Rolling Stone Backs Away from Gang-rape Allegations

On November 19th of this year, Rolling Stone magazine published an account of a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, (also known as UVA). The Rolling Stone piece tells the story of a naïve freshman girl lured to a fraternity party only to be raped by seven men, including one who used a beer bottle after he couldn’t get an erection.

Amit John of Bloomberg news described the response. Outraged students staged a slut-walk to protest “rape culture.” Anonymous vandals defaced the fraternity where the rape allegedly occurred, writing “suspend us” and “center for rape studies.” Virginia’s governor, along with both senators, weighed in on the matter, expressing outrage at the epidemic of sexual assault on campus. For its part, the university suspended all fraternity activity, while it investigates the school’s sexual-assault problem.

But to a small number of critics, the allegations seemed “too good to be true.” The most prominent of these critics, Richard Bradley, enumerated a number of reasons for treating the story with skepticism. The author had not attempted to contact the accused, and had not interviewed any potential witnesses. The accuser was basically anonymous, and the accused were completely anonymous.

The feminist blogosphere did not take kindly to this skepticism; Jezebel referred to one skeptic as an idiot. Amanda Marcotte compared “rape denial” to Holocaust denial, and Thinkprogress called the skeptics “truthers.”

Unfortunately for the feminist blogosphere, skepticism turned out to be warranted. On Friday, Rolling Stone issued what amounted to a retraction:

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault -- and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

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. 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. 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.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

The UK-based Daily Mail detailed the discrepancies; no party had occurred at the fraternity on the night of the alleged rape, and no fraternity member had worked as a lifeguard at the time of the alleged rape, (the accuser claimed that she and the ringleader had worked as lifeguards at the time of the rape).

Rolling Stone published a story which cursory fact-checking could have easily disproven. Importantly, the author of the piece spent months researching it, yet had missed the massive holes in “Jackie’s” allegations. As the editor of the Weekly World News is alleged to have remarked, “don’t talk yourself out of a good story.”

On November 19th of this year, Rolling Stone magazine published an account of a brutal gang rape at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, (also known as UVA). The Rolling Stone piece tells the story of a naïve freshman girl lured to a fraternity party only to be raped by seven men, including one who used a beer bottle after he couldn’t get an erection.

Amit John of Bloomberg news described the response. Outraged students staged a slut-walk to protest “rape culture.” Anonymous vandals defaced the fraternity where the rape allegedly occurred, writing “suspend us” and “center for rape studies.” Virginia’s governor, along with both senators, weighed in on the matter, expressing outrage at the epidemic of sexual assault on campus. For its part, the university suspended all fraternity activity, while it investigates the school’s sexual-assault problem.

But to a small number of critics, the allegations seemed “too good to be true.” The most prominent of these critics, Richard Bradley, enumerated a number of reasons for treating the story with skepticism. The author had not attempted to contact the accused, and had not interviewed any potential witnesses. The accuser was basically anonymous, and the accused were completely anonymous.

The feminist blogosphere did not take kindly to this skepticism; Jezebel referred to one skeptic as an idiot. Amanda Marcotte compared “rape denial” to Holocaust denial, and Thinkprogress called the skeptics “truthers.”

Unfortunately for the feminist blogosphere, skepticism turned out to be warranted. On Friday, Rolling Stone issued what amounted to a retraction:

To Our Readers:

Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault -- and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.

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. 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. 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.

Will Dana
Managing Editor

The UK-based Daily Mail detailed the discrepancies; no party had occurred at the fraternity on the night of the alleged rape, and no fraternity member had worked as a lifeguard at the time of the alleged rape, (the accuser claimed that she and the ringleader had worked as lifeguards at the time of the rape).

Rolling Stone published a story which cursory fact-checking could have easily disproven. Importantly, the author of the piece spent months researching it, yet had missed the massive holes in “Jackie’s” allegations. As the editor of the Weekly World News is alleged to have remarked, “don’t talk yourself out of a good story.”