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Rolling Stone’s Story on University Virginia Gang Rape Unravels, Credibility Seriously Damaged

December 6, 2014  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
Rolling Stone’s Story on University Virginia Gang Rape Unravels, Credibility Seriously Damaged Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at University of Virginia - Image courtesy of foxnews.com

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Rolling Stone Magazine’s credibility has been seriously damaged after an article, which reported a gang rape that has taken place at the University of Virginia, causing outrage across the nation until the validity of the alleged victim’s story raised doubts, was written based on “misplaced” trust in the unidentified woman, the magazine announced Friday.

The lengthy article named “A Rape on Campus,” tells a horrific account of a young female freshman student allegedly gang raped on a floor covered with broken glass after being dragged into a darkened room at a fraternity party in 2012.

the article was written by freelance writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who referred to the young woman as “Jackie,” however, Erdely never bothered to interview the girl’s alleged attackers.

The story accused Charlottesville University officials of turning a blind eye to Jackie’s accusations as just another example in the school’s checkered past in dealing with alleged sexual assaults.

In the past week however, multiple media outlets including Fox News’ Howard Kurtz, Slate magazine, The Washington Post and other news organizations began  questioning key facts pertaining to “Jackie’s” story being inconsistent, such as clear evidence showing that no party took place in the location described in the time frame in the article.

In the Nov 19 edition, Rolling Stone defended the story, however, on Friday they issued a mea culpa,

“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,” Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana announced in a statement. “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.”

When the story broke, university president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and an examination of the ] the school’s policy as to how it responds to sexual assault allegations, saying at the time, “The wrongs described in Rolling Stone are appalling and have caused all of us to reexamine our responsibility to this community, We are committed – above all else – to accountability with regard to these serious matters.”

The case is a striking similarity to the 2006 Duke lacrosse case, where white fraternity members at the prestigious school were wrongly accused of being sexual predators.

However, in the case of Charlottesville, no suspects were named and the victim only gave her accounts to Erdely, who has refused to give the identity of Jackie.

Erdely failed to abide to journalistic standards, which would require any journalist to attempt to question the accused rapists, several of the women identified as Jackie’s close friends and campus sex assault awareness advocates cast doubts on the report.

The magazine maintained that Erdely and the magazine’s fact-checkers thoroughly vetted the facts of the story and found Jackie to be credible.

Erdely said she did not insist on getting the names of the suspects because Jackie said she was fearful that she would be harmed.

“She asked me not to name the individuals because she’s so fearful of them,” Erdely told The Washington Post. “That was something we agreed on.”

Erdely refused to say whether she knew who the alleged attackers were.

Capt. Gary Pleasants of the Charlottesville police department said that detectives are looking into the allegations at the request of the university but declined to comment on the status of that investigation.

The Washington Post conducted an interview with Jackie, who is now a 20-year-old junior at the school, as well as others familiar with the case in the past week.

The paper reported that close friends of the alleged victim said they believe a traumatic incident took place, however, they have come to question her account because her story has changed and facts cannot be confirmed.

Senior editor at The Federalist, Mollie Hemingway said she followed the story closely, from her “emotional” reading of the Rolling Stone story to the questions that soon followed. She said she prides herself on reading critically, but acknowledged buying in to Erdely’s story until only recently.

“This has been an absolutely devastating blow to Rolling Stone’s credibility,” she said. “[Erdely] has a lot to answer for as well. She literally took the memories of one person who claimed to have been traumatized and built an entire story around it.

“But the worst things is that people who are victims of rape will not be believed,” Hemingway said. “That is the worst part of this story. I don’t think the writer or this magazine could have done more damage to victims of rape if they had set out to.”

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