‘Rolling Stone’ Investigation Report Causes Magazine To Retract Rape Article Because Of Journalistic Failures
After months of investigation into the controversy, Rolling Stone retracted its UVA rape story after the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism's report published on Sunday evening faulted the magazine for errors at every stage of the editorial process. The article's author Sabrina Erdely, managing editor Will Dana and the editor of the article, Sean Woods, will keep their jobs, The New York Times reported. The link to the article "A Rape on Campus" on Rolling Stone's website now redirects to the report.
The incriminating report, conducted upon Rolling Stone's request and published on its website on Sunday evening, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the incident that Jackie, the story's source, had told Erdely. On Sunday, Erdely issued a statement, her first since the story's credibility was challenged:
I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.
Speaking to the Times about Columbia's report, publisher of Rolling Stone Jann S. Wenner acknowledged the article's failings but defended that it was an isolated, unusual chapter in the magazine's history. Wenner described Jackie as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who manipulated Rolling Stone's editorial process — but stressed that he was not blaming her, although “obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”
The 13,000-word long report — 4,000 words longer than Erdely's article — found an array of mistakes on reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. It also pointed out that the magazine's explanation of being too credulous toward Jackie was not an adequate justification for the story's errors.
The review was conducted by Graduate School of Journalism Dean Steve Coll, Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel, and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the school. A press conference with the deans will take place on Monday at noon ET, the journalism school's website said.
Published in the magazine's Dec. 4 issue, "A Rape on Campus" told of how Jackie, a UVA junior, was raped by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house, and the subsequent pressure she faced to not report the incident. The article sparked swift outrage across the nation and placed the prestigious public school at the center of a scandal as people began to question the authorities' handling of sexual assault claims. In response, the school's president suspended all fraternities for the remainder of the semester.
However, the truth behind Jackie's allegations were gradually challenged after media outlets discovered inconsistencies in major elements of the story, and that, crucially, Erdely did not contact the supposed instigator of the gang rape during her reporting. The wavering integrity of Jackie's story prompted Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana to issue an apology that read, in part:
We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie's request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.
In December, Columbia Journalism School announced that it would conduct an independent review of the "reporting and editorial decision making" that led to the story's publication, as per Rolling Stone's request. Last month, following their own investigation into the claims, Charlottesville police concluded that there was "no evidence" suggesting that the incident as described in the Rolling Stone article took place, but that it "doesn’t mean something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie" that night.
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