One more bummer in a really bad week

Rolling Stone has posted a note to its readers about the UVa rape story.

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

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5 Responses to One more bummer in a really bad week

  1. mpatston says:

    Sadly, probably will result in some dilution of the article’s impact, but it shouldn’t. Article wasn’t about Jackie, it was about systematic failure— that still exists, and that should still be held accountable

  2. This brings up questions about how to best deal with victim’s accounts of situations. Like Kristof said in Reporter, sometimes victims lie or exaggerate. On one hand, it is not wise to assume that all victims lie because victim-blaming is not right but on the other hand we cannot go on without verifying the information. There have been many instances in journalism where things were either made up or exaggerated. I’m sad that this might have been the case with this one.

    • reedkath says:

      We have to try to confirm absolutely everything, and leave out the stuff we can’t confirm. But if confirmation that a sexual assault having taken place depends upon the alleged assailants’ agreeing that it did…?!? As Rolling Stone points out in its ‘note to readers,’ the magazine had lots of reasons for thinking the story was true. Other people on campus corroborated at least that this was the story she was telling a lot of people, including campus officials. The trouble is that in making it the centerpiece case of the story, its weaknesses now undermine the entire story — and this is practically a tragedy.
      I would offer another possible reading of the Rolling Stone letter (which is not a retraction, as some people are saying on Twitter — though who knows, that may still happen): Lawyers for some of the unnamed accused people may be involved. I notice that the last sentence alludes to any potential harm the story might have done. That and the word “evidence” suggest lawyers might be involved, and that would be no surprise.

  3. Vox put up this infographic yesterday. It’s simple but effective, I think. Something to (hopefully) combat the potential dilution of impact that Matt refers to in his comment:

  4. K.S. Hernandez says:

    It’s a real shame that powerful organizations and people aren’t held accountable for their poor behavior. That needs to change.

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