×

Rolling Stone Retracts Controversial UVA Rape Story

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.”

Popular on Variety

More Biz

  • Sully

    Georgia Attorney General Closes Probe of 'Sully' Tax Credits

    The Georgia attorney general’s office has closed a criminal investigation into Warner Bros.’ use of tax credits on the Clint Eastwood film “Sully,” after state revenue agents declined to pursue the case. The state prosecutor’s office opened a criminal probe two years ago, after a whistleblower alleged that the production had claimed more than $600,000 [...]

  • Spotify logo is presented on a

    Spotify VP Paul Vogel Talks Subscription Prices, Label Licenses, Podcasts

    The annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference gives representatives from major companies the opportunity to present to the investment community, and Paul Vogel, Spotify’s VP and head of financial planning & analysis, treasury and investor relations, spoke on the streaming giant’s behalf on Tuesday morning. While many of his comments were statements frequently heard in the [...]

  • Women in Animation Logo

    WIA Partners With Animation Mentor, Toon Boom to Expand Scholarship Program

    Women in Animation has partnered with Animation Mentor and Toon Boom to expand the organization’s WIA Scholarship Program with workshops and software packages. WIA scholarships are given to animation students with a financial need and who demonstrate talent and passion for animation that will lead to a promising career in the field. The Animation Mentor [...]

  • Def Jam, Astralwerks Launch Label Divisions

    Def Jam, Astralwerks Launch Label Divisions in South East Asia

    Universal Music Group today announced what it calls a significant expansion of its recorded music operations across South East Asia with the launch of two new label divisions: Def Jam South East Asia, to focus on the hip-hop scene within the region, and Astralwerks Asia, a label “with a true focus on nurturing talent within Asia across [...]

  • Bob Bakish Viacom CEO

    ViacomCBS Leaders Talk NFL Negotiations, Streaming Wars and Merger Focus

    Viacom and CBS aim to prosper in the streaming arena by covering both ends of the marketplace, blending Viacom’s focus on ad-supported platforms with CBS’ strong head start on subscribers for CBS All Access and Showtime. ViacomCBS CEO Bob Bakish and incoming ViacomCBS chief financial officer Christina Spade outlined the combined company’s vision for how [...]

  • Spotify

    Spotify Dismisses Amazon’s High-Definition Audio: ‘It’s Not a Big Differentiator’

    At the moment Amazon Music launched its new high-definition audio service on Tuesday morning, which it says offers the best streaming audio fidelity available, Spotify VP and head of investor relations Paul Vogel was speaking at Goldman Sachs’ Communicopia conference in Lower Manhattan. While Tidal and Deezer have long offered a high-fidelity service and Apple [...]

  • Randall Stephenson

    AT&T CEO Defends WarnerMedia Strategy, Addresses Activist Investor's Letter

    AT&T chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson defended the $85 billion deal for Time Warner as the right strategy for the company in response to criticism from an activist investor. Consumers are watching more content and more of that viewing is digital, so combining a telecommunications company like AT&T with a content powerhouse like WarnerMedia is [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content