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.