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Retraction

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Rolling Stone has officially retracted Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story about campus rape following a fair but brutal Columbia Journalism Review report. Jann Wenner’s comments are not terribly reassuring:

In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine. The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism 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.”

Effectively blaming “Jackie” for duping poor naive reporters really isn’t going to wash. As Erik Wemple observes, one of the key findings of the report is that Jackie did not even request that Erdley not contact her friends to verify her account. (And even if she had, the appropriate response is not to put the story in print.) Either way, the alleged victim can’t be blamed for the bad journalism. Rolling Stone thought Jackie’s story was too good to check out; there’s no possible way this can be blamed on the source. And this journalistic malpractice is likely to have very bad consequences.

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  • witlesschum

    What a shitshow all around. It’s a shame that the journalists thought they needed a spectacular example to highlight it to get anyone to pay attention to a story on rape.

    • Colleen

      What I find so funny is that the review came out near the same time as Judith Miller’s anti-mea culpa. And of course, in our society what gets the most attention? A false rape story that lead to scolding of a fraternity for a few weeks or a false war story that lead to the longest war in US history and 4,000 American soldiers dead?

      Miller’s The Iraq War and Stubborn Myths is a massive excuse for lies, spin and wanting something to be true so hard you don’t look at anything- no matter how obvious- that points in the other direction.

      At least Rolling Stone has retracted and said sorry. And “Jackie” is an attention seeking fabulist who made life a 1,000 times harder for every real rape victim in America- particularly on college campuses. But that is the problem with narcissistic liars- they don’t care. That kid who pretended he made millions investing, the people that pretend to be Boston Bombing victims or 9-11 survivors or repeatedly get their kids sick because they love the attention. They don’t care who gets hurt- they just want the attention.

  • Bruce Vail

    Astonishing that the editor wasn’t fired although it would be interesting to know if any editors were actually fired in similar cases at NYT, WashPost and New Republic

    • Paul Campos

      The editor? How about the writer?

      Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine.

      Maybe this is all pre-libel suit posturing but . . .

      Also I assume you’re referring to the Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, and Janet Cooke cases, which are significantly different, as they all featured writers who fabricated stories as opposed to what appears to be bad reporting, rather than intentional fabrication on the writer’s part.

      • Bruce Vail

        Interesting, because my gut reaction is quite different.

        It was the editor’s job to make sure the story was rock solid, and worthy of cover story treatment. Free-lancers will pitch all sorts of half-baked ideas based on thin reporting, so it is the job of the editors to set the standards, and enforce them.

        Wenner seem to think so too, since he says he says is willing to hire Erdely again. (she’s a freelance, so technically can’t be fired anyway, since she was never hired in the first place).

        • Ahenobarbus

          Wait, so you don’t think the writer should be blocked out of the magazine?

          • Bruce Vail

            No, I don’t. Any story she produces should be judged on its individual merits, and given special scrutiny given this disaster.

            But given the wide consensus that there is shared responsibility among the reporter and editors, I do not think she should be forever blackballed.

    • Barry_D

      “New Republic”

      Why would Peretz fire somebody for printing racist, right-wing lies and/or bullsh*t?

      • joe from Lowell

        Because it wasn’t about Arabs?

        • Barry_D

          He hates on a lot of groups.

          • Barry_D

            Although I do get your point.

  • Cheerful

    it’s as if the initial concept of what the problem of college rape looked like began with thinking of scenes from some Hollywood movie, and then the task of journalism was to simply find that scene somewhere out in the world and make a big senatational “real-life” story out of it. The idea of going out into the world and seeing what was actually happening to people may have appeared too pedestrian and unprofitable.

    • I don’t think we can really know that. You couldn’t go looking for a story like Jackie’s and expect to turn one up. While I certainly agree that the reporter and editor have to assume the blame for this, the young woman’s behavior turns out to have been extremely bizarre and inexplicable, and it’s easy to see why you wouldn’t tend to suspect that she was inventing the whole thing. But yes, once they had the story it probably seemed too good to give up.

      I will add, however, that when I read it it seemed fishy in a few ways, and I did have a Duke lacrosse team feeling about it. I steered clear of it on my own blog.

      • Buckeye623

        When you look at the narrated tale through the lens of.. the woman who was the “source” was simply having fun inventing a lie and wanted to see how far she could get it to go, because she was enjoying the game of seeing how many lives she could destroy.. then it completely makes sense.

        The ridiculous part is that the reporter never questioned why the “story” seemed just.so.perfect.

        • JL

          Except that there’s also a lack of evidence that this is what happened. From the CJR’s report:

          2. Rolling Stone’s retraction of its reporting about Jackie concerned the story it printed. The retraction cannot be understood as evidence about what actually happened to Jackie on the night of Sept. 28, 2012. If Jackie was attacked and, if so, by whom, cannot be established definitively from the evidence available.

