Perhaps the most glaring part of the 104 pages of emails sent between Rolling Stone magazine and University of Virginia administrators and staffers is what is not discussed in the documents, which were released Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request submitted by The Daily Caller and other outlets.
The emails, sent between various UVA employees and Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and fact-checker Elisabeth Garber-Paul, contain no indication that the article’s central story — a claim made by a student named Jackie that she had been gang-raped in 2012 by seven fraternity members — was vetted by the magazine.
The emails also show that Erdely was told that information she had received about an alleged serial rapist — unrelated to Jackie’s claim — was inaccurate — though it appears Erdely failed to heed the warning.
Erdely’s 9,000-word article now appears to be a farce, based on false claims made by Jackie. Erdely’s reporting methods have also been called into question after it was revealed that she failed to get in touch with many of the central characters in the story — including the men Jackie claimed had raped her as well as three friends Jackie said talked her out of reporting the attack.
On Nov. 7, Garber-Paul, who is listed as an assistant editor at Rolling Stone, contacted UVA spokesman Anthony de Bruyn, saying that she was fact-checking Erdely’s article and wanted to “make sure the university is being represented as accurately as possible.”
According to the emails, a phone interview was conducted on Nov. 10, and Garber-Paul, who previously worked for the abortion activist website RH Reality Check, submitted follow-up questions the next day. None of those questions concerned Jackie’s claim or an investigation into it. Instead, Garber-Paul asked about UVA’s general policy towards sexual assault claims.
The only mention of Jackie in the 100-plus pages of emails came in an exchange between Erdely and Emily Renda, a friend of Jackie’s who works for the school and who put her in touch with the reporter.
“You figure into the article as a survivor, activist and mentor/support for Jackie,” Erdely wrote to Renda.
It is unclear if de Bruyn and Garber-Paul discussed Jackie’s case in a phone conversation. Reached by phone on Friday, Garber-Paul told The Daily Caller that she was unable to comment. De Bruyn also declined to comment. Erdely has been in hiding for weeks.
Rolling Stone has hinted that fact-checkers may not have expended much effort in investigating Jackie’s claims. The magazine admitted in a Dec. 5 editor’s note that Erdely had made a mistake by honoring Jackie’s wishes to not contact the men she said raped her.
Discussion of one vignette contained in Erdely’s article also stands out in the emails.
In her article, Erdely provided shorter stories from other students besides Jackie as well as background information about how the school handles sexual assault cases. All of that information was crafted into a bombshell piece intended to paint the picture that UVA was a hotbed of sexual assault — which students and administrators tolerated.
In her Nov. 19 piece, Erdely wrote of a student named Stacy, who claimed she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student in Spring 2014. Erdely claimed she had been told that the woman’s alleged assailant had assaulted at least three women and was suspended from the school for only one year.
Erdely wrote, quoting Stacy:
“Cause he’s a multiple assailant, I’d been told so many times that that was grounds for expulsion!” So she was stunned when she learned his actual penalty: a one-year suspension. (Citing privacy laws, UVA would not comment on this or any case.)”
But emails show that administrators informed Erdely that the story she had been told was not accurate.
“Your characterization of the facts of the spring 2014 case you referenced during our interview is incorrect,” de Bruyn wrote Erdely in an Oct. 9 email.
Erdely responded, asking for clarification on what was incorrect. De Bruyn said he could not specify.
In a Nov. 13 email, de Bruyn broached the same story with Garber-Paul.
“As I mentioned to you, we have expressed our concern to Sabrina regarding what we believe to be her mischaracterization of facts about a case that occurred in Spring 2014,” wrote de Bruyn.
“It has been brought to our attention by a few students that Sabrina has spoken to that she is referencing an incident where a male student raped three different women and received a one-year suspension. This is in fact objectively false.”
Erdely’s emails to the school began on Sept. 5, the released documents show.
On that day she contacted university dean Nicole Eramo, who works with victims of sexual assault, requesting an interview to discuss “the ways in which sexual assault is handled at University of Virginia.”
Eramo responded the next day, telling Erdely that a few of her students had mentioned the article. She asked Erdely when she hoped to conduct the interview, though the session apparently never took place.
The emails also show Erdely playing hardball in order to get an interview with UVA president Teresa Sullivan. They show Erdely going back and forth with the PR department to set terms of the interview.
And Erdely bristled at the school’s request that her interview with Sullivan be conducted with a PR staffer present.
In a Sept. 15 email to Charles McCance, a member of the PR team, Erdely wrote “You refer to ‘we’ with regard to the upcoming conversation – but I do hope that my interview with President Sullivan will be one-on-one, as I don’t generally conduct interviews with PR people sitting in.”
The next day, McCance responded saying that Sullivan would be unavailable for the interview because of unexpected demands. He also said that someone would be in the room during the interview on whatever future date it would be conducted.
Erdely was not pleased with either bit of news. She accepted the stipulation of a PR presence begrudgingly, writing, “Then so be it.”
Erdely also made it known that her article would make note of what she believed was improper treatment by the school.
“My article with obviously mention the way UVA has sought to restrict and pad my access to its administrators,” Erdely threatened.
The reporter made true on that promise, writing:
And yet the UVA public-relations team seemed unenthused about this article, canceling my interview with the head of UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, and forbidding other administrators from cooperating; even students seemed infected by their anxiety about how members of the administration might appear. And when President Sullivan was at last made available for an interview, her most frequently invoked answer to my specific questions about sexual-assault handling at UVA – while two other UVA staffers sat in on the recorded call – was “I don’t know.”
Sullivan sprung into action after the article was published — despite there being little to no evidence to support Jackie’s claim. the president suspended all Greek life activity until next year.