Rolling Stone raises questions about journalism ethics
by Editorial Staff
Rolling Stone’s managing editor Will Dana’s message to readers has the Internet blowing up. Why? Because the popular magazine’s story of an alleged University of Virginia’s student rape is now being called into question.
Last month Rolling Stone published a story titled, “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely- a story about UVA student “Jackie,” who was allegedly gang-raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity in 2012.
When first published, the story was picked up by many news organizations around the world. As VNN strives to report exclusive news as well as noteworthy U.S. and world news, we chose not to cover the “Jackie” story. Why? Because we noticed two key elements were missing. First, there was no use of the word “alleged” when Erdely told Jackie’s story and foremost because there was no indication that Erdely made any attempts to interview those accused of such a heinous crime. There was no “refused to comment” meaning the reporter had contact with the alleged and they didn’t want to be interviewed or no “unavailable for comment” which generally means the reporter and potential interviewee are playing phone tag, nor was there any “couldn’t be reached for comment.”
Those two glaring omissions led us to question the validity of the story and the fact Erdely told only one side of the story.
And now, less than a month after the story first hit the Internet, Rolling Stone finds itself with the proverbial foot in mouth. Only, this time, it’s more like both feet.
Dana’s clarification and apology is 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 investigation 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.
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. 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.
What we find most compelling is this interview Erdely gave to Hanna Rosen on DoubleX Gabfest. When asked if she had reached out to the alleged rapists, Erdely replied, “I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an email, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.”
Rosin then said, “But not the actual boys,” and Erdely went on speaking without acknowledging Rosin’s question.
When asked about the victim’s credibility, the question was posed as to whether Jackie’s friends confirmed the bruises, and Erdely skirted the question.
As more and more of the discrepancies evolve, the more and more the Stone’s ethical responsibility to its readers is being scrutinized. The alleged rape occurred two years ago, without doubt, this wasn’t a timely story that couldn’t wait for due diligence.
Dana writes in his apology that “our trust in her (Jackie) was misplaced. Perhaps, Mr. Dana, your trust in Ms. Erdely was also misplaced.
And that, in turn, has an impact on every journalist in America.