          We don’t know for sure what happened to Jackie, we only know that on the night of Sept. 28, she told her friends that she’d been forced to have oral sex by several men at the part of an unnamed fraternity, that the police have been unable to corroborate it, and that this was not what she told Rolling Stone. She doesn’t appear to have been averse to Rolling Stone doing a lot of normal fact-checking that it didn’t do, even though had RS done so it would have blown holes in her story, which at least suggests that she might by that time have believed the account that she gave to them.

          • timb

            I can only disagree slightly, but she frequently agreed to pull out of the story, made up the comments of her 3 friends, refused to provide that last name of the perp, etc.

            I agree the blame for publishing the wrong story rests on RS, but Jan Wenner has every reason to be angry with the subject who tried to manipulate the reporter.

            One wonders how Erdely would handle someone actually good at manipulating reporters. I think we’ve found the next Judith Miller

            • JL

              For all we know she had some kind of psychotic break, or severe dissociative amnesia, and unconsciously filled in what happened based on something she’d seen once in a movie or book.

              • postmodulator

                This is as speculative as the idea that the woman was just having fun lying. Ultimately what’s really going is going to be unknowable.

                • Hogan

                  Sure, but Buckeye623 suggested that “having fun lying” is the only explanation that makes sense. It isn’t.

                • postmodulator

                  I read that as him saying that that narrative makes sense, but not that it’s the only one that does.

                • JL

                  Of course it’s speculative, but I interpreted Buckeye623 the same way that Hogan did.

                • Even if it it wasn’t offered as the sole sensible explanation, what is the purpose of articulating *that* speculation in such a convinced way?

                  The story (certainly as written) isn’t true (given the extensive evidence against it). So she could be lying or confused (as JL pointed out). If lying, there are all sorts of narratives that could be spun including getting caught up in the story, being malicious, being traumatised, etc.

                  All these make the story make sense as much as the she’s a callous troll one proposed. The troll one is no more inherently compelling (absent a range of possible presuppositions, many of which are noxious) and has as little evidence.

                  We don’t need to go there not do we need to defend going there.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Intent often doesn’t matter. People can suffer from a great deal of mental/emotional problems and yet it doesn’t alleviate responsibility. I, myself, don’t have to believe someone is a monster to believe thry made a serious mistake and deserve significant blame. More often than not, people aren’t monsters, or even trolls; they just make a mistake.

                • Intent often doesn’t matter to some things (eg culpability) but does to others.

                  The point here is that we don’t actually have evidence about either what happened to her, why she made the claims she made to the reporter, or her intent. The last is the most speculative and should be most resisted esp when such speculation plays into negative stereotypes about rape victims.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  Once you do something as egregiously wrong as what Jackie did, people are free to speculate as to your motives…You’re suggesting we shouldn’t speculate about intent because of the political/social ramifications. I don’t think that’s a valid argument. Ever.

                • SgtGymBunny

                  ThrottleJockey, nothing definitive has come up that “Jackie” has done anything “egregiously wrong”. At least that I am aware of… Just because it has not been proved to have happened that doesn’t many that she has done something egregiously wrong. She’s only wrong for not being believed.

                  This is what doing something egregiously wrong looks like and how it’s proven. When an explanation comes out like this for Jackie, we can all agree that she did something “egregiously wrong”.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  You don’t think telling a horrific lie is egregiously wrong, Sarge? I don’t think something has to be criminal to be wrong, and telling a lie as big as this whopper counts for me.

                  She took enormous measures to catfish and lie to her own friends even before Rolling Stone came along. This is a Big Lie in the original meaning of the Big Lie: a lie so colossal that people would not believe the teller would have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

                • SgtGymBunny

                  ThrottleJockey. You disingenuous goat. The link in my previous post will answer your question as to whether or not I think telling lies is wrong, which is actually beside the point. That particular young lady did tell a wonderful lie–to cover up the fact that she MURDERED someone. The authorities investigated and were able to prove that she did lie and what her motivations for lying were.

                  I haven’t followed the RS fallout closely, but as far as I am aware, nobody has given a definitive narrative as to why “Jackie” lied beyond simple speculation. If her story is uncorroborated, just leave it at that until you have proof that she actually did lie. Unfortunately, “She Lied” is just too easy and convenient an excuse for why the story couldn’t be corroborated.

              • ThrottleJockey

                Do those factors you mention make her less culpable? Mental problems cover a wide stretch. Some of them would indeed eliminate or lessen culpability, some of them wouldn’t.

                Giving a wholly false story to a journalist investigating crimes would seem to me to incur substantial culpability, even more than the culpability of the so-called professionals who let themselves be ‘catfished’.

                I think we’re being too easy on Jackie. I don’t recall the same empathy being extended to Crystal Magnum, the accuser in the Duke Lacrosse Rapes.

