The Rolling Stone magazine has retracted the University of Virginia rape story that we have previously discussed. While agreeing with a Columbia Journalism School review of major flaws in reporting and editing, the publication has refused to fire anyone. The writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, will continue to write for the publication despite quotations from an editor that she was repeatedly asked to confirm the story with key witnesses who were never interviewed. The review concluded that the failure “may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”
Published Jann Wenner has decided that no one will be fired for the notorious story. The alleged victim, Jackie, has reportedly refused to cooperate with either the police investigation or Columbia’s investigation. The police found no evidence to support the rape charge. Her lawyer told Columbia that it is “in her best interest to remain silent at this time.”
What is striking is disconnect between the findings and the ultimate response of the newspapers. In addition to the shocking failures of Erdely to interview key witnesses, Sean Woods, the primary editor, was found as lacking in not doing enough to press Erdely to “close the gaps in her reporting.” Likewise, Will Dana, the magazine’s top editor, “might have looked more deeply into the story drafts he read, spotted the reporting gaps and insisted that they be fixed. He did not.” Notably, Woods has insisted he did push: “I did repeatedly ask, ‘Can we reach these people? Can we?’ And I was told no.” Yet, Erdely will continue to write for the magazine?
There is a lawsuit against Rolling Stone Magazine that hopefully will impose a more concrete penalty for the negligence in this controversy.
Notably, Teresa Sullivan, the president of UVA, issued a statement Sunday evening that described the magazine’s story as “irresponsible,.” Yet, the university was equally quick to condemn those referenced in the story — a response that confirmed long-standing concerns of academics over the stripping of due process rights of those accused on college campuses of such misconduct. While both the university and the magazine raised the fear that this story has reinforced the view that some people fake rape claims (which is clearly a legitimate concern), there is relatively little discussion of the rights of those implicated in the story. That may be the focus of the resulting litigation.
As discussed by the Washington Post, the wholesale failures and bias shown in this publication was truly shocking. However, the response will only magnify that shock and reinforce the view that litigation is badly needed in this case as it was in the Duke case.