With a note to readers saying that their trust in the accuser was “misplaced” and that there now seem to be “discrepancies in her account,” Rolling Stone magazine has retracted a dramatic “investigative” article claiming that a young woman nicknamed Jackie was gang-raped at a University of Virginia fraternity party in September 2012.
The fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi – which was vandalized after the article was published – has issued a statement rebutting the article, including that there was no party at the frat house on the night in question.
The story, violent and heart-wrenching, played into the worst fears of Americans about the so-called epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses around the country — something which seems to be manufactured by ludicrous definitions of what qualifies as sexual assault. (This is not to downplay the harm of true sexual assaults.)
Quite a few people, such as Richard Bradley, Robby Soave of Reason, the always-excellent Jonah Goldberg, and to a lesser degree Erik Wemple of the Washington Post, questioned the reliability of reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, particularly after she admitted in an interview that he had not spoken with the young men who were accused of the horrific crime. (Each of the linked articles is worth reading.)
Now, with the fraternity having been suspended – indeed all “Greek” activities suspended until next month, Rolling Stone has much more than egg on its face, and Ms. Erdely has a lot of explaining to do, not least why Erdely did not speak to any of the accused young men.
[As of 3:15 PM Eastern Time, despite the retraction having been news for a few hours, Mr. Erdely has posted nothing to her Twitter feed despite having used that feed to try to attract as much attention as possible to her work of at-least-part-fiction.]
Details regarding the night of Jackie’s claimed rape as well as key aspects in the description of the then-student she named as the lead perpetrator have not withstood even basic investigation but reporters who actually cared about the truth. What remains unclear is whether “Jackie” was actually raped or gang-raped at all; her friends say there was a major change in her personality around that time and it is possible that she did suffer a sexual assault. Perhaps, although she claims not to have drunk alcohol that night, she instead regretted having done just that and not remembering what she did that night. I don’t know. We’ll probably never know. In fact, Jackie may not know…which would be the most logical explanation for this whole mess.
But regardless of what Jackie knows or believes, a reporter’s job is to do much more than accept the incredibly dramatic story of a young woman when the story involved accusing a half-dozen young men of a terrible crime.
If Rolling Stone‘s cover photograph of the Boston Marathon bomber wasn’t enough to turn you away from that publication, this sure should be.
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