                • I don’t know what you remember but I feel that I have been consistent across the two cases. I certainly think they should be treated similarly.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  That was a collective ‘we’, BP. I wasn’t singling you out. I hadn’t even heard of this blog during the Duke Lacrosse case…A large number of people are criticizing RS for ‘blaming’ Jackie. While she isn’t solely to blame, I do think she’s earned a heaping share.

                • I thought that Scott’s point above is that Wenner isn’t saying, “Jackie sourced a false story and we failed in our journalistic duty to not be taken in.” but he is suggesting that somehow they are the victim of Jackie.

                  He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism 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 first put puts a lot of agency on her doorstep that doesn’t seem to belong there. The CJR report emphasises that there were really basic breakdowns of journalism practice. E.g., no attempt to get statements from the people who were potrayed in an extremely negative light (i.e., the friends).

                  You don’t have to be an expert fabulist skilling in manipulating journalists for this failure to occur. You do need a failure of procedure on the magazine’s side.

                  He walks it back some, but, c’mon! No one is saying that if she deliberately lied that she is innocent because RS shouldn’t have been taken in. But note, the walk back is 1) weak and 2) designed to make it seem like people are absolving Jackie per se and trying to overblame RS. This is spin (and nasty spin) not honest reflection and amends.

                • Actually, your last paragraph and follow up to my response are similar in structure.

                  You: “I don’t recall the same empathy…”
                  Me: “Well, I did and tried to.”
                  You: “I don’t mean you or this blog!”

                  Well, what was the point of the first claim, then? It is reasonably interpreted as directed at this blog.

                  OTOH, there was a lot of crap hurled at Crystal Magnum (shot through with racism as well). That was wrong. I don’t see that that means Jackie should be wronged in similar ways. This is compatible with both women being awful people or people who did something deliberately and seriously wrong.

                • ThrottleJockey

                  I’m sorry my choice of ‘we’ has been so perplexing! If I had wanted to attack you or others at the blog I would’ve used the word ‘you’. I used ‘we’ because I see this going on in a much wider world than just LGM. Over at Feministing for instance they outright accuse RS of “blaming the victim”. Its a societal thing, not a ‘you’ thing.

                  As far as your comments about RS and agency go, my view is this: Suppose I go to the police station and accuse a neighbor of a crime. And then they go off and arrest the neighbor without conducting any sort of investigation. Well they’re certainly to blame. But so am I. (Unfortunately this happened in a criminal rape case at Hofstra).

                  A week ago, an 18-year-old student told police she’d been gang raped in a bathroom on campus by five men she’d met at a party the police had broken up. The details were tabloid lurid: The student said she’d been tricked into a public men’s room after one of the men stole her cell phone and then roped it to a toilet stall. By Wednesday, she’d admitted the sex was consensual. Her nonassailants were released after two nights in jail. She was suspended from school.

                • I’m sorry my choice of ‘we’ has been so perplexing!

                  Sure you are.

                  If I had wanted to attack you or others at the blog I would’ve used the word ‘you’.

                  This is obviously not particularly effective communication. But not being clear on the population in question gives you plausible deniability when confronted with contrary evidence, so it’s all good.

                  I used ‘we’ because I see this going on in a much wider world than just LGM. Over at Feministing for instance they outright accuse RS of “blaming the victim”. Its a societal thing, not a ‘you’ thing.

                  Hahhah. The wider world == Feministing (though no link to the incident!). Thus you are able to make it that society is overvictim supporting which, natch, is contrary to most reports and studies. Bravo!

                  Of course, this has nothing at all to do with the claim actually in dispute: To wit, the relative treatment of Jackie and Crystal Magnum. Well done!

                  As far as your comments about RS and agency go, my view is this:

                  I’m predicting it has nothing to do with what I wrote.

                  Suppose I go to the police station and accuse a neighbor of a crime. And then they go off and arrest the neighbor without conducting any sort of investigation. Well they’re certainly to blame. But so am I.

                  And sigh, I was right. See comment, above, which explains, in detail, why this point is 1) not denied in the OP, 2) is not what people like me or JL are talking about in this thread, and 3) misses the key aspect of the criticism of RS by Scott.

                • And here’s my follow up:

                  Over at Feministing for instance they outright accuse RS of “blaming the victim”.

                  Of course, they talk about “blaming Jackie” not “blaming the victim”.

