Last night Rolling Stone issued a 13,000-word report with the Columbia School of Journalism on its journalistic failings in its controversial November 2014 article, “A Rape On Campus.” In sickening detail, Rolling Stone’s Sabrina Rubin Erdely laid out horrifying allegations from a UVA student about a gang rape at the school’s chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. After Rolling Stone published the story, “Jackie’s” story was questioned, refuted, and ultimately debunked by the Washington Post, with the public at large wondering why Rolling Stone would publish something not rooted in fact and irresponsible towards sexual assault victims as a whole.
The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report dissects those fact-checking editorial decisions at the magazine. It’s important to remember this is Rolling Stone’s fault, not “Jackie’s” — “Journalistically, this was a failure of policy and of methodology and of practice, and it wasn’t the subject’s failure,” Columbia Graduate School of Journalism’s dean Steve Coll said.
Rolling Stone has now officially retracted the article. Incredibly, however, the magazine plans on keeping everyone associated with the story on staff:
“It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things,” Dana said. “We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.” Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, said, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.”
The article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, issued a statement on Sunday night to the New York Times:
“The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. 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.
“Over my 20 years of working as an investigative journalist — including at Rolling Stone, a magazine I grew up loving and am honored to work for — I have often dealt with sensitive topics and sources. In writing each of these stories I must weigh my compassion against my journalistic duty to find the truth. However, in the case of Jackie and her account of her traumatic rape, I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.
“Reporting on rape has unique challenges, but the journalist still has the responsibility to get it right. I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”
Many quickly noticed that Erdely avoided apologizing to the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, who bore the brunt of the article’s outrage after publishing. After the Rolling Stone article came out in November, however, the house was vandalized and the fraternity immediately disbanded in the wake of the outrage. Local police officially cleared the fraternity of the allegations in January.
This afternoon Phi Kappa Psi announced that it is planning on pursuing “all available legal action” against Rolling Stone. Via NBC News:
The fraternity at the center of a discredited Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape at University of Virginia “plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine,” the Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi said in a statement. The announcement came a day after the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism released a report finding that the article violated “basic, even routine journalistic practice.”
“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said in the statement.
“Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers,” Scipione said. “If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it’s time to get serious.”
Lawsuits haven’t been officially filed yet, but one has to imagine sometime like that is coming soon.