After months of scandal, uproar, and faulty reporting, Rolling Stone has completed its investigation of the now infamous “UVA Rape,” the graphic account of “Jackie” as she’s now known, who had been allegedly brutally gang raped by seven men inside the Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Virginia’s campus. After not long, the story was officially retracted, not before damage to the reputations of the school, the fraternity, and of course the magazine. Rolling Stone recruited Dean Steve Coll of the Columbia School of Journalism to report investigate and report upon just what went wrong — on how the publication could let such a big mistake slip through the cracks. The full report of Coll’s investigation was published by Rolling Stone Sunday. If you are interested in learning more details about this case, I encourage you to read it.
Rolling Stone includes its statement, which you can read below, in the report:
A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Last November, we published a story, ‘A Rape on Campus’ [RS 1223], that centered around a University of Virginia student’s horrifying account of her alleged gang rape at a campus fraternity house. Within days, commentators started to question the veracity of our narrative. Then, when The Washington Post uncovered details suggesting that the assault could not have taken place the way we described it, the truth of the story became a subject of national controversy.
As we asked ourselves how we could have gotten the story wrong, we decided the only responsible and credible thing to do was to ask someone from outside the magazine to investigate any lapses in reporting, editing and fact-checking behind the story. We reached out to Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter himself, who accepted our offer. We agreed that we would cooperate fully, that he and his team could take as much time as they needed and write whatever they wanted. They would receive no payment, and we promised to publish their report in full. (A condensed version of the report will appear in the next issue of the magazine, out April 8th.)
This report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document — a piece of journalism, as Coll describes it, about a failure of journalism. With its publication, we are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus.’ We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report. 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. 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.
Will Dana, Managing Editor
And what of the writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely? She did release an official statement which included an apology — to Rolling Stone’s readers and employees, to the UVA community, and to victims of sexual assault, which we can all agree was necessary. No apology was made to the groups she vilified, though. No apology to the fraternity, the president of which notes, “It’s completely destroyed a semester of our lives, specifically mine. It’s put us in the worst position possible in our community here, in front of our peers and in the classroom.” No apology was issued to the UVA administration, which is now seeking legal action as its reputation was also tarnished, nearly irreparably.
Her apology, from 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.”
May the school, the fraternity, and all those involved move closer to recovery from this every day..
Image via Shutterstock