One of the painful things the New Republic was forced to undertake when it first came to light that reporter Stephen Glass had fabricated certain details of his stories was to go over all his stories with a fine toothed comb to determine exactly how systemic the problem had been with Glass’s reporting. After all, a reporter who faked details in one or two stories might well have done so in others. To TNR’s credit, they promptly performed an exhaustive, line-by-line review of each of Glass’s stories over the years and laid bare the gruesome results for the world to see, exposing that the infractions for which Glass was eventually caught were only the tip of the iceberg, and that fabulist reporting by Glass was the rule, not the exception.
By way of contrast, in the wake of a damning CJR report on the reporting practices of Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the editorial and fact checking practices of Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone has shown absolutely no inclination to engage in a similar soul searching over whether Ms. Erdely might have engaged in similarly shoddy reporting in the past, and whether such shoddy reporting (if it exists) might have slipped through their fact checking and editorial system. Ms. Erdely by all appearances has not been professionally disciplined at all for her blunders and the Rolling Stone brass is acting as though this is an isolated incident in which they were blameless victims of an exceptionally clever con artist.
It turns out, Erdely may have been guilty of the same journalistic errors she committed in reporting the UVA rape story on at least one other rape story that garnered national attention at the time. The story in question was published in 2013 and was titled “The Rape of Petty Officer Blumer.”
Erdely’s reporting of the Blumer story is eerily similar to her reporting of the UVA story. In each case, Erdely uses a central figure who has a similar tale to tell: she was a victim of a horrific rape, she reported the rape to authorities, and her concerns were ignored and/or used against her. The narrative in each case is used to advance the theory that the institution in question (college administrators in the UVA case, military command in the Blumer case) is indifferent to the problem of systemic sexual assault occurring right under their noses. In both cases, the stories read suspiciously as though Ms. Erdely arrived at her conclusion before writing her story, and simply set out to find the first person who would constitute a credible vehicle for the narrative she wanted to create, without regard to the factual accuracy of her story. Recall that during the initial investigation of the UVA story it was uncovered that Erdely had sent emails indicating that she was looking for a story that fit a particular fact pattern – it would be no surprise to discover that similar emails existed in this case.
RedState has now spoken with multiple members of Navy command who were either personally involved in the investigation of Ms. Blumer’s allegations or who had firsthand knowledge of the facts of this case. For obvious reasons, their names have been withheld to protect their identities. However, it seems clear that, if Ms. Erdely’s story concerning Petty Officer Blumer were subjected to the same scrutiny as the UVA story, it might well come unraveled just as quickly.
The key fact from these conversations is this: Everyone I spoke to in connection with this investigation was crystal clear that at no point did Sabrina Erdely or Rolling Stone ever contact them whatsoever, even to ask for background information. This is exactly the same lapse in journalistic standards that doomed the UVA story and ultimately led to its retraction. The fact that it occurred in this story is indication of a systemic problem with Rolling Stone and Sabrina Erdely’s reporting, not of a single lapse in judgment.
According to USN Personnel I talked to, Ms. Erdely’s description of how Ms. Blumer came to be convinced that she had been sexually assaulted is flatly inaccurate. Ms. Erdely describes the event as follows:
The first thing Petty Officer 2nd Class Rebecca Blumer realized upon waking was that she was freezing cold and naked. The second thing was that her body ached all over. Blumer groggily scanned the unfamiliar room for clues. She saw a concrete floor splotched with vomit, a metal door and a window onto a hallway, where a woman in an orange jumpsuit was sweeping.
“Where am I?” Blumer called hoarsely.
“Richmond County jail,” the inmate told her.
Blumer shivered. “I need to see a doctor,” she whispered.
The woman nodded. “You’ve been screaming that all night.”
* * *
Blumer sat back in shock. She was a normally cheerful 23-year-old Navy intelligence analyst stationed at Fort Gordon, a vast Army base of 15,000 military employees in Augusta, Georgia. Blumer, whose job was to sift through top-secret data, was part of a thousand-member naval unit. The night before, February 12th, 2010, she and some friends had gone to a bar not far from base for a couple of beers. Three Army guys – one with light hair, the other two dark-haired – had sent Blumer a shot of Jägermeister, a drink she didn’t care much for but had downed anyway. The light-haired man had rounded the bar to talk to her. The last thing Blumer remembered was being overwhelmed by a dizzy, sluggish feeling, her limbs and head too heavy to lift, the noises in the bar rising up and caving in on her. Only later would Blumer find out the rest: that at 1:40 a.m., police had noticed her driving with her headlights off. That she’d barely been able to stand upright during her field sobriety test, but when placed under arrest she’d gone berserk, trying to break free of the police car and screaming incoherently. In jail, she’d yelled for a doctor and fought with the cops so wildly that she’d been hosed down in an effort to quiet her. Now, crouching in her cell with a swollen jaw; bruises smudging her wrists, ankles and neck; her abdomen sore inside; and her lower back and buttocks afire with what felt like rug burn, it dawned on Blumer. She’d been roofied and raped.
