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Rolling Stone retracts article on gang rape

Rolling Stone’s article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia damaged the reputation of the Phi Kappa Psi chapter (pictured), says a report from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
Rolling Stone’s article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia damaged the reputation of the Phi Kappa Psi chapter (pictured), says a report from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.(Steve Helber/AP/File)

NEW YORK — Rolling Stone magazine retracted its article about a brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity after the release of a report Sunday that concluded the widely discredited article was the result of failures at every stage of the editorial process.

The report, published by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and commissioned by Rolling Stone, said the magazine failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice” to verify details of the ordeal that the magazine’s source, identified only as Jackie, described to the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

On Sunday, Erdely, in her first extensive comments since the story was cast into doubt, apologized to Rolling Stone’s readers, her colleagues, and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”

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In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the story’s flaws but said it represented an isolated and unusual episode. The problems with the article started with its source, Wenner said.

He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s editorial process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

The Columbia report cataloged a series of errors at Rolling Stone, finding that the magazine could have avoided trouble with the story if certain basic “reporting pathways” had been followed.

Written by Steve Coll, the Columbia journalism school’s dean; Sheila Coronel, the dean of academic affairs; and Derek Kravitz, a postgraduate research scholar at the university, the report, at nearly 13,000 words, is longer than the 9,000-word article, “A Rape on Campus.”

After its publication last November, the article stoked a national conversation about sexual assault on college campuses and roiled the university.

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The police in Charlottesville, Va., said last month they had “exhausted all investigative leads” and found “no substantive basis” to support the article’s depiction of the assault. Jackie did not cooperate with the police and declined to be interviewed for the Columbia report. She also declined, through her lawyer, to be interviewed for this article.

Jackie is no longer in touch with some of the advocates who first brought her to the attention of Rolling Stone, said Emily Renda, a rape survivor working on sexual assault issues at the University of Virginia.

Wenner said Erdely would continue to write for Rolling Stone, and that Will Dana, the magazine’s managing editor, and the editor of the article, Sean Woods, would keep their jobs.

In an interview, Dana said he had reached many of the same conclusions as the Columbia report in his own efforts to examine the article, but he disagreed with the report’s assertion that the magazine had staked its reputation on the word of one source.

Among the missteps, the report said, was that Erdely did not seek to independently contact three of Jackie’s friends, who were quoted in the story; and Rolling Stone did not provide the fraternity with enough information to adequately respond to questions from the magazine.

Related:

Rolling Stone casts doubt on University of Virginia gang-rape story

Yvonne Abraham: Rolling Stone’s UVA story a disaster for all

Joanna Weiss: Rolling Stone, ‘Serial,’ the journalist, and the source

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