Victim Advocates Worry That Journalism Based on Facts Could Hurt Their Movement

UVa Fraternity

Rolling Stone‘s Worrisome Discredited Rape Account

BALTIMORE — With the account of an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia debunked by police, advocates for sexual assault survivors are worried a movement that gained tremendous momentum in the past year could suffer a setback.

“The average American might say, ‘If she lied, they must all be lying so we shouldn’t pay attention to the issue at all,’ and there will be an immediate chilling effect.”

— Liz Seccuro, explaining her sincere belief that Americans, after encountering one debunked rape story, will no longer care about potential rape victims and decide to permanently stop paying attention to all rape allegations

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A Rolling Stone article about a student identified only as “Jackie” described an alleged rape on campus and a culture of binge-drinking and looking the other way when students filed sexual assault complaints. The story intensified the national conversation about rapes on college campuses and prompted changes at the university, but on Monday, Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo said a months-long investigation turned up no evidence of a sexual assault, or any wrongdoing by the school.

“I do think, unfortunately, that such a high-profile discredited story will have negative impacts on people’s willingness to believe survivors when they come forward.”

— Daniel Carter, director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative, missing the ‘positive impact’ of honest, fact-based reporting, compared to the ‘negative impact’ of corrupt, dishonest, agenda-driven reporting by Rolling Stone

“One false report should not diminish the seriousness with which we take on the challenge of sexual assault on campus,” said Daniel Carter, director of 32 National Campus Safety Initiative and an advocate for sexual assault survivors for more than two decades. “I do think, unfortunately, that such a high-profile discredited story will have negative impacts on people’s willingness to believe survivors when they come forward.”

Police said Jackie refused to talk to them after the article was published in November. In the article, Jackie said she was gang-raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house two years earlier, and the school systematically mishandled sex assault complaints. Read the rest of this entry »


SPIKED: Rolling Stone‘s Rape Hoax Speaks to a New Hysteria on U.S. College Campuses

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The Unravelling of the Rolling Stone Article is Not an Isolated Event

Sean Collins reports: For years now, academics and activists, backed by university administrators and government officials, have promoted the idea that there is a rape epidemic on US campuses, enabled by a ‘rape culture’ that pervades social life. This notion has created a frenzied and highly emotional atmosphere in colleges, with accusations flying and campus tribunals handing down sentences for what are essentially criminal acts. The stunning news that Rolling Stone now disowns its story that claimed a female student was gang-raped at a University of Virginia (UVA) fraternity shows that the drive to root out ‘rape culture’ is spinning out of control.

“We’re living through a full-blown panic, akin to the daycare sexual abuse scandals of the 1980s and early 1990s, with bad consequences for both women and men.”

The Rolling Stone article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, described in graphic terms how a young woman, ‘Jackie’, was lured by her date to a room in a fraternity, where she was allegedly raped by seven men, as part of a premeditated initiation ceremony. The terrible details included: smashing Jackie through a plate-glass table, cutting her badly; the men laughing in response to her cries, and saying things like ‘grab its motherfucking leg’; the men calling each other names like Armpit and Blanket. Appearing after a three-hour ordeal, three friends discourage Jackie from reporting this to the police or the university, or from going to a hospital, because they fear they will be banned from future parties at this fraternity. Read the rest of this entry »


FULL DEMISE: Rolling Stone’s Cuckoo Bananas Rape Story Exposed as Fraud

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Erik Wemple reports: Even as Rolling Stone’s Nov. 19 story “A Rape on Campus” unraveled last week, the magazine claimed that writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely did her due diligence in investigating an alleged gang rape on Sept. 28, 2012, at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia that had victimized a then-freshman by the name of Jackie. “Dozens” of Jackie’s friends, Rolling Stone told this blog, had spoken with Erdely for the story — some off the record, some on the record.

“Dozens,” of course, means 24-plus.

“Publications can be excused for getting things wrong; that happens all the time. What’s inexcusable, however, is that in this case, Rolling Stone did nothing to stave off catastrophic error…”

As a second heavily reported story by Washington Post’s local staff has revealed, however, Erdely’s reportorial sweep didn’t net three rather critical friends. “Randall,” “Cindy” and “Andy” were identified in the Rolling Stone piece as three eager helpers who came to Jackie’s aid on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, when she allegedly experienced a traumatic situation. The three told The Post that the story reported by Rolling Stone doesn’t match what Jackie told them that night.*

“As The Post reports, the friends were “never contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors,” meaning that neither Erdely nor the magazine’s fact-checkers lifted a finger to check with the story’s most obvious source of corroboration.”