                  Yet, just as they did when the account was first challenged, Rolling Stone, which is neither firing anyone nor adjusting any of their policies, is still blaming Jackie for their own failures. Rolling Stone‘s publisher, Jann S. Wenner, told the New York Times that she was “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. In interviews with the Columbia investigators, the magazine’s staff consistently attributes their missteps to their desire to “accommodate” a traumatized rape survivor. “Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim; we honored too many of her requests in our reporting,” the article’s editor, Sean Woods, told Columbia. “We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”

                  This is bullshit for a couple reasons. As I wrote in my piece on the debacle back in December, the fact-checking process is not a matter of being “tougher” on a rape survivor — it’s about being able to stand by the account if it’s questioned. By not doing their journalistic due diligence to ensure they could, the magazine absolutely positively did Jackie an unforgivable “disservice.” Even more importantly, Columbia explicitly rejected this excuse for Rolling Stone‘s failures

                  As Jay Rosen notes, Columbia’s report is focused more on how the mess could have been avoided (answer: “routine journalistic practice”), not what motivated Rolling Stone‘s mistakes, but there’s lots of evidence that it it was their attachment to using Jackie’s story as “a single, emblematic college rape case” that’s to blame. It seems they didn’t follow many threads for fear of losing Jackie as a source. For example, they didn’t reach out to any of the friends quoted — even though Jackie never requested that they not do that — because writer Sarah Erdely, who was concerned that Jackie’s “cooperation remained tentative,” worried that if “I work round Jackie, am I going to drive her from the process?” Likewise, though Rolling Stone claimed they’d struck some sort of “agreement” with Jackie not to contact the student she accused, in fact, she never demanded that they not verify his identity independently; Rolling Stone simply made the decision to stop trying when Jackie appeared to stop cooperating as the deadline to go to press drew nearer.

                  There is simply no reason a rape survivor source’s cooperation should be that tentative. Ever.

                  This doesn’t seem to be a bad take at all and I don’t see the relation to Crystal Magnum.

            • muddy

              As to the comments of the 3 friends, who is to say? None of them is likely to admit later that they said shitty things at the time. “Yes, RS, I totally told her to shut up or we wouldn’t get invited to the cool parties.” Seriously, who would admit this?

              Even without trying to make themselves seem better, people just remember conversations differently.

        • I didn’t see anything in the CJR about Jackie’s motivations. I don’t think it’s helpful to speculate on her motivations esp in what is basically a complimentary derogatory way (eg to how the story portrayed her three friends).

        • Scott Lemieux

          the woman who was the “source” was simply having fun inventing a lie and wanted to see how far she could get it to go, because she was enjoying the game of seeing how many lives she could destroy..

          I’m with Bijan — this is highly implausible and highly insulting and there’s no evidence for it, so I’d leave the speculation to Rolling Stone and its freelancers.

          • postmodulator

            There might be some evidence for it, if it’s true that she had a history as a fabulist. I don’t really like to think about it, but if lawsuits get filed and go to trial there might be some ugly shit slung.

            • Scott Lemieux

              There’s evidence that she enjoys destroying lives for her own amusement? Where?

              • postmodulator

                No, there isn’t evidence of that. I found a claim that this is not her first false rape accusation, but the claim was thinly sourced. I won’t link it, because the page where I found the claim also doxxes her.

                She did apparently construct a rather elaborate pretend boyfriend, doing some catfishing to convince her friends that this person existed. But that is not evidence that she is malicious.

                • Note that no one is against more evidence coming out or our conclusions changing in response to this evidence. It may be that she is a truly horrible person. The story she sourced clearly has had many negative effects (on those accused in the story as well as, with the retraction, many women trying to get their real stories heard).

              • ThrottleJockey

                Well the things she said about her own friends was pretty damaging to their reputations. Hell, how many of us here called them scum because they put their interest in getting invited to cool parties ahead of protecting her?

                • Hell, how many of us here called them scum

                  I just found this a tad amusing to read right after reading telling me that “If I had wanted to attack you or others at the blog I would’ve used the word ‘you’.”

                  Hell, how many of us here called them scum because they put their interest in getting invited to cool parties ahead of protecting her?

                  No one used the word “scum” afaict. “Worthless cowards” was used.

                  Rob wrote in the OP in a more measured way:

                  I have to confess that my first reaction is frustration and anger with the attitude of the student community. Administrative foot-dragging on campus rape is something that we’ve come to expect. The blase student attitude (granting the unrepresentative snapshot) seems like something that, if not unique to UVA, does vary from school to school.

                  Plus, I think there was Jackie blaming by RS in attempt to deflect blame. Peharps you’d be more comfortable with the phrase “RS’s attempt to deflect their responsibility onto Jackie” which they certain do seem to be doing (then pulling back). Which is a problem independent of whether Jackie merits additional blame. Their avoiding blame is likely to inhibit improvement on their part which they clearly need.

      • Cheerful

        As also noted below I was thinking of that part of the story where the reporter interviewed women from other colleges but found that their stories did not feel right. I am speculating that the lack of a good feel was in part because what they heard did not fit the idea of a really good dramatic attack/rape/horror show of the type movies are adept at imagining.

        Unlike Jackie’s.

