Here’s the Truth About Charles C. Johnson

It’s always a minor tragedy when cranks receive the attention of legitimate news organizations.

Unfortunately, a heretofore obscure blogger named Charles C. Johnson seems to have gone off his meds in commendable fashion this week, and put his own spin on the emerging UVA rape story.

In response to growing doubts about the veracity of alleged victim “Jackie’s” story, Mr. Johnson took it upon himself to not only track down the supposed identity of this woman, but broadcast her supposed name and social media history across his dank little corner of the internet.

Now, even if you have significant doubts about Jackie’s story (which I do), and you think that liars should be exposed (which I do), and you further think that false rape accusations should be punished severely (which I do), there is no universe in which Johnson’s series of accusations constitute responsible or ethical journalism.

In fact, this is disgusting and irresponsible behavior on par with the Rolling Stone article that so offended Johnson’s sensibilities.

Having read through a number of Johnson’s many breathless posts on the subject, there’s a better than zero chance he has identified the correct person – based on circumstantial evidence. While what he’s coughed up certainly does appear to make sense, I’d remind the reader and Johnson himself that to many people the initial UVA gang rape story made sense.

It is premature to identify someone in this way, especially while legitimate investigations (by actual journalists, with standards) are ongoing. Johnson’s gleeful capering may actually hamper efforts to get to the truth of the matter by further muddying the already turbulent waters swirling around this issue.

Activists like Amanda Marcotte or Jessica Valenti don’t need much of an excuse to renew their irrational loyalty to a woman who is now actually being victimized by having her name and history shared so recklessly. It seems unwise to cede the high ground to people who were, just a few days ago willing to throw out due process and the presumption of innocence.

Not that Johnson’s been free of error: just today he walked back a post in which he identified a woman holding a sign at a SlutWalk as Jackie, admitting that he could not be entirely sure it was her:

“In the rush to publish, I screwed up and ask your forgiveness… [W]hile I’ve broken many stories before everyone else, I’m still human and make mistakes,”

Johnson wrote, in what appears to have been a rare moment of lucidity.

There’s a way to be combative and aggressive in journalism, but it is not Chuck Johnson’s way. The ability to reach so many people demands a measure of responsibility and prudence that is entirely lacking at Johnson’s site.

This doesn’t mean you have to be boring and deferential. Look at the real reporters of the Washington Free Beacon. They make it a point to be irritating to all the right people (particularly, Sonny Bunch), but maintain the requisite professionalism to ensure their news stories actually hit the proper target at the proper time.

That’s how you do attack journalism.

Chuck C. Johnson should take a lesson from his betters. If he does, maybe one day he’ll be able to call them his peers.