Rand Paul's anonymous accuser

Without evidence, the "kidnapping" tale is an example of what media consumers should automatically disbelieve


Dan Gillmor
August 11, 2010 4:11AM (UTC)

UPDATED

So Rand Paul felt obliged to deny an accusation that he kidnapped a Baylor University swim teammate and forced her to smoke dope.

I believe him. I believed him before he said he didn't do it. (Update: And it turns out that no such thing happened, even according to the still-anonymous source for this story. See update below.)

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Why? Because the accusation is about something that allegedly happened some 27 years ago, and his accuser is staying anonymous. Sadly, GQ magazine -- which published an otherwise interesting (and better-sourced) account of Paul's, uh, socially active college years -- went with this tale.

Even more sadly, the state of American media is such that the accusation has made its way into the mainstream. Bloggers and traditional journalists alike have quoted the GQ piece and given it credence it absolutely hasn't earned. Anonymous sources deserve no credibility unless they provide evidence.

I hope Paul loses in November, because I find his politics odious in many ways. But I hope this story doesn't sway anyone.

UPDATE: So, according to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent, the accuser, who still won't give her name, says the GQ piece was wrong in some vital ways. Namely, it wasn't a forced abduction; she was essentially role-playing; no one forced her to take drugs; and the people involved were friends. In other words, however weird (and there's definitely some odd behavior here) the situation may have been, it was college party-style weirdness, and nothing resembling the alleged criminality we've been hearing about.

Several comments have raised the appropriate question of whether what happened in college almost three decades ago is relevant to someone's fitness for office today. A kidnapping, if it happened, would be relevant, no doubt. It didn't happen.

And the other hijinks the GQ story discusses, as well as the anonymous woman's latest account (the truth of which I still don't take for granted)? Not relevant in the slightest, at least in any sense of disqualifying someone for public office, given how long ago this was and how we all change as we get older. If anything -- given that practically everyone I liked in college was "lewd, crude and grossly sacreligious" (characteristics attributed to the group he apparently joined at Baylor) -- they tend to make Paul sound more interesting.

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Finally, some of the comments on this item reflect a disturbing reality. Many folks want to believe the worst about Paul, and don't care if there's any real evidence. I hope they'll consider how they'd feel if someone made this kind of accusation against them or someone they like.


Dan Gillmor

A longtime participant in the tech and media worlds, Dan Gillmor is director of the Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication. Follow Dan on Twitter: @dangillmor. More about Dan here.

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