The Rolling Stone on Friday said it is no longer standing behind a story it published in its November issue that detailed an alleged gang rape of a freshman by a group of men at a University of Virginia fraternity party. The story, held as an example of the institutional indifference rape victims often feel on US college campuses, created quite a stir. In response to the allegations, the University of Virginia suspended all Greek activity last month and promised a thorough investigation.
But questions about the accuracy of the attack depicted in the story soon came to the fore. Slate.com wondered why the piece’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, never reached out to the seven alleged perpetrators for a comment. Then the Washington Post found that no current or former members of the fraternity involved in the alleged crime match the description of the man described in the article, who was identified as Drew.
On Friday, Rolling Stone's managing editor Will Dana issued a statement saying that “new information” the magazine obtained point to “discrepancies” in the alleged victim Jackie’s story.
“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,” the statement posted on the Rolling Stone website reads.
How would the retraction impact the conversation on campus assault the nation has been having? The incident points partially to the challenges faced by reporters and editors covering hot-button issues, what lessons can we draw from this?
Jane Kirtley, professor media ethics and law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota