That UVA Rape Claim: An Apology And Vindication
[guest post by Dana]
If you’ve been following the awful claims about the gang-rape of “Jackie” at the University of Virginia, you know that suspicions were raised about the validity of the story. In light of young men being accused of such an horrific act of brutality (and in light of the Duke University debacle), it was troubling that reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely chose, per Jackie’s request, not to interview the accused fraternity pledges. Given that, last week Jonah Goldberg had the audacity to express his own doubts about the story. (Ironically, his doubts were the things that it would seem any professional journalist with a hunger for truth and accuracy would not be able to shake off until solid explanations were given.) Anyway, Goldberg just wasn’t sold:
Rolling Stone has published an incredible story about a rape at the University of Virginia. The story has sent shock waves around the country.
But when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.
He also noted that the media had not challenged the story or done an independent investigation to corroborate the claims made, but instead jumped on the “rape epidemic” bandwagon. And ironically, a master’s candidate (journalist-in training!) at the USC Annegenberg School of Journalism took him to task for his ignorance and ill-informed berating that makes victims of sexual assault afraid to come forward in the first place.
However, vindication of a sort for Goldberg came today in the form of an apology from Rolling Stone to its readers:
In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
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. 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.
In other news, Lena Dunham’s claim of being raped by a conservative at Oberlin College is not holding up under scrutiny.
UPDATE: Last night, Rolling Stone quietly edited its apology to readers, without correction or mention of the update:
The new concluding paragraph acknowledged that the magazine made mistakes, then said “these mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”
The new version’s two concluding paragraphs:
In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account. The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no “date function or formal event” on the night in question. Jackie herself is now unsure if the man she says lured her into the room where the rape occurred, identified in the story, as “Drew,” was a Phi Psi brother. According to the Washington Post, “Drew” actually belongs to a different fraternity and when contacted by the paper, he denied knowing Jackie. Jackie told Rolling Stone that after she was assaulted, she ran into “Drew” at a UVA pool where they both worked as lifeguards. In its statement, the Phi Psi says none of its members worked at the pool in the fall of 2012. A friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone) told the Washington Post that he found Jackie that night a mile from the school’s fraternities. She did not appear to be “physically injured at the time” but was shaken. She told him that that she had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men at a fraternity party, but he does not remember her identifying a specific house. Other friends of Jackie’s told the Washington Post that they now have doubts about her narrative, but Jackie told the Washington Post that she firmly stands by the account she gave to Erdely.
We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.