The Rolling Stone Magazine and it writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely (right), are facing yet another story detailing the astonishing lapses in journalistic ethics and practices related to its article about a rape on the University of Virginia campus. Among the most starting is a statement by Erdely that a key student would not speak with her about the rape out of loyalty to his fraternity. That student says that Erdely never contacted him and that he would have been more than willing to speak to her. As for the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity, it confirmed that it did not host any registered social event the weekend of Sept. 28, 2012.
The story of a gang rape at the fraternity captivated the nation but soon began to fall apart as students came forward challenging the account of Erdely and the alleged victims called only “Jackie.” The Post has been in the lead on the story uncovering the shoddy journalistic practices, including an agreement with Jackie not to interview her alleged rapist.
The Post appears to have done all of the field interviews that Erdely did not and reinterviewed others. These include the three students — “Randall,” “Andy” and “Cindy” — who Jackie called to her side after the alleged rape. They all three say that the Rolling Stone’s account differed from their own accounts, even though this meeting was key to the article. The students say that Jackie had no visible blood or injuries. They encouraged her to call the police but she refused. The students were painted in the story as indifferent and uncaring to Jackie’s account, even though they say that they not only encouraged her to go to police but stayed with her during the night.
They, however, noted a myriad of discrepancies in her story and said that they were suspicious that night that the rape never occurred. They said the name she provided as that of her date did not match anyone at the university. Indeed University of Virginia officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school.
Even more curious were the photographs that were texted to one of Jackie’s friends showing her date that night. The pictures were actually of one of Jackie’s high school classmates in Northern Virginia. The Post located that man who is now a junior at a university in another state and he confirmed that the photographs were of him and said “he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.”
Here is the amazing thing. “The friends said they were never contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors.”
Moreover, the article states that “information Jackie gave the three friends about one of her attackers, called ‘Drew’ in the magazine’s article, differ significantly from details she later told The Post, Rolling Stone and friends from sexual assault awareness groups on campus.”
According to Erdely, “Randall” refused to speak with her “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” However, Randall not only spoke to the Post but insisted “that he was never contacted by Rolling Stone and would have agreed to an interview.”
Jackie spoke of Drew, but he could not be located by her friends on campus and the picture was of a high school friend. The school investigated the name and identity and found no one who matched the description at the school. Randall showed the Post the emails forwarded to him from Jackie’s date and the Post showed them to the actual man in the picture. The Post confirmed that “his name does not match the one Jackie gave friends in 2012 and that this former high school student “never really spoke to her,” was never a University of Virginia student and has not even been in Charlottesville for over six years.
The Post also interviewed some of Jackie’s new friends who said that Jackie revealed a name of her main alleged attacker to them more recently. “That name was different from the name she gave Andy, Cindy and Randall that first night. All three said that they had never heard the second name before learning it from a reporter.”
So the Post investigated the second named man and found someone with a similar name. He was a lifeguard at the time of the attacks. However, he insisted that he had never met her in person and never taken her out on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
The silence of Erdely amidst this storm is surprising for a journalist. She was interviewed before the controversy and said that she has a “finely tuned B.S. detector” that helps her get a story right.
The contrast however in the level of detail and confirmation between the Rolling Stone and the Washington Post articles could not be more striking.
There also remains potential for liability here for the magazine, for Erdely, and for “Jackie.” As shown by the Post, the article (and later new name offered by Jackie) led to the suspicion of at least two men. One was actually shown in photographs as the freshman who alleged led Jackie to a gang rape. That could constitute defamation as well as false light. As actionable claims, the magazine, author, and alleged victim could find themselves in discovery and forced to answer many of these questions. While these men are not public figures, they would still be able to show, in my view, “reckless disregard” on the part of the magazine and Erdely if the Post account is accurate, particularly in agreeing not to interview the alleged rapist and falsely reporting that key figures would not speak to the magazine.
Source: Washington Post