And perhaps most critically, the latest revelation from The Post casts either account into doubt, as the man that Jackie cited as her date that night appears not to have been a student at the University of Virginia.

“What’s the excuse for the failure to reach the friends? We’ve asked for an explanation on this front as well…”

It all raises a mind-boggling possibility: that Erdely made an exhaustive effort to interview peripheral sources, leaving no time for the central ones. The Erik Wemple Blog has asked Rolling Stone for an inventory of the friends interviewed by Erdely, as well as other information about the reporting. That’s an extravagant request — but presumably Rolling Stone is already compiling such a file, if it’s serious about figuring out how it produced the shoddiest piece of journalism in recent memory. We haven’t heard back from the magazine. Read the rest of this entry »


Cuckoo Journalism for a Tweetable Time

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Edward Kosner writes: Desperate times call forth desperate journalism. Suddenly, what we used to think of as the big-time press is being convulsed by a spasm of amateurism.stock-footage-animated-angry-cuckoo-clock-bird

Rolling Stone, since the 1960s a paragon of hip investigative journalism and gonzo reportage, finds itself sweatily backpedaling from a single-sourced exposé of gang rape at the University of Virginia, an article that rattled the campus designed by Thomas Jefferson and went viral.

The 30-something Facebook zillionaire who bought the New Republic two years ago decided to convert the century-old journal of political and arts commentary into “a vertically integrated digital media company.” The two top editors quit as they were being pushed—and nearly all their staff and 51GQLlXkr7L._SL250_contributors followed them out the door, devastating the magazine.

[Order Edward Kosner‘s book “News to Me: Adventures of an Accidental Journalist” from Amazon]

Not long ago, Newsweek resurrected itself in print after a near-death experience. Its very first cover story claimed to identify the mysterious Asian creator of bitcoin, the brave new digital currency—only to have the putative inventor surface to insist persuasively that the magazine had the right name, but the wrong man. And the vastly experienced author of a new 500-page biography of Bill Cosby managed to blow the lead: to leave out detailed accusations by more than a dozen women that the beloved comedian had drugged and raped or otherwise sexually molested them.

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Inevitably in any journalistic trend story, there is an element of coincidence in the cascade of these sorry episodes. And, even in the best-run publications, mistakes are as inescapable in journalism as they are in any sustained human activity. But there is ancuckoo-clock-tatoo unseen common denominator to all these fiascoes that helps explain why they happened, illuminating both the existential dangers that serious journalism now faces and its fraught future.

“Here was a story made to go viral—doing journalistic due diligence on it might blunt its sharp edges and sap its appeal. As it happened, the Rolling Stone piece was undone by old-school reporting by the Washington Post, which has the resources to do its job…”

Quite simply, print editors and their writers, and especially the publications’ proprietors, are being unhinged by the challenge of making a splash in a new world increasingly dominated by twitterthe values of digital journalism. Traditional long-form journalism—painstakingly reported, carefully written, rewritten and edited, scrupulously fact-checked—finds itself fighting a losing battle for readers and advertisers. Quick hits, snarky posts and click-bait in the new, ever-expanding cosmos of websites promoted by even quicker teasers on Twitter and Facebook have broadened the audience but shrunk its attention span, sometimes to 140 characters (shorter than this sentence).

Whether they realize it or not, and most do, print journalists feel the pressure to make their material ever more compelling, to make it stand out amid the digital chatter. The easiest way to do that is to come up with stories so sensational that even the Twitterverse has to take notice. Read the rest of this entry »


Rolling Stone‘s Fabricated Panic of the Year: Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Fiction Unmasked

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The Washington Post has an update on Rolling Stone‘s UVA story that strongly implies, without outright saying so, that the gang rape at the center of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article might be fabricated. Post reporter T. Rees Shapiro spoke at length with the three friends who met up with Jackie, the student who says she was raped, on the night in question. In the Rolling Stone story this scene was crucial. Erdely described Jackie as standing mute in her bloody dress, the Phi Kappa Psi house where the alleged rape happened looming in the background, as her friends callously debated whether they should take her to the hospital and risk ruining their social reputations. This set up the larger theme of a university culture and social scene indifferent even toAPPROVED-STAMP-panic-red the most brutalized victims of rape.

