Rolling Stone Handles Reputation Crisis After Publishing False Rape Story

Article by Jessica Schianodicola | esPResso Staff Writer

rolling stone

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone/Wikimedia Commons

Last November, Rolling Stone Magazine published a story titled, “A Rape on Campus,” which has since been retracted after stirring a national controversy.  According to a quote from Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the article’s author, the piece was originally intended to expose “rape culture” and how reports of sexual assault are handled on college campuses.  However, shortly after the story was released, serious concerns began to emerge regarding factual errors of the narrated account from a rising junior at the University of Virginia, referred to as “Jackie.”

According to the investigative report conducted by Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, interactions between Erdely and Jackie first began last July via telephone.  Erdely continued to rely solely on Jackie to recount the night of her alleged gang rape, which was said to have happened at a fraternity house on the UVA campus in September of 2012. Aside from uncovering the gruesome details of her assault, the published story also implied a neglectful and underwhelming reaction from Jackie’s friends and various university officials.

University officials, UVA students and chapter members of the accused fraternity did not waste any time responding to allegations of the article’s false information.  Many of these responses were exposed through a report published by The Washington Post, which uncovered details that did not match up with Jackie’s story.

Taking these backlashes seriously, Rolling Stone brought in Shelia Coronel, Steve Coll and Derek Kravitz from Columbia University to “investigate any lapses in reporting, editing and fact-checking behind the story.”  The result was a 13,000-word report that outlined the “anatomy of a journalistic failure” and dissected the magazine’s research methodology, editing and supervision.

Rolling Stone’s reputation and credibility has been deeply tarnished due to this editorial failure. However, the magazine did respond in a responsible and sincere manner by accepting its deficiencies, issuing an apology, cooperating during investigations and committing to reconsidering its editorial policies to prevent future incidents.  Avid and loyal readers may see this course of action and be able to forgive the pop culture magazine. The magazine may have to win back other readers after learning a lesson about attention-grabbing journalism.

As for Erdely, along with the article’s editor, Sean Woods, and Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, all three will keep their jobs, as the publisher of Rolling Stone, Jann. S. Wenner, tells the New York Times, “[the piece] represented an isolated and unusual episode.”

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