"Never let others define you, define yourselves."
So began a seemingly comedic speech at the University of Virginia's Valedictory Exercises by actor Ed Helms on Friday. In front of a large audience, the comedian peppered in jokes about Netflix and student loans before turning a harsh eye on the Rolling Stone rape story scandal, which has drawn widespread condemnation and lawsuits against the magazine.
"It has been said that a rolling stone gathers no moss," Helms said. "I would add that sometimes a rolling stone also gathers no verifiable facts or even the tiniest morsels of journalistic integrity."
"Rolling Stone tried to define you this year," Helms said. "As a result, not only was this community thrown deep into turmoil, but the incredibly important struggle to address sexual violence on campuses nationwide was suddenly more confusing than ever and needlessly set back."
The speech comes a month after Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism called Sabrina Rubin Erdely's story "A Rape on Campus" a "journalistic failure" -- a move that prompted Rolling Stone to retract the entire piece.
“The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking,” the authors of the review said.
During his speech, Helms also delved into the strikingly negative news coverage of the Baltimore riots, chastising many major networks for their portrayal of the protestors as "thugs," noting "Rolling Stone's rush to define is just the tip of the iceberg."
"The reductive labels aren't helping and we better stop applying them, because there are a lot of Americans in a lot of pain," Helms said. "We try to define others with simple labels because it makes the world easier to understand."
"This community didn't fall for the fallacy that just because Rolling Stone was wrong everything here must be perfectly peachy," he continued. "You all had the courage to understand you can be outraged at Rolling Stone and still ask yourselves hard questions: When sexual violence does occur in our community, do we have the best possible protocols and resources available to our students? And UVA is charging forward to answer those questions and you should be proud of that."
CORRECTION: This story originally noted Ed Helms' speech as a commencement address. It was actually given during Valedictory Exercises.
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