Rolling Stone magazine has officially retracted — and pulled from their website — a story published in November of last year that accused members of a University of Virginia fraternity of sexually assaulting a female student during a party at the frat house, according to the New York Times.
The Columbia Graduate School of Journalism on Sunday released a blistering review of the article, “A Rape on Campus,” saying the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practices” to research and verify details of the alleged rape described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
Following the release of the report, Rolling Stone pulled the original article which has been replaced on the website by the CJR report produced by author, Steve Coll, the Columbia journalism school’s dean; Sheila Coronel, the dean of academic affairs; and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the university.
Publisher Jann Wenner — who commissioned the investigation by the journalism school — called the publication of the article an isolated and unusual episode, referring to the purported victim known as Jackie as “a really expert fabulist storyteller,” who manipulated editors at the magazine.
Wenner said he didn’t want to blame Erdley, but added, “Obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep,” before stating that Erdely would continue to write for the magazine.
In late March, Charlotteville police held a press conference to announce that their investigation found no evidence that a sexual assault occurred.
In Erdely’s account of the attack on a student she identified as “Jackie,” the woman stated that she had been lured into a darkened room at a fraternity party in September 2012, where she was brutally raped by seven men, including her date for the evening, a lifeguard at the university’s aquatic center identified only as “Drew.”
According the Columbia report, Erdely did not seek to independently contact three of Jackie’s friends who were quoted in the story, instead using quotes that came from Jackie’s recollection of conversations with them following the alleged assault. Those friends later cast doubt on Jackie’s story when interviewed by The Washington Post and denied ever saying the words attributed to them in the article.
The three stated that they were never contacted by Rolling Stone prior to the publication of the article.
According the Columbia report, Erdely’s problematic story was compounded by insufficient scrutiny and skepticism from editors and a fact-checking process that relied heavily on four hours of conversations with Jackie, and little else.
After reading the report, Erdely apologized and called it a “a brutal and humbling experience,” while acknowledging she failed to do enough to verify Jackie’s account.
In the report, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana said, “We didn’t think through all the implications of the decisions that we made while reporting the story, and we never sort of allowed for the fact that maybe the story we were being told was not true.”
“Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim,” Sean Woods, the article’s editor, added. “We honored too many of her requests in our reporting. We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”
Publisher Wenner stated, “Ms. Erdely was willing to go too far in her effort to try and protect a victim of apparently a horrible crime. She dropped her journalistic training, scruples and rules and convinced Sean to do the same. There is this series of falling dominoes.”
According to Wenner, Woods, along with Dana, will also keep their jobs with the magazine.