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Rolling Stone Retracts UVA Rape Story Condemned As ‘Journalistic Failure’

Rolling Stone magazine has formally retracted its story “A Rape On Campus.” The story, published in 2014, alleged that a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” had been brutally sexually assaulted on campus by multiple assailants at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. The allegations sparked a national outcry and high lighted the problem of sexual assault on college campuses across the country.

It now appears as though most if not all of Jackie’s account is untrue and the story’s authors and editors failed to do basic diligence to confirm key events in the story before publication. A police investigation found no evidence to support the claims in the story and a review by the Columbia School of Journalism called the article a “journalistic failure.”

The reporter, Sabrina Erdely, and her editor on the story, Sean Woods, will not be terminated nor will managing editor Will Dana according to Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner.

From the CSJ review:

Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.

In late March, after a four-month investigation, the Charlottesville, Va., police department said that it had “exhausted all investigative leads” and had concluded, “There is no substantive basis to support the account alleged in the Rolling Stone article.”

The complete collapse of the story could have the opposite effect the story was intended to have. Erdely said she was looking for a single story to crystallize the problem of sexual assault on campus in order for the problem to be taken more seriously. Unfortunately, the CSJ review warned that the blown story “may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”

So while the staff at Rolling Stone has not suffered any substantive consequences, women who have been sexually assaulted on a college campus may have even more trouble getting their allegations taken seriously. Epic fail.

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Dan Wright

Dan Wright

Daniel Wright is a longtime blogger and currently writes for Shadowproof. He lives in New Jersey, by choice.