Inside the investigation of Rolling Stone’s UVA rape story

April 5, 2015
Category: Uncategorized

The Columbia School of Journalism and Rolling Stone magazine will release an investigation of the publication’s reporting of rape on the University of Virginia campus. We will analyze the report with references to key passages to help journalists sort through the document. For more on the original story, read below embedded tweets.

By way of background, the basic facts are:

  • Rolling Stone published an article, “A Rape on Campus” in November 2014.
  • The story was written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely who said she looked at the issue at several big schools but was especially taken by what she heard around UVA.
  • Erdely’s story focused on a Freshman at UVA named “Jackie” who Erdely reported had been gang raped by seven men while two other men watched and encouraged the others on. The incident, Erdely reported, happened two years earlier at a UVA fraternity house.
  • The Washington Post and others raised questions about the story soon after it was published and Rolling Stone backed off the story and said it was no longer certain of “Jackie’s” story. Rolling Stone admitted it should have interviewed the accused in the case.
  • Local police said they could not confirm any part of “Jackie’s” story but could say there was no party at the fraternity house on the night she said the attack occurred.
  • December 2014, a month after the story was published, Rolling Stone explained why it didn’t interview the accused attackers this way:

    “Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Sabrina Rubin Erdely reported the story, Jackie said or did nothing that made her, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question her credibility. Jackie’s friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported her account. She had spoken of the assault in  campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of Phi Psi, the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but that they had questions about the evidence.”

  • Rolling Stone asked The Columbia Journalism School to conduct an investigation into how the magazine had failed to catch the problems with the story. The university and Rolling Stone promised to publish the report Sunday evening at 8pm, then hold a press conference Monday.

CNN reported that when the report is issued, it will be accompanied by an apology from Sabrina Rubin Erdely. CNN also said Rolling Stone intends to remove the original story from its website and replace it with a copy of the Columbia investigation.

CNN reports that  “Rolling Stone Publisher Jann Wenner has decided not to take any disciplinary action against the editors or fact-checkers involved in the discredited story “A Rape on Campus.”

CNN reports, “Wenner believes the missteps by the magazine’s staff members — from managing editor Will Dana on down — were unintentional, not purposefully deceitful.”


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