For the sake of Rolling Stone’s reputation, Sabrina Rubin Erdely had better be the country’s greatest judge of character.
It appears that Erdely was from a great judge of character. She wanted to find a rape story at a prestigious university and found it at the University of Virginia. The story alleged that a freshman known only as Jackie was invited by an upperclassman to a party at the Phi Kappa Psi house in fall 2012, where seven men raped her over a three-hour period. That narrative became accepted, as well as the story’s claim that:
… at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students — who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture — and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.
The stunned and humiliated university suspended all fraternities, called for a police investigation, urged witnesses to speak out, and began looking at ways to change the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
But in recent days, stories in both liberal and conservative media began to poke holes in the Rolling Stone report, led by the Washington Post, which first discovered that Erdely never even attempted to contact the men accused of the brutal rape, a major journalistic faux pas. One of the attackers, who according to Jackie lured her to the party, was a lifeguard at the University Aquatic Center, she claimed.
The fraternity released a statement on Friday that contradicts both claims:
First, the 2012 roster of employees at the Aquatic and Fitness Center does not list a Phi Kappa Psi as a lifeguard. As far as we have determined, no member of our fraternity worked there in any capacity during this time period.
Second, the Chapter did not have a date function or a social event during the weekend of September 28th, 2012.
Third, our Chapter’s pledging and initiation periods, as required by the University and Inter-Fraternity Council, take place solely in the spring semester and not in the fall semester. We document the initiation of new members at the end of each spring. Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.
Some of their claims were backed up by reporting in the WaPo:
A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to her, but they also have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic and Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also said that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
On Friday Rolling Stone offered a quasi retraction of Erdely story, which read in part:
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
The retraction story immediately became major headlines on the Internet and cable news. But should they really be surprised? Isn’t it the regular practice of the mainstream media to trust their sources without question, when the story matches the narrative they prefer to promote? This was precisely what happened in the Duke rape case and even in the investigations of Fast and Furious, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal.
Cross-posted at The Lid