just as Israel’s black-washing strategy contains the seeds of its own anti-blackness, its sex-washing strategy also contains the seeds of its own sexism. Top Israeli politicians smear all Palestinians and Africans as potential domestic abusers, while a long string of sex criminals and alleged sex criminals oozes out of their own ranks: multiple ministers, multiple directors of the Prime Minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s driver and multiple candidates for president and the former president himself, among others.

Rampant rape culture is not confined to political elites in Israel. Studies conducted in 2011 and 2012 found that 20% of Israeli men admit to having forced a woman to have sex, and 61% of Israeli men do not consider forcing a woman to have sex constitutes rape—if she is a previous acquaintance.

The government makes no effort to combat this horrific phenomenon, for which it is at least partially culpable. Just the opposite: it multiplies the misogyny by promoting Jewish Israeli women as sex objects for its own political ends.

On one hand, the government markets the sexual availability of Jewish Israeli women in order to entice a male and mainly non-Jewish audience outside of Israel to support the state. On the other hand, inside the country, state-sponsored groups conduct witch-hunts against the few Jewish Israeli women that have the courage to date non-Jewish men, despite the avalanche of social pressure bearing down on these couples.

These developments may be disturbing, but sadly, they are not unique. In fact, sex-washing was used as a tactic by the official organizations of the Jewish settlement enterprise in Palestine even prior to Israel’s existence. As dramatized in the 2011 British mini-series The Promise, the Yishuv trained Jewish women to court the British soldiers stationed in the country and use their wiles to convince them of the merits of the Zionist idea to establish a Jewish state. At the same time, the Jewish leadership condemned those women who struck up real romantic relationships with non-Jews and ostracized them as race-traitors. Many of these women were threatened and physically attacked, and some were even murdered by anti-miscegenation syndicates.

With every passing day, far-right Members of Knesset are further emboldened, vying to enshrine state-sponsored discrimination in Israeli law, as it already is, de facto. With progressive parliamentarians only holding one-seventh of the seats of the nationalist camp—and this number likely to drop even further in the next Knesset—there seems to be no force in Israeli society that can hold back this frightening tide.

If a coalition of foreign forces finally musters up the courage to call out Israeli leaders on their rampant racism, it will require the ability to see through the state’s deceptive propaganda campaigns. Israel’s friends must realize that the government’s cynical use of Jewish women and people of color are not reasons to shield the regime from judgment, but rather to ramp up criticism of it and demand it end racist incitement and protect all populations, regardless of religion or gender.