niche drama

Journalists Are Sparring Over a Campus Assault Book Review

Vanessa Grigoriadis is in a Twitter fight with Michelle Goldberg. Photo: Max Farago; Courtesy of Michelle Goldberg

Journalist Vanessa Grigoriadis’s new book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus, has only been out for a couple weeks, and it’s already tearing the niche world of feminist writers apart. A close look at the emerging culture around campus sexual assault, the book drew a scathing review from newly appointed New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, whose own writing on sexual assault frequently appears in Slate.

While Goldberg wrote that Grigoriadis — who is a former contributing editor to New York Magazine — “is terrific at capturing complicated personalities and subtle social dynamics,” she also accuses her of “baffling errors that threaten to undermine her entire book.” Among other things, she says Grigoriadis overlooked Department of Justice figures on rape victims — “I’m not sure how anyone could write an entire book about the subject of campus rape and not reckon with this” — and of misrepresenting the findings of a study from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN).

“If you’re going to challenge people’s preconceptions, you have to have your facts straight,” Goldberg wrote. “Blurred Lines gives readers too many reasons not to trust it, even when perhaps they should.”

Grigoriadis was pissed. “Michelle is free to dislike my book,” she wrote in an email to Times book-review chief Pamela Paul, according to the Washington Post. “She is not free to make demonstrably false statements that not only damage my book but my reputation and credibility as a reporter.”

After what we can only assume was a back-and-forth with Paul, the Times published the following note at the bottom of Goldberg’s review:

Correction: September 17, 2017 

A review on Page 11 this weekend about “Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power and Consent on Campus,” by Vanessa Grigoriadis, refers incorrectly to her reporting on the issues. She does in fact write about Department of Justice statistics that say college-age women are less likely than nonstudent women of the same age to be victims of sexual assault; it is not the case that Grigoriadis was unaware of the department’s findings. In addition, the review describes incorrectly Grigoriadis’s presentation of statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network. She showed that there is disagreement over whether the data are sound; it is not the case that she gave the reader “no reason to believe” the statistics are wrong.

Certain phrases in the review were edited or removed altogether — “I’m not sure how anyone could write an entire book about the subject of campus rape and not know this” has been changed to “and not reckon with this,” and the parenthetical that followed — “(Grigoriadis gives the reader no reason to believe that the statistics from the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network are wrong.)” — is gone.

But Grigoriadis took issue with the new wording, too. “I do indeed reckon with this survey, and deeply, several times in the book,” she wrote to the Times’ standards editor, citing several examples of said reckoning.

Meanwhile, Goldberg told the Post that she’d “give a kidney and five years of my life to be able to go back and not write” the “not know this” line, and she posted a similar statement to Twitter Saturday evening.

… Which, according to Grigoriadis, was still wrong.

As of Monday afternoon, Goldberg hadn’t tweeted back.

Feminist Journalists Spar Over Campus Assault Book Review