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.”
Erdely told the Columbia investigators that she called Jackie on July 14 and interviewed her seven times in total between then an October. She said that Jackie’s story was horrifying.
The new report describes the working relationship between Erdely and Jackie as tense at times. Jackie often did not return phone calls and emails from Erdely. Erdely asked Jackie to name her attackers, but the student declined, saying that the was afraid. Rolling Stone editors granted Jackie’s wish, Columbia Journalism School found.
Erdely said “an alarm bell went off” in her head the week after the article was published. She asked Jackie during a phone conversation the day before Thanksgiving to finally cough up the name of the ringleader of her attack. Jackie hesitantly provided the name but could not remember how to spell it. When Erdely spoke to Jackie again Dec. 4 the reporter said that she began “to have serious doubts” about the veracity of the student’s claims.
Columbia faulted Erdely for failing to give Phi Kappa Psi’s leaders at the chapter and the national level enough information about Jackie’s allegations to allow them to provide a full comment. According to Columbia, Erdely merely emailed or called fraternity leaders asking them to comment. She did not provide background information so that they would know what they were commenting on.
Columbia also faulted Erdely for not attempting to contact three friends mentioned in the article who met Jackie the night she claimed she was attacked. Columbia asserts that Erdely could have easily found the students, Ryan Duffin, Alex Stock and Kathryn Hendley, through social media if she had tried. If she had contacted the students, she would have found that they would have completely disputed Jackie’s story.
While Erdely expressed remorse over her role in the debacle, the new report indicates that in some ways she sought to pass the buck to others at Rolling Stone.
“In retrospect, I wish somebody had pushed me harder” she said of her editors deference to her about reaching out to Jackie’s three friends. “I guess maybe I was surprised that nobody said, ‘Why haven’t you called them?’ But nobody did, and I wasn’t going to press that issue,” she added.
Duffin, whose statements about Jackie’s claims was a major factor in unraveling the story, responded to The Daily Caller after reading the new report.
“I have no negative feelings toward Sabrina Erdely – she set out with noble intention of enacting social change when writing the original report, and she is not the sole person to blame for the publishing of its inaccuracies,” Duffin said.
“The reevaluation of journalistic practice at Rolling Stone should, I hope, result in more rigorously-checked articles in the future. The fact remains that Jackie was a very good friend of mine in my early college career; as such, I hope she receives whatever help she needs in moving beyond this story.”
Erdely’s story began with Jackie’s claim about her brutal gang-rape at Phi Kappa Psi. She claimed that she had gone on a date with a third-year fraternity member named Drew who she said she knew from her job as a lifeguard at the school swimming pool.
According to Erdely’s article, Jackie said she was brutally raped for hours as part of an initiation ritual and that she was punched and penetrated with a beer bottle. “Grab its motherfucking leg,” one of the attackers said during the rape, Jackie claimed.
Erdely’s damning report was a condemnation not just on the men who allegedly attacked Jackie, but also on fraternities, college campuses, university administrators, police and society in general. “A Rape on Campus” provided more fuel to the claim that the U.S. is immersed in “rape culture,” a term used by feminists to describe society’s acceptance of the objectification of women and the tacit acceptance of sexual assault.
Jackie said that after she called Duffin, Stock and Hendley following her alleged attack and that they dissuaded her from contacting police or school officials.
When Erdely interviewed Jackie for her article, she said Jackie claimed that Duffin, who was identified in the article as “Randall,” declined to talk about his response to Jackie’s attack because he was a member of fraternity and did not want to harm the school’s Greek life.
Jackie also claimed that school officials, including UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo and president Teresa Sullivan ignored her complaints. Her treatment by administrators was portrayed by Erdely as part of a systematic failure, a case the reporter attempted to make by touching on other accusations of sexual assault that have allegedly occurred on campus. It turned out that Jackie was also Erdely’s lone source for those other sexual assault claims.
Erdely’s article caused massive outrage for more than a week after it was published. Sullivan suspended Phi Kappa Psi and all Greek-life activities on campus. Protesters vandalized the fraternity’s house, forcing some members to go into hiding. The story reverberated across the nation and was cited as the prototype of a college campus’ systemic failure to take sexual assault seriously.
None other than New York U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand spoke about the report during a Senate hearing held on Dec. 9. One of Gillibrand’s areas of focus has been sexual assault on campuses and in the military.
The first mainstream reporter to question Erdely’s report and Jackie’s claims was Richard Bradley, the editor-in-chief of Worth magazine. This was around Thanksgiving, which is when Erdely spoke on the phone with Jackie again to find out the name of her attacker.
