Rolling Stone apol­o­gizes for dis­cred­ited rape story


Rolling Stone mag­a­zine on Sun­day night apol­o­gized and of­fi­cially re­tracted its dis­cred­ited ar­ti­cle about an al­leged gang rape at the Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia, and an in­de­pen­dent re­view said the ar­ti­cle may cast doubt on fu­ture rape ac­cu­sa­tions.

The re­view, un­der­taken at Rolling Stone’s re­quest, pre­sented a broad in­dict­ment of the mag­a­zine’s han­dling of a story that had hor­ri­fied read­ers, un­leashed wide­spread protests and sparked a na­tional dis­cus­sion about sex­ual as­saults on col­lege cam­puses.

The re­port from the Columbia Uni­ver­sity Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism on the ed­i­to­rial process called the ar­ti­cle a “story of jour­nal­is­tic fail­ure that was avoid­able.”

The ar­ti­cle fo­cused on a stu­dent iden­ti­fied only as “Jackie,” who said she was raped by seven men at a fra­ter­nity house. It also de­scribed a hid­den cul­ture of sex­ual vi­o­lence fu­eled by binge drink­ing at one of the na­tion’s most highly re­garded public uni­ver­si­ties.

The re­port found, among other things, that Rolling Stone did not try hard enough to find the per­son Jackie ac­cused of or­ches­trat­ing the as­sault.

The in­de­pen­dent re­view be­gan af­ter news me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tions ex­posed flaws in the Novem­ber 2014 ar­ti­cle, ti­tled “A Rape on Cam­pus.” By Dec. 5, Rolling Stone apol­o­gized and ac­knowl­edged dis­crep­an­cies in the ar­ti­cle.

A four-month po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­duced no ev­i­dence that the attack oc­curred. Jackie re­fused to co­op­er­ate in the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“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 mag­a­zine’s man­ag­ing edi­tor, Will Dana, wrote on the pub­li­ca­tion’s web­site.

“Sex­ual as­sault is a se­ri­ous prob­lem on col­lege cam­puses, and it is im­por­tant that rape vic­tims feel com­fort­able step­ping for­ward. It sad­dens us to think that their will­ing­ness to do so might be di­min­ished by our fail­ings.”

In a state­ment sent to The As­so­ci­ated Press, writer Sab­rina Erdely apol­o­gized and said she “did not go far enough to ver­ify” the story of the vic­tim.

Dana and Erdely said they had been too ac­com­mo­dat­ing of re­quests from Jackie that limited their abil­ity to re­port the story be­cause she said she was a rape vic­tim and asked them not to con­tact oth­ers to cor­rob­o­rate, the re­port said.

De­spite its flaws, the ar­ti­cle height­ened scru­tiny of cam­pus sex­ual as­saults amid a cam­paign by U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. The Uni­ver­sity of Vir­ginia had al­ready been on the Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion’s list of 55 col­leges un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for their han­dling of sex as­sault vi­o­la­tions.

The ar­ti­cle also prompted uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dent Teresa Sul­li­van to tem­po­rar­ily sus­pend fra­ter­nity and soror­ity so­cial events. Fra­ter­ni­ties later agreed to ban kegs, hire se­cu­rity work­ers and keep at least three fra­ter­nity mem­bers sober at each event.

In a state­ment, Sul­li­van said the ar­ti­cle falsely de­picted the uni- ver­sity as cal­lous to­ward sex­ual as­sault vic­tims, re­in­forc­ing their re­luc­tance to come for­ward.

The fra­ter­nity has called the ar­ti­cle defam­a­tory and said it was ex­plor­ing its legal op­tions.

“Th­ese false ac­cu­sa­tions have been ex­tremely dam­ag­ing to our en­tire or­ga­ni­za­tion, but we can only begin to imag­ine the set­back this must have dealt to sur­vivors of sex­ual as­sault,” said Stephen Sci­p­i­one, pres­i­dent of the Vir­ginia Al­pha Chap­ter of Phi Kappa Psi, af­ter the Char­lottesville po­lice suspended their in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

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