Worth noting mainly because of the timeline. There are two theories about what happened with Rolling Stone. One is that Jackie made up the story whole cloth, whether for attention or because she decided that “rape culture” awareness needed all the help it could get. The other is that she was assaulted somewhere by someone, and somehow, possibly with Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s encouragement, that became a story about a specific frat and a specific party and a specific man using gang rape as a form of initiation.
The best evidence for theory two is the timeline. If you’re willing to concoct a phony crime to get attention, there’s no obvious reason not to go public right away. Why deny yourself the sympathy you crave? If Jackie’s a knowing liar, the lie probably formed not long before she first spoke to Erdely. According to Jackie’s friends, though, she’s been telling them since fall 2012 that something terrible happened to her. One friend, “Andy,” told WaPo in its bombshell piece challenging the RS story that Jackie phoned him one night that fall to say that something bad had happened, that she seemed “really upset, really shaken up,” and that she claimed she had been forced to perform oral sex on a group of men somewhere. The details in the RS piece didn’t match that, he noted — she had no obvious injuries at the time, no bloody dress, apparently didn’t mention Phi Kappa Psi, and there was no debate about whether she should report the crime. How come Erdely didn’t mention any of that? Did she even talk to Andy?
Something’s fishy, but Andy’s account is at least some evidence of Jackie claiming contemporaneously that something happened to her. Now here’s more evidence from UVA student Emily Clark, who says she was Jackie’s roommate as a freshman.
Jackie came to UVA bright, happy and bubbly. She was kind, funny, outgoing, friendly, and a pleasant person to be around. That all notably changed by December 2012, and I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Our suite bonded that first semester and talked many times about the new troubles we were facing in college. Jackie never mentioned anything about her assault to us until much later. But I, as well as others, noticed Jackie becoming more and more withdrawn and depressed…
In December 2012, Jackie broke down. All of a sudden she was going home and none of us knew why. It was right before finals, and I couldn’t believe she was leaving. She was distraught, and only said she needed to go home. Her teachers had given her allowance to take her finals over break. At that point, we knew something big had happened. I didn’t know until this year with the publication of Rolling Stone’s article how bad that time was for her.
Sometime that year I remember her letting it slip to me that she had had a terrible experience at a party. I remember her telling me that multiple men had assaulted her at this party. She didn’t say anything more. It seemed that was all she’d allow herself to say.
Tom Maguire wrote about this at length this weekend, noting that a different WaPo story about UVA mentions yet another friend of Jackie’s who claims that she changed in fall 2012. “Cindy” tells a story similar to Andy’s: Jackie told her that a group of men had forced her to perform oral sex but didn’t identify the fraternity and said nothing about the type of gang rape described by Rolling Stone. Cindy called the RS story “completely false.” Jackie herself, though, told WaPo that although the Rolling Stone account might not be accurate in all the details(!), it was truthful; she also claimed that she was bleeding on the back of her arm and from between her legs afterward, and she apparently contradicted herself in first telling WaPo that her prime attacker was a member of Phi Kappa Psi before later claiming she wasn’t sure.
What are we left with from all that? She told her friends one thing around the time the attack, which supports the idea that something happened, but her story now seems to line up in most particulars with the RS version, which at least one of those same friends regards as false. Maguire thinks it’s more likely than not that something happened but that the post-traumatic stress she suffered afterwards left her memories of it a hash over time — which, of course, made it all the more important for Rolling Stone to talk to everyone involved in the case, friends and alleged attackers alike, to see what was real and what wasn’t. Erdely and the crack RS editorial team apparently didn’t do that. Nor, as it turns out, is this the first story that Erdely’s written where the details seemed sensational enough to arouse suspicion. Ed mentioned one piece from her archives that appears to have problems in his post this morning; Mollie Hemingway found another, about a housewife turned madam, with enough implausible twists and turns to support 20 Lifetime movies of the week. Maybe Erdely just has a nose for fantastic stories involving protagonists who, for one reason or another, can’t be identified. I guarantee you, though, that Rolling Stone fact-checkers are sifting through her old stories right now to see if anything smells a bit too funny in hindsight. Maybe she got honestly duped by Jackie, whose memory grew ever more faulty over time. If not, though, RS is going to make sure everyone knows it. That’s the only way they can redeem themselves. Sort of.