Lessons learned from a woman named Sabrina
by Editorial Staff
The collapse of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia Campus rape story published last month in Rolling Stone has kept some reporters busy digging up stories on one of their own, or better put, digging up the misgivings of stories penned by one of their own. Perhaps this is because Erdely’s own forgetfulness of the basic rules of journalism cast a dim light on too many from rape victims to credible news reporters and to those attributed under pseudonyms.
Fortunately the Washington Post and Slate’s Hanna Rosin have been doing the job that Erdely failed to do, simple things such as fact-checking and interviewing those pertinent to the story. Why Erdely failed to bypass such Journalism 101 steps has left many a mind boggled. Was it some self-gratifying mission? Was she out to pin another award to her resume? Did she really hang her hat on the alleged rape victim’s story so much so that she thought it okay to skip ethical obligations?
Erdely is a smart woman, at least she purports to be on her website. Did she really think that other reporters wouldn’t notice the lack of qualifiers, attributes, and interviews in her 9,000 word story? Erdely’s account of alleged rape victim “Jackie” was so lacking in the basics that it only stood to reason that someone would fact-check. After all, Erdely portrayed the three friends who answered Jackie’s call for help as self-absorbed preppies who were more concerned with their university social status than their alleged bloodied and traumatized friend. Of course, the naming of the Phi Kappa Psi without speaking to any of the accused has left the fraternity with more than a black eye and what it did for rape victims is indescribable.
Rosin did a great job interviewing the evasive Erdely shortly after the story came out. Although Rosin couldn’t get a direct answer from Erdely as to whether she interviewed the perpetrators, she gave it her best shot. The Washington Post has done amazing work in unraveling Erdely’s seriously flawed reporting. Erdely claimed that she couldn’t reach certain key subjects of the story and claimed that one declined to be interviewed “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” It’s been recently pointed out that the person had never been contacted for an interview. Other media organizations had no problem tracking down the unnamed key subjects referenced in the story, yet Erdely couldn’t- or wouldn’t. Had she done due diligence, given the conflicting stories of Jackie and her friends, there would be no story. And Erdely is a seasoned enough reporter to know that.
The Post has brought to surface the many discrepancies in Erdely’s story, although they say they didn’t set out to discredit anybody. And they didn’t. It was Erdely who discredited herself and Rolling Stone.
Erdely’s sensationalized story leaves one to wonder about the validity of other stories she’s written. Apparently, this wasn’t her first rodeo. Newsweek has reported on another rape story authored by Erdely that is filled with holes. “Billy Doe,” according to the Newsweek story, is the pseudonym for a former altar boy from Philadelphia who claimed he was raped at St. Jerome Parish by two priests and a Catholic schoolteacher.
From Newsweek, “Erdely had an undisclosed conflict of interest, first noticed by reporter Paul Farhi of The Washington Post, as the wife of an assistant district attorney, Peter Erdely, in the Philadelphia D.A.’s office. She only interviewed people who ripped the church, such as a couple of former prosecutors, two critical former priests, a sex abuse victim and a former seminarian kicked out for disciplinary reasons.”
It won’t be surprising if there are reporters checking the validity of other stories penned by Erdely nor will it be surprising if the UVA rape story is the last story she pens. Unless, of course, she can work for her local paper covering sewer district meetings- something she seems well qualified to do.
Erdely’s self-serving agenda harmed more than just herself. She has made a mockery of the profession, the Rolling Stone, UVA, Phi Kappa Psi, rape victims, Jackie and, most prominently, herself.
There are plenty of lessons to be learned from Sabrian Rubin Erdely. Among the most important is the old adage, “The truth always comes out in the end.” For Erdely, the truth has most likely brought her a career to an end. And that wouldn’t be a bad thing.