Rolling Stone retracts discredited UVA gang rape story dubbed ‘journalistic failure’ – Fox News

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Jan. 15, 2015: Students participating in rush pass by the Phi Kappa Psi house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Rolling Stone magazine late Sunday formally retracted a discredited story about an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house after an independent review dubbed the article a “journalistic failure.”

The review, undertaken by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism at Rolling Stone’s request, produced a 12,000-word report that documented lapses in standard journalistic procedure at every level of the magazine during the reporting and editing of the story.

The article, published in the magazine’s November 19, 2014 issue, focused on a student identified only as “Jackie,” who said she was raped by seven men at a fraternity house. It also described a hidden culture of sexual violence fueled by binge drinking at one of the nation’s most highly regarded public universities.

The report found, among other things, that Rolling Stone did not try hard enough to find the person Jackie accused of orchestrating the assault. The report also detailed how writer Sabrina Erdely failed to contact three friends of Jackie whom the story depicted as dissuading her from seeking medical treatment or reporting the alleged gang rape to police.

The report said that contacting the three friends “was the reporting path, if taken, that would almost certainly have led the magazine’s editors to change plans.”

However, Columbia Graduate School of Journalism Dean Steve Coll, one of the report’s co-authors, told The Washington Post that there was no evidence of dishonest reporting. As Coll put it, there was no “inventing facts, lying to colleagues, plagiarism or such, that I would think of as grounds for automatic firing or serious sanction.”

Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana is quoted as saying in the report, “It’s not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things. We just have to do what we’ve always done and just make sure we don’t make this mistake again.”

Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s founder and publisher, told The New York Times that Erdely would continue to write for the magazine and called Jackie “a really expert fabulist storyteller”.

“Obviously there is something here that is untruthful,” Wenner said of the story’s main source, “and something sits at her doorstep.”

The independent review began after news media organizations, particularly The Post, exposed flaws in the article, titled “A Rape on Campus.” By Dec. 5, Rolling Stone apologized and acknowledged discrepancies in the article.

A four-month police investigation produced no evidence that the attack occurred. Jackie refused to cooperate in the police investigation.

“We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students,” Dana wrote on the publication’s website.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.”

In a statement sent to The Associated Press, Erdely apologized and said she “did not go far enough to verify” the story of the victim.

Dana and Erdely said they had been too accommodating of requests from Jackie that limited their ability to report the story because she said she was a rape victim and asked them not to contact others to corroborate, the report said.

Despite its flaws, the article heightened scrutiny of campus sexual assaults amid a campaign by President Barack Obama. The University of Virginia had already been on the Department of Education’s list of 55 colleges under investigation for their handling of sex assault violations.

The article also prompted university President Teresa Sullivan to temporarily suspend fraternity and sorority social events. Fraternities later agreed to ban kegs, hire security workers and keep at least three fraternity members sober at each event.

In a statement Sunday, Sullivan said the Rolling Stone article “did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue. Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia.”

The fraternity has called the article defamatory and said it was exploring its legal options.

“These false accusations have been extremely damaging to our entire organization, but we can only begin to imagine the setback this must have dealt to survivors of sexual assault,” said Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, after the Charlottesville police suspended their investigation.

For its part, Rolling Stone declined to discuss whether the story had undergone legal review.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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