      • JL

        Except that the reporter acknowledges that she was out looking for a dramatic case. From the beginning of the CJR’s report:

        “Erdely said she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case…”

    • Bruce Vail

      That seems to be exactly what happened. I’ve read elsewhere that the reporter looked at several different colleges where rapes had been reported or rumored looking for an ideal example to serve as the focus of her story.

      And yes, a more traditional (boring) story that talked about the rape stats and interviewed ‘experts’ would have been too pedestrian.

    • SgtGymBunny

      Agree. The fact of the matter is that most rapes (non-stranger/acquaintance variety) generally do not warrant the widespread public attention as would an elite college, frat party gang rape. And that some choose to be outraged that this particularly gruesome/sensational account may not have actually happened shows how uninformed/uninterested the general populace is about the nature of sexual assault.

      • Well, at my university two women were in fact drugged and raped at a frat party this year. (It’s been in the papers, it’s Brown.) Not quite as gruesome and sensational as Jackie’s story, but that shit does happen.

        • SgtGymBunny

          Not saying that it doesn’t happen. Just that sexual abuse and assaults that don’t involve minors, (illegal) drugs, frat parties, and/or overt violence generally are ignored and given the “not rape-rape” label. Think about it, if you remove these factors, you would rarely hear about rapes because the victims would expect to be viewed as unsympathetic and unworthy of the general concern of the public.

          (As a matter of fact, I do know that it happens because the University that I work has been targeted by Dept of Ed for title IX violations in our apparent inability to address sexual assault on our campus. Just did mandatory training from our compliance division a couple of weeks ago.)

      • JL

        Our society seems to have this need for a single, or at least highly dominant, narrative about how sexual violence happens.

        Previously it was a cis male stranger hiding in the bushes or in a dark alley, probably with a weapon, who pops out to grab and rape a lone cis woman. We’ve advanced to the point where many people understand that that’s not always the case. This narrative is being gradually supplanted or complemented by one where rape is something that a cis man or maybe multiple cis men do to a cis woman at a fraternity party at a four-year residential college, with drugs of some kind involved.

        Both of these narratives are things that sometimes happen, but both of them ignore the large majority of sexual violence in our society, and their dominance in the popular imagination obscures the experiences of the people who were assaulted under different circumstances.

        • SgtGymBunny

          I agree. I like to use the quadrilateral analogy: I say I have a quadrilateral. You assume I have square. I show you a trapezoid/rhombus/rectangle but you think I’ve misrepresented my case. That pretty much sums up the public’s understanding of sexual abuse/violence.

          The really crummy part is that there are very many well-meaning people who want to bring attention to sexual assault, and they think that these popular depictions are the best way to do it. To my understanding that’s what the author and rolling stone were trying to do–draw attention to campus rape and the remarkably abysmal way that they are handled on campus administration. Very noble ends, but, unfortunately, their less-than-nuanced understanding about sexual assault and its many forms almost (I’m trying to be charitable) has the effect of doing a disservice to victims’ advocacy.

          • ThrottleJockey

            From what I’ve read about Erdely’s prior work she was familiar with the subject matter and passionate about feminist issues. So, I’m not so sure that she had a less-than-nuanced understanding. I think, instead, she was betting that no one would lie about something so horrific. That’s naive on her part, but I don’t see any reason to doubt her knowledge of the subject matter. In many ways believing her without corroboration was all too human.

            • SgtGymBunny

              I think that JL, here and at his/her blog, has made the case that even advocates can run over survivors in their quest for social justice.

              Yes, because Erdely has been passionate about the issue believing Erdely’s narrative was all too human. But no, her good intentions do not lessen the very real impact that the article may have on survivor’s/victim advocacy. This is the classic Road to Hell, via Good Intentions. She’s not the only one. A lot of us, in some way or another, occasionally lose sight of the plight of the victim in our own advocacy. Being a passionate advocate doesn’t necessarily mean we can do no harm.

              • ThrottleJockey

                Yes, that’s true. JL sparked a good discussion on this case when during a post she complained that a great many of us were overlooking the victim in demanding the rapist go to jail and the UVA Administration be held accountable.

  • MDrew

    I’m not sure the reporter should take the full brunt either, though, which her firing would essentially accomplish. It sounds to me like this rightly should come down on the magazine’s editors largely. Which means… what? The statement should be worded somewhat differently? Some of them should resign?

    Probably the latter, but ultimately I don’t know that there’s a whole lot of substantive importance that rides on who loses her job. the magazine should just fully admit egregious error, describe what it’s learned, and move on. Some editors should probably be fired. It seems to me the reporter should be given another chance, because from the sound of things she was carrying out an assignment roughly as it was envisioned by her editors.

    • witlesschum

      Yeah, the reporter certainly made mistakes, but it’s human nature for her to believe what this woman was telling her. As a journalist, you’re supposed to know that and account for it, but one of the reason we have editors is that they’re supposed to make sure the reporters who are working for them are doing their jobs correctly. We know it’s easier to sit back and assess a story and a situation at a remove and demand that the necessary questions get asked and satisfactorily answered.

