Sunday, July 03, 2016

UVA Rape Story: More Details of Rolling Stone's Journalistic Malpractice

I've spoken out repeatedly on the now thoroughly debunked University of Virginia rape story.  As a double UVA alumni, I am very familiar with the University and its social atmosphere.  Moreover, three of my siblings attended UVA as did one of my daughters and other family members.  To me, the story never seemed believable.  Now, as more documents are revealed in the defamation lawsuit pending against Rolling Stone, it becomes more and more shocking that the publication ever ran the story.  The Washington Post looks at the growing evidence that Rolling Stone simply cared nothing about the truth.  Here are article excerpts:
Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely spent five months investigating a shocking claim of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, and the 9,000-word account of the brutal attack published online on Nov. 19, 2014, sent a tremor through the Charlottesville campus and beyond.
Then, on Dec. 5, at 1:54 a.m., Erdely sent an e-mail to the magazine’s top-tier editors, Will Dana and Sean Woods, with a simple subject line: “Our worst nightmare.”
The body of the message detailed how Erdely no longer trusted the primary source for the most striking anecdote in her article: a U-Va. junior named “Jackie,” who told Rolling Stone that she had been raped by seven men, while two others watched, during a date function at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012. She wrote that as questions arose about the tale, she tried to have Jackie help her verify the identity of her assailant, and “it spiraled into confusion.”
“By the time we ended our conversation, I felt nearly certain that she was not being truthful,” she wrote, noting that she had come to believe that “Jackie isn’t credible.” She ended her message by saying that the fraternity was planning to issue a statement denying that there was a party at their house the night of the purported assault. “We have to issue a retraction,” she wrote.
Erdely’s e-mail was a signal flare warning of turbulent months to come for the magazine, but, according to hundreds of pages of Erdely’s notes and other materials related to the case filed in court Friday, there were many other warnings — before the story published — that Jackie’s account was inconsistent.
The court documents, submitted as evidence in U-Va. Associate Dean Nicole Eramo’s $10 million defamation lawsuit against the magazine, reveal new details about the reporting that went into the story and show how Erdely deferred to Jackie’s wishes and account instead of digging deeper to verify the student’s claims.
The documents also show that aspects of Jackie’s account of her gang rape closely mirror details from prominent books about sexual assault survivors — including one that explores several gang rapes at fraternities — and the plotline of a “Law & Order: SVU” episode that ran about a year before Jackie first spoke to the reporter. According to Erdely’s notes, Jackie mentioned those books and the television show in her first interviews, and Erdely was warned that the nature of Jackie’s claims had changed over time.
Since that December 5 e-mail, the Columbia University journalism school and the Charlottesville Police Department issued extensive reports determining that the account Jackie gave to Rolling Stone was false. The magazine later retracted the story and apologized to readers. Last July, Dana resigned.
The magazine now faces lawsuits filed by undergraduate members of Phi Kappa Psi, as well as Eramo, who alleged in court documents that the story, titled “A Rape on Campus,” portrayed her as callous and indifferent to survivors of sexual assault.
Libby Locke, an attorney for Eramo, said the documents clearly show that the story was flawed and aimed to portray Eramo and U-Va. in a negative light, despite interviews that indicated sexual assault survivors had great praise for Eramo.
“Erdely’s reporting file demonstrates that there were numerous red flags that put Rolling Stone on notice that Jackie was not a credible source and that the gang rape story she told Rolling Stone was false,” . . . . “But none of those facts stood in the way of Rolling Stone publishing a false and defamatory article, relying on a source who was not credible and painting Ms. Eramo as a callous and indifferent administrator.” . . . . A review of Erdely’s notes show that even mundane facts obtained from Jackie appeared to be false. 

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