Rolling Stone magazine retracts article about brutal gang rape at University of Virginia

NewsBy Neil Fetherston
Rolling Stone magazine retracts article about brutal gang rape at University of Virginia

Rolling Stone magazine has retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report that concluded the widely discredited piece was the result of failures at every stage of the process.

The report, published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source, identified only as Jackie, described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

On Sunday, Ms. Erdely, in her first extensive comments since the article was cast into doubt, apologized to Rolling Stone’s readers, her colleagues and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”

In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine. The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said.

He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

In a ‘Note from the Editor on the magazine's website, the Managing Editor Will Dana,wrote: ‘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.”