      She certainly fucked up her job, but no more than her editors did.

      • Bruce Vail

        Yes, the reporter was the first line of defense, so she bears the brunt of the responsibility. But the editor was the second line of defense, so he/she has responsibility too.

        Campos referred to pre-libel case posturing above, so that made me wonder whether firing the editor would be considered an admission of error on the part of the magazine in a legal proceeding?

    • Hogan

      the magazine should just fully admit egregious error, describe what it’s learned, and move on.

      What Wenner appears to have learned is “bitchez lie.”

      • MDrew

        No, by all means. I’m not saying they’ve done it. I’m saying they should do it.

        And I’m not saying editors shouldn’t be fired over this. I’m just saying it’s not the most important thing.

        • Hogan

          Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that you were defending RS.

    • MDrew

      I actually didn’t realize she was a stringer. So the firing question is moot, and I’d amend my comments above to reflect that (my bad). I would’t have any problem with the magazine ending any intention of ever publishing her again based on this incident, however culpable the editors are. (I guess I’d want them to keep an ostensibly open mind to highly verified, extremely compelling work she offers in the future, but if it never happened, that’s the way of the freelance life.)

      It would be different if we were talking about cutting someone off from a salary, benefits, and putting a termination for cause on her record. If they don’t publish her again, that just reflects having a bad experience publishing her once. Utterly commonplace in periodical journalism.

      I actually think the editor going out of his way to say they’d buy her work again is uncalled for in this situation and extremely surprising, again, given she’s a stringer. That’s not a necessary thing for an editor to say about any given stringer at all.

  • sleepyirv

    I’m not surprised about all the passing the buck in this story. The media is so afraid to challenge sources these days that they outsource the question, “Is the politician lying?” to factcheckers. Reporters worry just about keeping those sources open.

    • ThrottleJockey

      The truest words written here.

  • I’m glad the events depicted in the original story didn’t happen!

    I find it weird that RS would be so cooperative with CJR and then still botch parts of the retraction. I don’t know whether firings are the right thing to do, but not focusing on their failures doesn’t seem to help anyone including the people harmed by those failures.

    • PhoenixRising

      Something happened to that kid. I’m not at all glad that the lesson so many learned was that unless it sounds like a scene from a movie, it’s no big deal.

      Don’t have time to read CJR, but did someone disprove the claim she made at the time of the trauma, that she was lured into a frat house and orally raped by a group?

      As the parent of a HS girl who is pretty innocent, I’m not at all reassured that “all” that happened was run-of-the-mill group forcible assault.

      • My understanding is that the police did an extensive investigation and turned up no evidence of the allegation or related allegations and that there are multiple contradictory details (including key ones about the boyfriend).

        This doesn’t mean that nothing happened to her, but all means. But I hope not and it does seem that some of the more extreme things didn’t happen.

        Obviously, a “mere” group oral rape would be more than horrible. I could be reading the report wrong and this was not debunked.

      • Manny Kant

        Nobody’s disproved it, but I don’t know how much credibility any of her accounts can have at this point. She may have made up the entire story, or something terrible may have happened, but I don’t think we can ever know.

        • Yes, I let hopefulness run too strongly:

          After interviewing about 70 people and obtaining access to some university and fraternity records, the Charlottesville police could say only that they found no evidence of the gang rape Rolling Stone described. This finding, said Police Chief Timothy Longo, “doesn’t mean that something terrible didn’t happen to Jackie” that night.

          The original report about oral gang rape was inconclusive as well, but that doesn’t tell us a lot.

          So, I don’t know that something comparably bad didn’t happy to Jackie. I mere hope that it didn’t.

      • Camilla Highwater

        “Something happened to that kid.”

        How do you know? What was the something?

        • PhoenixRising

          Well, I don’t know for certain that the original assault she described to her friends at the time happened.

          But there’s really no reason to think it didn’t.

          RS having fucked up 110% of their responsibilities in reporting, editing and publishing a story that was too good to check doesn’t inherently cast doubt on what someone who appeared to have been assaulted said to 3 witnesses at the time.

          • ThrottleJockey

            She made up entire identities for fake people and catfished her friends a year or more before Rolling Stone ever set foot on campus. In the face of such pathological lying why would you believe anything she says is true?

          • joe from Lowell

            But there’s really no reason to think it didn’t.

            Wait a second: the sole evidence for the claim is the word of this person we just discovered to be a fabulist. That’s a reason.

            When the aluminum tubes story fell apart, I considered the discovery that the administration lied to be evidence that there was no Iraqi WMD program. Even if it didn’t go all the way to proving the absence of a program, it was certainly a reason to think the WMD program “didn’t happen.”

