Rolling Stone Retracts Controversial UVA Rape Story

University of Virginia Rolling Stone
Zach Gibson/Getty

Rolling Stone magazine has retracted a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia following a withering study by the Columbia University School of Journalism that faulted its reporting, editing and fact-checking.

The study argues that the magazine failed to adhere to “basic, even routine journalistic practice” adding that it is “a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable.”

The story’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, is criticized for not seeking third-party corroboration for many parts of her story, while Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana and Sean Woods, the principal editor on the piece, are reproached for not pushing Erdely to nail down key details. They were guilty, the study argues, of “confirmation bias,” and were not sufficiently skeptical when holes began to appear in the recollections of their primary source.

The report goes on to say that Rolling Stone’s failure could have a chilling effect on magazines and other publications’ willingness to commit time and resources to stories that challenge authority and investigate stories about sexual violence.

“There is clearly a need for a more considered understanding and debate among journalists and others about the best practices for reporting on rape survivors, as well as on sexual assault allegations that have not been adjudicated,” the study’s authors write.

Titled “A Rape on Campus,” the story graphically described a young woman’s tale of being sexually assaulted during a 2012 fraternity party at Phi Kappa Psi and faulted college administrators for not doing enough to help the victim and punish the alleged perpetrators. It caused a media sensation when it was published last November, coming on the heels of a number of high-profile rape cases at elite universities such as Yale and Harvard. The story was published amid calls by government officials and activists for greater action around the problem of sexual violence on college campuses.

However, Erdely’s reporting did not withstand public scrutiny and accounts in the Washington Post and other outlets raised questions about the credibility of the subject of Erdely’s story, a woman dubbed “Jackie.” Among other incongruities, these reports found that no party took place on the night in question at Phi Kappa Psi and had difficulty finding anyone who matched “Jackie’s” description of a key assailant.

In that pressure-cooker atmosphere, Rolling Stone commissioned Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll to research the circumstances around the piece’s publication. Erdely’s original story will be replaced on Rolling Stone’s website.

In a forward to the report, Dana described it as “painful reading” but lauded Coll and his co-authors Derek Kravitz and Sheila Coronel for producing “a fascinating document.”

“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,” Dana wrote. “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.”

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  1. Coach L. says:

    Too late ladies, you Lied, like MOST Liberal rags (NY Times, Miami Herald, LA Times, Chicago Tribune). Now it’s time to “Pay-Up” where you will feel it the most. Your wallet.

  2. TOM says:

    This is the magazine that continually places Obama on it’s cover as ‘the cool guy.’ Really undermines his (and our) worldwide credibility.

  3. Fre says:

    Uh, ya think it’s about Time Rolling Stone, hello?? Still….. Anyone home?

    Rolling Stone lost it’s objective mind’s eye looong ago. And the way they responded to this, let alone not doing a Single fact check, journo 101, Rolling Stone should Never Again be taken seriously, let alone purchased. Not even a Shadow of what it once was.
    Now, a partisan hack site that cannot be trusted, even when it’s on it’s own side.

  4. This is a result of the media bias that feminists have created. Many of the rape studies are modified for political objectives influenced by the powerful feminist lobby. Even insufficient evidence cases are counted as “truthful” accusations in many of the studies. Thus we get the false and manufactured “98% of alleged victims tell the truth” claim.

    Large numbers of people have been falsely accused of rape: Some examples are Singer-songwriter Conor Oberst, NFL’s Brian Banks, William McCaffey, James Grissom, and false-rape allegations at Ohio University and Hofstra University. Crystal Mangum, represented by Gloria Allred, made false allegations of rape against Duke University lacrosse players.

    Some men spend years in prison before they are exonerated, and many have their reputations and lives destroyed.

    Source: “False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.” By Cathy Young. Slate, September 2014.

    “Oftentimes, whenever police or prosecutors speak the truth about the rate of false rape accusations, Feminist and related interest groups demand that they undergo ‘sensitivity training.’ What this really means is that they must be intimidated, browbeaten, threatened, and coerced into apologizing for stating an inconvenient truth.”

    Source: “10 Reasons False Rape Accusations are Common.” By Jonathan Taylor. A Voice for Male Students, July 22, 2014.

    • Fre says:

      Well stated.
      Too bad the so called journalistic media cannot be nearly as intellectually honest when it comes to facts and stats. When an ideology is more important than truth, run.

  5. ChrisV says:

    Just like the 2006 Duke Lacrosse “rape” story… the media was all too quick to believe the worst, and didn’t WANT to look at the facts to find out the story was ALL MADE UP. This is the fault of a media that is willingly duped.

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