"A Rape On Campus" & 5 Other Retracted Stories That Were Published With Major Mistakes
After Columbia Journalism School's report published Sunday found the magazine at fault for an inadequate editorial process, Rolling Stone retracted the controversial UVA rape story that originally came out in November. The retraction also comes after the local Charlottesville police suspended their investigation into the rape claims due to a lack of evidence (but noting that this didn't mean "something terrible" didn't happen to Jackie, the alleged victim). Rolling Stone's many mistakes with the UVA story are disconcerting for journalism, as well as victims of sexual assault, but this isn't the first time a major story has been retracted due to editorial failures.
In a note from the editor, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana says: "We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students." The Columbia report faults Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter, with not contacting three sources quoted in the story, but simply quoting the main source, Jackie's, memory of conversations that she claimed took place.
The three sources denied saying what the magazine attributed to them and cast doubt on the whole story. The report claims Rolling Stone itself failed to provide the UVA fraternity blamed for the assault with enough information to properly respond to questions and didn't even know Jackie's alleged attacker's name. Editors were too lax, according to the report, and the fact-checking process was inadequate.
The original story, "A Rape on Campus," sparked a nationwide controversy surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, and Columbia's report and the retraction of the story highlight huge journalistic failures. Here's a look at other journalism mistakes that led to the retraction of high-profile stories.
1. The Washington Post
A Washington Post reporter, Janet Cooke, won a Pulitzer Prize for a story she wrote on an 8-year-old heroin addict in Washington D.C. in 1981, but it was later discovered that she fabricated the story. The award-winning article, "Jimmy's World," was based on interviews with the boy, his mother, and his mother's boyfriend, and Cooke told her editors that she had promised them anonymity. After it was published, the city responded strongly to the article, with the mayor and police chief issuing a task force to find the boy and give him medical treatment, but Cooke soon admitted that she made up all three of her main sources. Cooke resigned from the Post and the Pulitzer was taken back.
2. The New Republic
In 1998, Stephen Glass, an associate editor at The New Republic, was fired for fabricating a story titled "Hack Heaven," and it was later revealed that he had made up more than 25 stories throughout his career. "Hack Heaven" described a teenage computer hacker who was trying to extort thousands of dollars from a company. Forbes first reported that the story was false, leading The New Republic to investigate and find gaping holes in Glass' story.
A 2004 CBS 60 Minutes report claimed that George W. Bush hadn't completed his National Guard service based on documents provided by a former U.S. National Guard officer. The officer later admitted to lying about the source of the documents that had been forged. Because of the lack of investigation into the documents' origins, a CBS news producer was fired, and multiple news executives resigned.
4. New York Times
A New York Times staff reporter, Jayson Blair, resigned from the paper in 2003 after it was discovered that he repeatedly fabricated and plagiarized stories. At least 36 of his articles for The Times were found to have problems, including an article on a fatal sniper attack in Washington and another on families grieving for relatives killed in Iraq.
5. Los Angeles Times
A 2008 LA Times article titled "An Attack on Tupac Shakur Launched a Hip-Hop War" was taken off the paper's website after the paper found some of the information not credible. The story, written by Chuck Philips, claimed to have new information about a 1994 assault on Tupac obtained from FBI reports that turned out to be fabricated.
Images: Rolling Stone (1); Getty Images (3)