Nor am I very convinced by the people — including Erdely — who have argued that focusing on Jackie’s story is getting us “sidetracked” from “the real story,” which is about the rape culture at UVA and the slothful institutional reaction to Jackie’s story. The story was headlined “A Rape on Campus.” The first thousand words are devoted to Jackie’s horrifying story, and much of the rest of the story is devoted to Jackie’s descent into depression and her interactions with the deans. If the story is so irrelevant to the real point of the article, then it should have been pulled out when the victim refused to provide details that would have permitted the author to contact the accused for comment.
But of course, if Jackie’s story had been pulled out, the article wouldn’t have received anything like the attention it got. The story was so electric precisely because it was about the premeditated gang rape of an innocent girl, in a way that suggested that such callous and criminal treatment of women was commonly viewed by the university community as not really worthy of comment, much less punishment — and that this view afflicted even the administrators charged with protecting students from rape. Without that element, this would have been a dull-but-worthy chin-stroker about institutional bureaucratic processes that probably wouldn’t have been shared 170,000 times on Facebook.
What’s more, the way the story was written, and the way that Erdely responded to early interviews, suggests that she was aware that her failure to find the accused — or at least the two boys who could clearly be identified — was a problem. The Rolling Stone piece is beautifully written. Many journalists would happily give at least a small digit, maybe a toe, to be able to produce a story like that. But it is rather vague about who, exactly, she talked to. In interviews with Slate and the Washington Post, she repeatedly declined to specify whether she had spoken to “Drew,” or if she even knew who he was. When Rosin pressed her, she kept giving vague answers that implied she had done more reporting than we now know she did.