Wow: Rolling Stone now doubts account of victim in its bombshell story about a gang rape at UVA; Update: WaPo issues clarification

And to think, this morning it looked like TNR would surely have the worst day among old liberal magazines that no one reads anymore.

A total travesty. But no lessons will be learned here.


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. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence. 

In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.

“We decided to honor her request not to contact” the alleged rapist is RS-speak for “we’re terrible, irresponsible journalists.” As for the unspecified “discrepancies,” WaPo found all kinds of details that the crack Rolling Stone fact-checking team somehow missed:


Officials close to the fraternity said that the statement will indicate that Phi Kappa Psi did not host a party on Sept. 28, 2012, the night that a university student named Jackie alleges she was invited to a date party, lured into an upstairs room and was then ambushed and gang-raped by seven men who were rushing the fraternity…

The officials also said that no members of the fraternity were employed at the university’s Aquatic Fitness Center during that time frame — a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Washington Post — and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account…

A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.

I can’t quote more than that for fair-use reasons but read it all, as it includes their own interview with “Jackie,” the alleged victim. One key detail: Jackie claims that, after being interviewed by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the Rolling Stone piece, she actually asked Erdely to remove her from the story. Erdely refused. She’d spent weeks interviewing students at universities across the country looking for a blockbuster story of campus rape (“rape shopping,” as Daily Caller writer Chris Bray puts it). Jackie’s story was too good to pass up and ultimately, quite literally, too good to check. Jackie went on to tell the Post that she felt manipulated by Erdely and, while insisting that the story is true, admitted that “some details in the article might not be accurate.”


Another key detail: WaPo claims that Jackie didn’t reveal the name of her main attacker to friends until earlier this week. Which means, as Peter Suderman notes, that not only did Rolling Stone run this without asking the accused for his side of the story, they ran it without even knowing who he was. Imagine being in RS’s legal department, facing a blockbuster defamation suit from members of the fraternity where the rape supposedly happened, and trying to massage that fact. WaPo, doing the work that Rolling Stone wouldn’t, eventually tracked this guy down and decided to chat with him about it. Result: They concluded that not only isn’t this guy a member of the fraternity in question, he had never met Jackie. Keep that in mind in the aftermath of all this, when the “Justice 4 Jackie” brigades inevitably double down and insist that her story must be broadly true even if she misremembered a few details. How do you misremember your chief attacker as someone you’ve never met? Where did she even get this guy’s name? [Update: WaPo has now walked this back. See below.]

I wonder how much longer Rolling Stone would have sat on the story without WaPo burning them by doing the investigation they should have done. The editor’s note from RS appeared online this afternoon right around the time the Post’s new story about Jackie was being published; obviously, Rolling Stone ate sh*t here “voluntarily” only because they knew that WaPo was about to bring down the hammer. Otherwise they would have gone on standing by Jackie as long as they could, and not just because they’re disgracefully irresponsible reporters. As Richard Bradley and Robby Soave found out this week, questioning the story of a rape victim even when there are obvious reasons to be skeptical is a felony thoughtcrime. Had Rolling Stone belatedly pulled the trap door on Jackie itself, without pressure from WaPo, it would have enraged the Stalinist wing of feminism that’s been unloading on Bradley and Soave all week. In fact, even Jackie’s smear of the seemingly innocent frat boys will be framed in the aftermath of this as being chiefly a wound to women, not men. I understand that logic — Ashe Schow is right that every false rape claim makes it harder for true rape victims to get a fair hearing — but imagine being the guy whom Jackie named as her attacker, who’d apparently never even met her, and getting a call from the Washington Post one day asking if you’re the perp behind a horrendous rape that was written up in Rolling Stone. Who’s the most proximate victim here?


But no lessons will be learned. That’s not how this works; if it did, the Duke lacrosse fiasco would have made Rolling Stone — and the faculty at UVA — more skeptical than they were. The “logic” that even false rape claims must be treated as irrebuttably true to ensure that actual cases of rape are punished will continue to hold, although it’s a safe bet that RS will be a little more circumspect about what it publishes once the frat is done cleaning out Jann Wenner and his insurers. RS’s goal in all this was to find a Teachable Moment about campus rape, and the thing about Teachable Moments is that they don’t have to be actually true to be teachable. In fact, arguably, the less true they are, the more teachable they are; a good “just-so story” requires simple facts and reality is rarely simple, as you see when you compare the “hands up, don’t shoot” version of the Ferguson shooting with the actual evidence. The Teachable Moment here was that rape does happen on campus (true) and that frats are dangerous (sometimes true). Why get bogged down in whether the particular details in this case support that all-important lesson? I’ll leave you with the words of Jackie herself:

“Haven’t enough people come forward at this point?” she said. “How many people do you need to come forward saying they’ve been raped at a fraternity to make it real to you? They need to acknowledge it’s a problem they need to address instead of pointing fingers to take the blame off themselves.”


Her story served its purpose. What more could you want?

Update: Another discrepancy: According to the fraternity, Jackie couldn’t have been at one of their pledge events in late September. They pledge in the spring, not the fall.

Update: And one more kick in the teeth for Robby Soave, who had the gall to approach a rape victim’s story critically and, by the way, ended up being totally right:

Update: Annnnnd now WaPo is walking back a detail from its own reporting. Their original report, as noted above, claimed that Jackie had never met the man she claimed raped her. WaPo presented that as a fact, as though they had investigated it and were asserting it themselves. Nope:

Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not properly attribute in one instance a statement about whether Jackie had met the man she named to friends as one of her attackers.

The story now makes clear that the man himself claims he never met Jackie. WaPo is taking no position on whether that’s true or not.

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