Rolling Stone deals with backlash for journalistic failure

By: Roger Hoke – News Editor

Last November, Rolling Stone magazine, a noted popular music publication, released a story titled “A Rape on Campus.”

The article chronicled the account of a female student at the University of Virginia and her alleged rape by members of a fraternity on campus.

In a matter of days, the question of the article’s validity came into play, and the Washington Post reported that the story could not have transpired the way Rolling Stone had written it.

On April 5, Rolling Stone officially relased a retraction of the complete story, stating that, “This report was painful reading…to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document ­- a piece of journalism, as Coll describes it, about a failure of journalism.”

On April 6, The New York Times reported that the fraternity would press legal action against Rolling Stone and that there was a plan “to pursue all available legal action against the magazine.” This report came out a day after Rolling Stone officially retracted the article and had sent a request to the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to investigate every step of the journalistic process taken for the article.

The president of the University of Virginia fraternity defended his fraternity’s cause in a statement about the Rolling Stone report.

“[The article] demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” Stephen Scipione, the president of the fraternity, said.

Steve Coll, the dean of University of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism and the lead investigator of the article and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, said, “Reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her editors failed to verify her story with other sources. The magazine used pseudonyms rather than confront the alleged attackers. And they ignored fact-checkers’ warnings that the alleged victim was the article’s only source for key details,” according to Gwen Ifill of PBS.

Coll’s response credited Erdely for working hard on the article, but condemed her for negligence.

“Well, it was a collective failure and an avoidable failure,” Coll said. “You had a reporter who got caught up in subject matter, had worked very hard but didn’t do some of the basic checking of derogatory information with subjects, didn’t do some of the basic provision of details to subjects that would have generated information that probably would have led her to turn in another direction.”

Erdely’s immediate response was to call the subject matter of the story normative.

“Part of the reason why I chose University of Virginia is because I felt that it was really representative of what was going on at campuses across the country,” Erdely said.

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