Rolling Stone has completely retracted its Nov. 19 article, “A Rape on Campus,” and apologized to the falsely accused fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, in a joint report released Sunday night.
The new article, reported by three members of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, is nothing short of a scathing indictment on the storied progressive magazine, its reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and Jackie, the student who falsely claimed that she was gang-raped in 2012 by seven members of Phi Kappa Psi fraternity.
Erdely, a contributing editor at the magazine, expressed remorse in a letter timed to coincide with the release of the new report. She apologized to Rolling Stone readers, editors, the UVA community and “any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”
Notably, she did not apologize to Phi Kappa Psi.
Erdely’s bombshell article relayed Jackie’s claim that she was gang-raped at Phi Kappa Psi’s fraternity house on the night of Sept. 28, 2012. But it was slowly revealed over the course of the next several weeks that Jackie had fabricated the entire story and that Erdely had failed some of the basic tenets of journalism in relying nearly completely on Jackie’s claims to fill out the article.
In December, Rolling Stone editor-in-chief Jann Wenner tapped Columbia Journalism investigators to retrace Erdely’s reporting.
The result “was painful reading,” Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana wrote in an editor’s note to the new report. “It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document a piece of journalism…about a failure of journalism.”
In the article, Dana is quoted as saying that the publication of the article was the result of an “individual failure, procedural failure…an institutional failure.”
Despite these massive failures, Erdely, Dana and another Rolling Stone editor, Sean Woods, will keep their jobs with the magazine.
Columbia Journalism School’s reporters traced how Erdely came to learn about Jackie’s story and what steps she and the magazine took — and did not take — to turn it into a 9,000-word expose, ostensibly about the depravity of a handful of UVA fraternity members and the campus culture that allowed it to happen.
According to the new article, on July 8, Erdely contacted Emily Renda, a UVA graduate who got a job with the school as an sexual assault awareness coordinator. Renda told Erdely about Jackie’s claims of her gang-rape at Phi Kappa Psi. The activist said that it was possible that Jackie had a fuzzy memory of the events, but Erdely felt that the story “had this stamp of credibility” to it because it came from a university employee.
A few days later, Jackie responded to an email from Erdely, saying “I’d definitely be interested in sharing my story.”