            • Nick056

              Yeah. I think there’s still some undue deference to the source here. Like I wrote below, speculating as to her motives is inappropriate — we don’t know why she presented an inaccurate story (and probably did so intentionally). But we know she failed to give an accurate account of events and that basically nothing she says has been independently verified, while much of it has been contradicted. We also know she told other lies in the recent past, which generally hurts her credibility.

              As a matter of logic and investigative prudence, responsible people like the police shouldn’t say “nothing happened here.” But us, in the general public? We don’t need to tiptoe around her shredded credibility and her untrue story. We have no particular reason to think any assault occurred — except our shared hope that someone wouldn’t fabricate such a story unless it contained some essential truth.

  • JL

    For all their handwringing about how they were trying to be deferential to survivors, they don’t appear to actually have understood much about sexual assault and trauma. They raked Eramo over the coals in their story for not pressuring Jackie to report to the police, even though an advocate shouldn’t be pressuring someone who’s been assaulted about what to do (and in this blog’s original thread on the story, as well as on my own blog, I said this repeatedly, and before any public questioning of the story had happened). They criticized that poor student survivor group for the same thing, less harshly, portraying them as being in the wrong for responsible practice. They didn’t, judging by their lack of attempt to get corroboration, consider that trauma can mean memory problems, even though they’d been told by the admin who referred them to Jackie that she might have memory problems. They claim that they were only deferring to Jackie’s wishes when they didn’t fact-check – which, according to the CJR, is false – but where was that supposed deference when she asked to be taken out of the story?

    They don’t seem to have had anything like adequate understanding of either how to interact with people who have been assaulted in a support role, or how to interact with them in a journalistic role.

    • One of the most interesting parts of the report to me was their discussion of how reporters who are good at this sort of reporting worked. If that gets more widely disseminated Ana’s acted upon it will be a good thing.

    • JL

      It’s been brought to my attention that RS claims Jackie didn’t ask to be taken out of the story. The rest of my comment stands.

    • ThrottleJockey

      I think Erdely had an ax to grind. She had a narrative to push and she was going to force fit the facts at UVA to fit her predetermined narrative. I think that is more often the norm than not when it comes to issue reporting (or more generally political reporting), because oftentimes the writers feel like the facts are secondary to the cause. We all know that universities aren’t taking rapes seriously, so Erdely decided to use her soap box to make sure everyone knew how wrong this was. Her mistake was a difference in degree–not in kind–to something I think many more writers are guilty of.

      • Pseudonym

        I think relying on falsehoods and not checking the facts is different in kind than just looking for a set of facts that fit a preferred narrative.

  • D.N. Nation

    Effectively blaming “Jackie” for duping poor naive reporters really isn’t going to wash. As Erik Wemple observes, one of the key findings of the report is that Jackie did not even request that Erdley not contact her friends to verify her account. (And even if she had, the appropriate response is not to put the story in print.) Either way, the alleged victim can’t be blamed for the bad journalism.

    As I recall, “the lying hussy made me do it!” was one of the last excuses Mike Nifong gave as the walls closed in on him.

    • postmodulator

      Crystal Mangum might actually have been a monster, though. Her conviction for second-degree murder a few years later didn’t help me believe that she was a confused woman who got in over her head.

      • D.N. Nation

        Agreed, though the Nifong/Mangum relationship seemed to mutually beneficial. (You know, for evil. Before it all blew up.)

  • Quite Likely

    What a shame this went down the way it did. The Rolling Stone article had some good points about rape culture. They just screwed themselves by looking for the most extreme possible anecdote to go along with the wider picture they were painting. This is often a bad idea, since more extreme stories are less likely to be true, and if they’re not, the whole thing becomes about the details of a single incident.

  • Joe_JP

    Amanda Marcotte:

    Jackie’s apparent lying will certainly be used against future accusers, who accuse specific men of specific crimes. But that is comparing apples to oranges. We have a story about a woman who probably made things up to get attention and sympathy. That doesn’t prove the widespread allegation that women routinely redefine consensual sex as rape to get revenge.

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/sorry-rape-deniers-the-rolling-stone-report-isn-t-what-you-hoped

    I don’t know what happened there but as noted that wouldn’t let the magazine off the hook. And, as Amanda M. notes, it doesn’t give the rape deniers much solace to say that single digit percentages of alleged victims make stuff up. At least, we should not think so.

    • Shakezula

      it doesn’t give the rape deniers much solace to say that single digit percentages of alleged victims make stuff up. At least, we should not think so.

      And that single digit comes after a couple of 0s, but that’s more than enough for them. When I was in law school several legul beguls cited a false accusation case that occurred in the 70s (back when we would have been learning to tie our shoes) as proof Mike Tyson didn’t rape Desiree Washington.

      • Brian Schmidt

        According to the report cited by Amanda Marcotte at TPM, between 2 and 8 percent of accusations are false.

