The initial idea for a bombshell — but now debunked — Rolling Stone article about a gang-rape at the University of Virginia departed drastically from its original intent, university emails show.
The emails, obtained by The Daily Caller through a Freedom of Information request, show UVA campus sexual assault awareness project coordinator Emily Renda informing the university’s PR department about her communications with Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the Rolling Stone reporter.
“I’ve been contacted by a reporter who wants to do a long-form article on campus culture, and wants to use U.Va. as a jumping off point for that discussion,” Renda wrote in a July 16 email to UVA spokesmen McGregor McCance and Anthony Paul de Bruyn.
“She wants to speak primarily with survivors, so I do not anticipate her reaching out to any office for official comment,” continued Renda, who has visited the White House several times to work on campus sexual assault issues and who testified at a Senate hearing on the issue in June.
“I’ve been talking to her and focusing her in on positive people to speak with.”
The emails shows a far simpler plan for Erdely’s article than the final product, which was entitled “A Rape on Campus,” and published online on Nov. 19.
Renda’s communiques also show that she initially believed that the Rolling Stone article would be an asset to the school.
In an email sent on Nov. 21, Renda encouraged Tom Faulders, the chief executive of UVA’s alumni foundation, to share the Rolling Stone article with alumni in future communications.
“Also, if worth noting to alumni, I am also referenced in the Rolling Stone article, and it conveniently does not mention that [UVA Vice President and Chief Student Affairs Officer] Pat Lampkin hired me to help with sexual misconduct, and I am on staff here now,” Renda wrote.
Erdely’s 9,000-word article landed like an atomic bomb. The piece began with a story told by a UVA student named Jackie who claimed that on Sept. 28, 2012, she was gang-raped by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.
The article was met with public outcry — both at the school and across the nation. But the story fell to pieces in ensuing weeks.
If Renda considered Jackie one of the “positive people” mentioned in her email — and it is known that Renda served as the liaison between Jackie and Erdely — evidence now suggests that was a bad call.
Renda was not available when TheDC called to ask about how she initially came into contact with Erdely. A UVA spokesman said he could not comment on the matter, since the school is still investigating Jackie’s claims.
Renda has admitted, since the article began falling apart under scrutiny, that certain aspects of Jackie’s story had changed over time. (RELATED: UVA Rape Activist Worked At White House)
During her Senate testimony in June, Renda told Jackie’s story — referring to her using the pseudonym “Jenna.” Except in that version, there were only five alleged gang-rapists. Renda has said since the article’s publication that Jackie changed her story.
Three of Jackie’s friends mentioned in the Rolling Stone article also came forward after publication and said that several key parts of her story had changed.
They said that on the night in question, Jackie claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex on five men while another man she had gone on a date with looked on. (RELATED: Emails Indicate Rolling Stone Failed To Vet UVA Rape Accuser’s Claims)
Jackie’s date also presented a problem for her story. It appears that Jackie fabricated the man, who she said was named Haven Monahan, out of thin air.
Phone numbers Jackie claimed belonged to Monahan were linked to an online service that allows users to send text messages from the internet. A picture allegedly of Monahan turned out to be a man Jackie had gone to high school with who said that he barely knew her.
In the Rolling Stone article, Jackie said that a third-year Phi Kappa Psi member named “Drew” was her date and the ringleader of her gruesome rape. Jackie claimed she knew “Drew” from her job at the school’s swimming pool. But the fraternity later said that none of their members were working in that job at the time of the alleged incident.
The glaring holes in Jackie’s story only came to light after Erdely’s reporting was found to have been the product of gross journalistic malpractice. Erdely was forced to admit that she did not attempt to contact the fraternity members because Jackie did not want her to. Jackie’s friends, who were portrayed as uncaring and selfish for convincing Jackie to not report her alleged rape, said that they were never contacted by Erdely or anyone at Rolling Stone before the article was published.
Another part of Renda’s July email undershot the initial scope of Erdely’s article.
Rather than focusing only on survivor’s stories, as Renda initially believed was Erdely’s goal for the article, Erdely expanded the scope of her piece over the next few months. Emails released by UVA last week show that Erdely began contacting university administrators to find out more about the school’s policies for the handling of sexual assault complaints.
Erdely’s end product portrayed UVA as a hotbed of campus rape — a culture aided and abetted by the school’s willingness to turn a blind-eye to victims.