Rolling Stone has apologized for not contacting the University of Virginia students accused of gang rape in its November 19 story, “A Rape on Campus.”
The Rolling Stone story by Sabrina Rubin Erderly opened with a detailed account of a then-freshman student, identified by her first name as “Jackie,” who said she was gang raped by seven members of a University of Virginia fraternity at a party at their Phi Kappa Psi house in 2012. In addition, she said there were two students, including her date, watching the assaults. The accused were not named in the story. Jackie’s story was one of many students’ rape stories included in the Rolling Stone article.
UVA suspended all fraternities for the rest of the semester after the Rolling Stone story was published.
In the past couple of weeks, journalists and readers asked whether Rolling Stone interviewed any of the seven accused in the rape.
Erdely said in a Slate podcast that she “reached out to [the accused] in multiple ways.” But, she “indicated that she was unable to locate the fraternity brothers,” the Washington Post reported earlier this week. Her editor, Sean Woods, told the Post “We did not talk to” the fraternity members. “We could not reach them,” he said, adding that, “I’m satisfied that these guys exists and are real. We knew who they were.”
For example, today the Washington Post reported that the fraternity in question didn’t have a party the night of the alleged rape. In addition, the fraternity didn’t have any members who worked at Aquatic Fitness Center with Jackie. The student Jackie says brought her to the party worked with her there, she told Rolling Stone.
The Washington Post said it “interviewed Jackie several times during the past week and has worked to corroborate her version of events.” The Post story also noted that only this week did Jackie tell friends “the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone.” Her friends then found out that student “was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier.” Further, the Post said it confirmed the person wasn’t a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity member and he “never met her in person.”
Later, the Post removed its claim that it confirmed the person “never met” Jackie. It did leave in its claim that the person said he never met her though. The Post has since published this clarification:
“Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not properly attribute in one instance a statement about whether Jackie had met the man she named to friends as one of her attackers. The story has been updated.”
The Post story also gave background about how Jackie became part of the Rolling Stone story and claimed Jackie wanted to be cut from the magazine’s story but the reporter said no.
Given those “discrepancies in Jackie’s account,” Rolling Stone said today “we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.”
“We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story,” the statement says.
In the Rolling Stone statement from managing editor Will Dana, the magazine confirmed it never contacted the men Jackie says raped her.
Further, Rolling Stone said it “now regret[s] the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.”
“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,” Rolling Stone wrote.
Rolling Stone said it trusted Jackie and didn’t doubt her story, and because she was a rape victim they wanted to be sensitive to her concerns about contacting the men.
“In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility,” Rolling Stone wrote, noting it did at least contact the fraternity in question and its “national leadership” for comment, both which told Rolling Stone ” they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.”
The Rolling Stone editor’s note with apology has been added to the top of Erderly’s story as well.
iMediaEthics has written to Rolling Stone for more information.
UPDATED with more information 2:08 PM EST , 4:09 EST,
UPDATE: 12/6/2014 5:20 PM: Here is the statement from the UVA fraternity.
— James Hill (@JamesHillABC) December 5, 2014