        • name-already-taken

          No, the 2-8% figure refers to false reports, not false accusations. Most people making false reports describe a vague stranger or acquaintance without actually accusing a specific individual.

          • Brian Schmidt

            Okay, false report applies in the UVa case.

  • Nick056

    People are tying to ferret out whether Jackie lied and why. Based on the Columbia report and the police investigation, it’s reasonably certain she provided inaccurate information in that evidence has been discovered tending to disprove her story.

    It’s less certain she intentionally deceived anyone, but it’s certainly a reasonable inference given the weight of the evidence. However, imputing malice to her is fairly speculative and damaging to the entire process and issue. She’s not on trial here, and it bears repeating she never tried to get anyone arrested (or, if I’m correct) thrown off campus. She told an inaccurate story whose essence remained roughly the same but where the nature and severity of her attack grew in the telling. I’m not sure we need to demonize her for this.

  • shah8

    Slightly OT:

    This is just another reminder to all you reporters and the like out there. If you want to prosecute something like rape against presumably elite scion, via publishing or in the justice system, you had better be totally fucking airtight, with every i dotted, and every t crossed, because you will get a fucking nuke counterstrike, and your body buried beneath the local jail cesspool afterwards. OK?

    I mean, there is still activity trying to clear Sandusky and Paterno out there on the internets, and whatever may be the case, my intuition was that Sandusky helped supply a pedo ring. He simply just got caught pumping his own supply. As you can see, there was never the effort at tracing that possibility as there was in taking down the Penn St admin (much safer direction!).

    We have a lot of lazy reporters out there, and we allow quite a bit of misconduct, in practical terms, and I suspect there was just not the sort of self-protective instinct on the part of Erderly and RS that told them that their actions were fucking dangerous in this particular context, because well off fraternities have genuine access to powerful retribution. And now RS is trying to do the perp walk to the satisfaction of their antagonists, and trying to keep a few shreds of dignity by passing blame off to “Jackie”.

  • Bruce Vail

    I admit to feeling a gut-level sympathy for the reporter and RS editors from the very beginning of this fiasco.

    It seemed like their hearts were in the right place and that they were trying to do something positive. (Unlike, say, the NYT, WashPost and New Republic scandals.)

    They changed their own rules of journalistic practice out of a sense that sometimes the rules need to get broken in order to overcome stale narratives and meaningless cliches. That’s a GOOD reason for breaking the rules.

    It seemed like there worst crime was believing too much in the ‘victim.’

    None of this makes much sense in retrospect, of course.

    • Nick056

      Eh. If their hearts were in the right place, they don’t have the right kind of hearts for the news business. And I really disagree that “sometimes the rules need to be broken in order to overcome stale narratives and meaningless cliches.” That’s a terrible reason to break journalistic procedure. It’s a great rule to live by if you’re setting out to write genre fiction, but if you are setting out to write investigative reporting and hold that as your maxim, you will wind up writing genre fiction without realizing it. In this case, the stale narratives and meaningless cliches have won the day. They’re just the misogynistic cliches that the MRAs constanly push.

    • It seemed like there worst crime was believing too much in the ‘victim.’

      What? That’s certainly not what the CJR report said and it…isn’t very plausible.

      I don’t see that they had a good reason for breaking the rules.

      • Nick056

        Obviously they had too much faith in the victim’s account, but more crucially, they simply wanted her cooperation. Deciding that her date could be “Drew” seemed to help establish the relationship with the source, and Erdely was very upfront that she did not reach out to the friends because she assumed doing so would result in losing Jackie’s support for the story. Jackie never had to expressly ask her not to confirm anything with campus friends, she just managed expectations well enough that RS was hesitant to do so for fear she would stop communicating. I think, at heart, this does represent treating the story and the source with special deference, because they made a baseline assumption that they were not printing bullshit. The Columbia report does an excellent job of showing that they made inferences and failed to follow basic procedure for a variety of reasons, and not only because they were “honoring” their source’s specific demands, but their failure to negotiate properly with Jackie does indicate that they did, in fact, believe in Jackie too much, as do notes from Erdely suggesting that she had planned to portray the friends in s negative light almost from the outset.

  • libarbarian

    If Jackie was attacked and, if so, by whom, cannot be established definitively from the evidence available.

    Theoretically true. Practically, however, the current state of evidence pretty strongly points to the entire story being a fabrication by Jackie and that the mostly likely conclusion is that Jackie is just lying about being gang-raped under any circumstances remotely resembling those in her narrative.

    “When every single ‘error’ made by a person serves to support/advance that persons interests, it is prima facie evidence that they were not actually errors but intentional acts. At a certain point, the idea that a person can make such a large number of honest mistakes which all just happen by chance to support his/her story or prevent the discovery of contrary evidence etc. becomes just too implausible to be taken seriously for practical purposes.

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