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When Rolling Stone author Sabrina Rubin Erdely interviewed Jackie for her article “A Rape on Campus,” the now discredited writer described the fraternity alleged to have raped her subject as representing the “banality of evil.”

The phrase “banality of evil” was coined by another author decades ago, and has itself generated fierce debate and criticism ever since. To be clear, Erdely is no Hannah Arendt, the woman who coined the term. Arendt is still widely respected and her writing, including her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Years from now, people will continue to respect Arendt’s work, while they no longer respect Erdely’s. But some of the criticism of Arendt’s book, including her basis for the phrase “banality of evil,” is a little reminiscent of criticisms of Erdely.

Arendt’s book is about the trial of Adolf Eichmann, A Nazi who was in charge of deporting Jews to extermination camps. He was found guilty of war crimes and hanged for his role in the Holocaust. Arendt argued in her book that Eichmann was less a murderous Nazi (he had never directly killed anyone) and more a man who was just “doing his job” and carrying out orders.

In his book on Eichmann, David Cesarani argued that Arendt’s depiction of the infamous war criminal was wrong. He claimed that Arendt didn’t attend all of Eichmann’s trial, and at most saw only four days of his testimony. Cesarani said Arendt relied mostly on recordings and transcripts from the trial to create her narrative about Eichmann.

This, to me, sounds similar to what happened in one of Erdely’s earlier articles, for which she won an award in college. She has since admitted “just about everything in the story was wrong.” Erdely had missed most of a press conference she was supposed to attend that was being held by folk singer Michelle Shocked. Erdely used the little information she received from the press conference and then “borrowed whatever facts” she could from other media accounts to cobble together her article.

The big difference here between the two is that Arendt had correct information but arguably drew the wrong conclusion, while Erdely never had correct information.

But it is interesting that the author of a discredited article would borrow a phrase from someone else has been criticized for journalistic malpractice.

Ashe Schow is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.

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