On Friday, Rolling Stone magazine announced it went too far in trusting an alleged rape victim at the University of Virginia, whom they referred to by the name “Jackie”, and retracted its controversial November 19 article, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA“.
“Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her,” wrote RS‘ managing editor, Will Dana.
Moreover, as USA Today reports, “Rolling Stone magazine retracted … its controversial story … after it discovered new information that discredited the piece, a shocking retreat coming merely days after author Sabrina Rubin Erdely defended the reporting.
On Nov. 19, the magazine ran a story of “Jackie,” an unidentified UVA. student who says she was gang-raped at a party at the house of Phi Kappa Psi in the fall of 2012. Her shocking story, with vivid details from the night of the incident, and its charges that sexual assaults at UVA. often go unreported embarrassed the university and launched an investigation by school officials and local police….
“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,” Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor said on its website.
“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,” the post said. “We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.”
Apparently, a Rolling Stone also gathers no evidence.
The story told by “Jackie” had been so appalling, the attack she described “so brutish and morally offensive,” noted Michael Moynihan in The Daly Beast, “that it provoked an immediate, furious response. The university faculty banded together to sign letters demanding action; Charlottesville’s archipelago of off-campus fraternity houses would be scuppered for the rest of the semester, perhaps longer; the national and international media turned their focus towards the University of Virginia (UVA).”
All for a story that was sold as fact, but was actually, it turns out, a one-sided allegation that does not stand up to (belated) scrutiny.
Key elements of the story in doubt
The U-Va. fraternity chapter where the alleged attack took place in September 2012 released a statement Friday afternoon denying that such an assault took place in its house.
According to Friday’s Washington Post:
Phi Kappa Psi said that it has been working with police to determine whether the account of a brutal rape at a party there was true. The fraternity members say that several important elements of the allegations were false.
A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but also have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
The Washington Post says it has interviewed Jackie several times during the past week and has contected “dozens of current and former members of the fraternity, the fraternity’s faculty adviser, Jackie’s friends and former roommates, and others on campus. Fraternity members said anonymously that the description of the assailant doesn’t match anyone they know and have been telling others on campus that they did not have a party the night of the alleged attack.”
In the wake of its retraction of the UVA gang rape story, Rolling Stone is now being criticized for appearing to throw “Jackie” under the bus, but not Erdely (or its own editorial staff to any significant degree).
It seems clear that this controversy is far from over. It would not be surprising to see lawsuits start flying in the coming weeks.