Rolling Stone magazine’s reputation is under attack after it apologized for a blockbuster report alleging a University of Virginia student was gang raped by fraternity brothers.
The initial story was so unsettling that it sparked protests throughout the campus and the university shut down all fraternity activities.
The alleged victim, identified only as “Jackie,” told Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely that she had been coaxed into a room during a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party and was sexually assaulted by seven men.
Here’s the problem: Erdely took the accuser’s word as gospel and failed to talk to any of the alleged perpetrators to get their side of the story, according to The Washington Post.
In an interview with slate.com, Erdely said she was unable to contact the accused men, in part because the fraternity website’s contact page was outdated.
As of Monday, Erdely was sticking by her reporting.
“As I’ve already told you, the gang-rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie — a person whom I found to be credible — told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way,” Erdely said in an email response to The Post. “THAT is the story: the culture that greeted her and so many other UVA women I interviewed, who came forward with allegations, only to be met with indifference.”
But, troubled by evolving information that cast doubt on Jackie’s story, Rolling Stone backed away from the report Friday, and in a rare move, Will Dana, managing editor of the magazine even issued a blunt apology to readers.
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.
Fox News host Howard Kurtz pointed out that even basic facts are under question as the story is “falling apart.”
“We’ve gone from serious journalistic questions about, as you mention, Why did the reporter, Sabrina Erdely, … not try harder to find out what the men who were accused … to get their side of the story?” Kurtz said Friday. “Now we have basic details being questioned. We have some of Jackie’s own friends saying they’re not sure they fully believe her account, and we have Rolling Stone, which has stubbornly stood by the story and brushed away these questions…not quite a retraction, pretty close to saying, throwing up your hands and saying ‘We’re not sure we can believe what we published.’ A story that absolutely rocked the University of Virginia campus.”
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