Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of Rolling Stone magazine’s made up story about gang rape at a UVA fraternity house, has finally apologized for tarnishing the magazine’s reputation.
Erdely wrote “A Rape on Campus” for Rolling Stone, published in the December 2014 issue, saying that seven members of Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia gang-raped a student on September 28, 2012.
Separate inquiries by Phi Kappa Psi and The Washington Post showed major errors and discrepancies in the report, and Erdely’s story was subject to intense criticism regarding its veracity. The Washington Post and Boston Herald called for firing the Rolling Stone staff involved in the report. The Wall Street Journal said “Ms. Erdely did not construct a story based on facts, but went looking for facts to fit her theory.”
Rolling Stone issued three apologies for the story.
Now a report commissioned by Rolling Stone and published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, says the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the story as told by the source, who was identified only as Jackie.
Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner said the story was a lie, but argued that it represented an isolated case, and declared that Erdely continues to work for his magazine.
Wenner blamed the source, Jackie, was “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who fooled his people and circumvented the magazine’s fact checking process.
Then he said he wasn’t trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”
Is this new age accountability or what?
Erdely’s apology, carried by the NY Times, is much more impressive in its ability to acknowledge failure:
“The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.
“Over my 20 years of working as an investigative journalist — including at Rolling Stone, a magazine I grew up loving and am honored to work for — I have often dealt with sensitive topics and sources. In writing each of these stories I must weigh my compassion against my journalistic duty to find the truth. However, in the case of Jackie and her account of her traumatic rape, I did not go far enough to verify her story. I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.
“Reporting on rape has unique challenges, but the journalist still has the responsibility to get it right. I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”