Even after this, Erdely gave several interviews touting the article. At the same time, she evaded questions related to how she tried to vet Jackie’s claims.
Days later, Duffin came forward to dispute major aspects of Jackie’s claims. He said that on the night of the alleged attack, Jackie claimed that she was forced to perform oral sex on five men. On top of that inconsistency, Duffin and the two other friends called to Jackie’s aid that night all said that they did not try to dissuade her from contacting police. Quite the opposite, Duffin said he encouraged her to do so.
As Duffin began to tell his side of the story, Jackie’s motivation for fabricating the story became more clear.
He told TheDC in December that Jackie had a crush on him from the very beginning of the Fall 2012 semester. He said that when he met Jackie at the beginning of that semester that she was quite forward about liking him. But he said that when he made it clear that he wasn’t romantically interested, Jackie did not take the news well. (RELATED: Exclusive: One-On-One Interview With Friend Of UVA Rape Accuser)
After she was rejected, Jackie began talking about another student who liked her named “Haven Monahan.” Jackie asked her three friends to check Monahan out on her behalf to make sure he was safe. The friends then started sending text messages with who they believed was Monahan and determined that he was okay. Jackie told her friends that it was Monahan, and not a student named Drew, who she was going on a date with the same night she later claimed to have been gang-raped.
Not only are there no records of a “Haven Monahan” ever having attended UVA, it was also discovered that the phone numbers Duffin and his friends were using to text with Monahan were registered to an online spoofing service, meaning that the phone numbers were not real. (RELATED: University Of Virginia Student’s Catfishing Scheme Revealed)
Duffin also later revealed that “Haven Monahan” sent him an email several days after Jackie claimed she was raped in which she told Monahan how much she liked Duffin. (RELATED: What UVA Student Jackie Wrote In An Email About A Friend She Liked)
Nearly every part of that letter plagiarized popular television shows such as “Dawson’s Creek” and “Scrubs.”
Last month, Charlottesville Police chief Timothy Longo released the results of its investigation into the allegations laid out in Erdely’s article. He said that Jackie, through her attorneys, had refused to answer questions about the alleged attack. He also disputed Erdely’s report that police and UVA associate dean Nicole Eramo refused to investigate Jackie’s claims.
Longo said that Jackie first told Eramo about the alleged attack on May 20, 2013. Jackie had been referred to Eramo because of her poor academic performance. Longo said that what Jackie described to Eramo was not consistent with the Rolling Stone article.
Charlottesville police first became aware of Jackie’s claims about being attacked at Phi Kappa Psi in April 2014.
On April 21, 2014, Jackie told Eramo that on April 6, 2014, she was assaulted by several male students in public. She said that the men threw a beer bottle that left heavy bruises and glass shards in her face. She also said that her roommate, a nursing student, helped pull the glass out of her face. But Longo said that Jackie’s roommate disputed that account and that she refused to give a statement to police at the time. (RELATED: Police Release Details Of UVA Rape Investigation; Claim Accuser Embellished Another Attack Story)
Longo also said that Jackie declined to talk to investigators after Rolling Stone published its article.
It was shortly after this that Renda spoke with Erdely about Jackie’s story. Renda also testified in front of the Senate in June 2014 and cited Jackie’s story. But discrepancies, which Erdely and Rolling Stone failed to uncover, were apparent even then. Renda called Jackie by the pseudonym “Jenna,” but told the Senate panel that five men had gang-raped her friend, not seven.
Renda appears to have faced no consequences for her part in helping Jackie’s fabrications make it into print. She was even promoted by Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe to a state Criminal Sentencing Commission in December, after questions had already been raised about the veracity of the Rolling Stone article. (RELATED: Terry McAuliffe Appoints Activist At Center Of Rolling Stone Rape Article To Crime Commission)
“In the case of Jackie and her account of her traumatic rape, I did not go far enough to verify her story,” Erdely wrote in her apology note on Sunday. “I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again.”
A phone call placed to the home of Jackie’s parents in Stafford, Va. was not answered. Erdely also did not answer when TheDC called her cell phone.
Scott Noble, the national president of Phi Kappa Psi, condemned what he sees as Erdely’s “arrogance” and “lack of remorse” towards the fraternity members.
“We are not happy with her purposeful non-apology to Phi Kappa Psi,” Noble told TheDC.
Columbia Journalism school officials will hold a press conference about their report on Monday.