According to members of Naval command who personally participated in the investigation, it is true that Ms. Blumer was arrested for DUI early on the morning of Valentine’s Day and was taken to the Richmond County Jail. Per usual protocol for members of the military, someone from Ms. Blumer’s Naval Command unit came to retrieve her from the County Jail (in such cases, the Navy will usually either post bail or the judge in question will simply release the defendant back into the custody of the her commanding officers, often times through the Shore Patrol liason, given that they present a low flight risk in such a case). The defendant is then taken immediately (or as soon as is practical) to their commanding officers for examination and for the possible application of non-judicial punishment.
Per the police report, Ms. Blumer did not at any time notify the police that she believed she had been sexually assaulted. The member of Naval command who came to retrieve her from jail was notified that she had indeed behaved in a bizarre fashion the night before, including that she had attempted to remove her clothes on numerous occasions. When questioned by Naval command, Ms. Blumer initially stated that she had a period of several hours that were missing from her memory and was unable to form a coherent narrative about the events of the previous night. The sources I spoke with were clear that it was members of the Naval command who first suggested to Ms. Blumer that she might have been sexually assaulted, and that they did so by way of asking, “Do you think that you might have been sexually assaulted last night?”
When Ms. Blumer responded that it’s possible that she might have, the USN personnel who retrieved her from the County Jail immediately reported this allegation to her commanding officers, and per protocol, further administrative action on potential non-judicial punishment for her DUI was halted while this investigation was completed, a process which took a year and a half (for reasons set forth below). The matter was then turned over to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
To the extent that Ms. Erdely’s article implies that the Navy took no action to investigate the alleged sexual assault, the sources who spoke to RedState indicated that the article was categorically false. Ms. Blumer indicated to investigators that the reason she could not remember an assault actually occurring was that she suspected that she had been given a drugged drink, and accordingly a tox screen was taken which showed no traces of rohypnol or flunitrazepam, the most common date rape drugs.
Ms. Erdely attempts to paper over this somewhat large hole in Ms. Blumer’s story by noting that the tox screen was taken 18 hours after the alleged ingestion of the substance in question, and uncritically passing along Ms. Blumer’s belief that these substances only appear in urine for 12 hours:
Concerned with privacy, she opted to discuss the issue not with a base social worker or victim’s advocate, but with a therapist at an off-base crisis center, who reminded Blumer that depending on the drug, the dose and her metabolism, a date-rape drug could have left her system in less than 12 hours – and Blumer’s urine had been tested 18 hours after that Jägermeister shot.
Meanwhile, several minutes on Google will inform you that in actuality, Rohypnol and flunitrazepam leave metabolites in your system that can actually be detected by a basic immunoassay test for 5 to 21 days.
According to sources who spoke with RedState, other facts in the article were either overstated or presented in misleading fashion. For instance:
Meanwhile, a DNA test had recovered skin cells on Blumer’s underwear that weren’t hers, proof that something had happened, although no one knew what.
The DNA in question was “contact” DNA, which is to say, skin cell as opposed to fluid DNA, and it was found in the upper rear portion of Ms. Blumer’s underwear. This is indeed proof that “something had happened,” but the something in question might well have been someone else picking up her underwear, someone having their hand on the back of her pants, or any other number of things that have nothing at all to do with a drug-assisted rape. It could also have been consistent with DNA being left on her person by any of the number of people who were involved in arresting and subduing Ms. Blumer, who by all accounts and admissions was behaving physically erratically throughout the night. It is also, for that matter, consistent with the fact that Ms. Blumer woke up naked due to her insistence on repeatedly removing her clothing – presumably, someone picked up her clothes and removed them from the cell at some point, and the back of the underwear is as good a place to grab as any.
Ultimately, the investigation found literally no physical evidence that a sexual assault had occurred at all. The “anal fissure” that is referenced in the Rolling Stone story was determined by investigators to be more consistent with a strenuous bowel movement than forcible sodomy.