“Jackie’s friends could never find this junior in the UVA database nor on social media. She provided her friends with a picture of him, but the Post has since learned that the guy in the picture is a high school classmate of Jackie’s who does not go to the University of Virginia and was in another state…”

Earlier, those friends told the Post that Jackie told them she’d been forced to have oral sex—a much different story than what Jackie told Rolling Stone. This new Post article adds some details that make the entire account seem more suspicious. Jackie had told her friends—referred to by the pseudonyms “Cindy,” “Andy,” and “Randall” in the original story and in the Post’s follow-ups—that she had a date on Sept. 28, 2012, with a handsome junior in her chemistry class. (In the version she told to Rolling Stone, that date was with someone she’d met at her lifeguarding job.) But in the Post story, the friends imply that this junior might not exist and may have been invented by Jackie to make Randall jealous.non-stop-panic-pearls

“Jackie has now given her friends two different names for the man she was with that night. Neither of them was in fact with her, ever dated her, or even knew her all that well. She appears to have invented a suitor, complete with fake text messages and a fake photo, which suggests a capacity for somewhat elaborate deception.”

When the friends first heard about this junior, they were intrigued and asked Jackie for his number. They started exchanging text messages with him, and he described Jackie as a “super smart hot” freshman. He complained, though, that she liked a “nerd 1st yr”— meaning Randall—who is “smart and funny and worth it.” Jackie’s friends could never find this junior in the UVA database nor on social media. She provided her friends with a picture of him, but the Post has since learned that the guy in the picture is a high school classmate of Jackie’s who does not go to the University of Virginia and was in another state participating in an athletic tournament on the night of the alleged rape. (More recently, Jackie gave her friends the name of a different guy. The Post also contacted him, and he said he’d never met Jackie.)

The Post story doesn’t connect all the dots, but it’s not hard to do. Read the rest of this entry »


Zerlina Maxwell: ‘No Matter What the Facts Are, We Can’t Let It Interfere With Our Agenda’

Not long after I posted this, NRO‘s Tim Cavanaugh posted this excellent analysis. In fact, the post-disaster analysis that’s been accumulating is even better than the initial disaster, its richness and flavor improving as it marinates, some of it is even injection-basted. I’m starting a list of links. Watch this space for updates.

 


Meltdown: Rolling Stone Backtracks on Explosive UVA Rape Story, Issues Apology

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Meghan Keneally reports: A stunning report about how rape is handled at UVA that sparked national outcry and prompted the university to suspend all fraternity activities for the year is now being called into question.

“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.”

Rolling Stone magazine today began distancing themselves from the shocking story published last month about a student that the publication identified as “Jackie,” who said that she was the victim of a gang rape by seven men at a fraternity party.

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“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,” the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, wrote in a letter published on the magazine’s website.

Dana said the author of the lengthy feature, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not talk to any of the students involved in the alleged rape before publishing the story out of respect for Jackie.

“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.”

The fraternity where the rape allegedly occurred has released a statement today denying the article’s allegations. Read the rest of this entry »


REWIND: Rolling Stone Retracts Rape Story

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Rolling Stone magazine has retracted the reporting behind its controversial story, A Rape on Campus, published last month. In an editor’s note added to the top of the story online, Managing Editor Will Dana wrote that “there now appear to be discrepancies” in the primary source’s account and “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”

[Also see – Rolling Stone, Rape Apologists]

[More – A Campus Epidemic: Rape Hoax Culture]

The original article, which caused the University of Virginia to suspend all fraternity activity on campus, came under fire once it was revealed that the author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had not spoken to the accused perpetrators of an alleged gang rape against a student identified as Jackie.

But while both Erdely and her editor on the story Sean Woods were confident that the assailants were real based on Jackie’s story, the magazine has now come out and said that may not be the case.

“One thing that will be great fun to watch: the coming lawsuit…Rolling Stone accused the members of that fraternity of being members of an evil, ongoing, criminal enterprise.”

— Jonah Goldberg (read more here)

Read Dana’s full editor’s note below:

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full never-mindinvestigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence. Read the rest of this entry »