However, investigators were still determined to conduct a thorough investigation. They spent countless hours interviewing bartenders at the bars where Petty Officer Blumer had reported drinking on February 13th. Based on Ms. Blumer’s descriptions of men she had encountered at the bar and the bartender’s descriptions of men they had seen her with, they interviewed numerous witnesses attempting to determine what, if anything had happened. Ms. Blumer’s own recollection of the night was hazy but she had a vague recollection of a possible first name of one of the men she talked with. Investigators found a man who had been at the bar who had the same middle name as the first name Ms. Blumer gave them.
Complicating the investigation, it turned out that this man was on active duty and had in the interim been deployed to Iraq. The NCIS took the extraordinary step of locating him in Iraq, pulling him off his duties, and conducting a thorough interview with him. He stated to investigators that he had seen Ms. Blumer at the bar and talked with her, but that they left the bar separately and he never saw her again afterwards.
Having no evidence – physical, testimonial, or otherwise – to tie this individual to Ms. Blumer, or to prove that a sexual assault had even occurred, after a year and a half of extensive searching NCIS reported to Ms. Blumer’s Naval command that their investigation was concluded and that they could not substantiate her claim of a sexual assault. At this time, her non-judicial punishment for her DUI was carried out essentially as described in the Erdely article.
Other allegations in the Erdely article are either untrue or misleading on their face. First, Ms. Erdely ominously reports that:
“Whether you get a rape kit is up to you,” the female JAG prosecutor cautiously told Blumer, who struggled to make sense of what was happening: The military she’d trusted to care for her wasn’t interested in caring for her at all.
This bizarre phrasing seems to imply that the JAG prosecutor in question was discouraging Blumer from having a rape kit done, when in fact she was merely stating a fact: hospitals cannot perform a rape examination on you without your consent. Other portions of the story are similarly reported in a deliberately distorted way, such as the fact that Blumer was placed on “pine cone duty” for several months after reporting the allegation, which seems to imply that Blumer was punished for reporting a rape by being removed from her job and placed in menial tasks.
In truth, as Erdely admits, Blumer was handling top-secret materials for the Navy, which required a continued and valid security clearance. Security clearances at that level can be revoked for any number of reasons, including personal bankruptcy use of narcotic drugs (even without criminal conviction,) and so on. Ms. Blumer’s was revoked because she reported a substantial gap in her memory during which she committed a criminal act. Until the investigation could be completed as to what exactly had occurred, her security clearance could not be restored.
Ultimately, no one (including, by her own admission, Rebecca Blumer), knows what happened on that fateful night. I am not here to suggest that a sexual assault did or did not occur. That is not the point of this story.
The point of this story is this: the evidence is clear all over the face of this story that Erdely – as enabled by her editors at Rolling Stone – has a serial habit of reporting rapes without conducting any more fact checking than she did of the UVA story. It is facially obvious that she did not talk to the accused rapist because there wasn’t one. There is no evidence that she talked with anyone who was present at any of the bars where Ms. Blumer drank on the night before her DUI to attempt to verify even her story about meeting the three guys. And, again: the sources who spoke to RedState were clear that Ms. Erdely made no effort to contact any member of the Naval command who was involved with the investigation to get their side of the story with respect to what manner of investigation was conducted into Ms. Blumer’s allegations or what that investigation revealed.
After an exhaustive investigation that spanned a year and a half (which Erdely and Rolling Stone ignored and/or did no research into whatsoever), no one was able to produce any evidence that a sexual assault had occurred, physical or otherwise. The alleged victim herself had no recollection of it happening, did not report it to the police who arrested her, and had a ready motive for latching on to the narrative, which is that it would have stopped or possibly prevented punishment at the hands of her military superiors and possibly prevented her from permanently losing the top secret clearance necessary to keep her job.
And yet, it appears that Rolling Stone brushed all this aside in the service of a story that fit a narrative that their reporter had going into the story. And it appears that Ms. Erdely’s failure to fact check her alleged victim’s story by contacting the “other side” for comment or explanation was every bit as egregious in this case as it was in the UVA case. And that does not even mention that back in December, Newsweek raised serious questions about yet another alleged rape story reported by Erdely.
Which raises the question: how many other stories out there has Ms. Erdely written that wouldn’t pass journalistic muster any more than her now-withdrawn UVA story? And what will Rolling Stone do to uncover the answer to that question?