Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone published a bombshell piece that rocked the academic world. In the story, author Sabrina Erdely detailed a horrific crime — a gang rape at one of the fraternities at the University of Virginia that allegedly took place two years ago.
It turns out the story has more holes than Swiss cheese, and just yesterday, 16 days after publication, Rolling Stone issued an apology.
Erdely and Rolling Stone didn't just make a few spelling errors here and there. According to CNN:
The University of Virginia's Phi Kappa Psi chapter did not have a party the night of September 28, 2012, the date when the reported attack occurred, the fraternity chapter's lawyer, Ben Warthen, told CNN. He said email records and Inter-fraternity Council records prove there was no party.
Warthen said there were other discrepancies in the account from the woman, whom Rolling Stone identified as Jackie, who then had just started her freshman year. For example, the orchestrator of the alleged rape did not belong to the fraternity, the fraternity house has no side staircase and there were no pledges at that time of year.
Fact-checking (or lack thereof) wasn't even Erdely's most atrocious journalistic crime. She didn't speak with any of the fraternity members involved in the alleged attack. She explained later that she didn't feel the need to — she found the subject of her story, Jackie, a University of Virginia student, to be extremely credible. Oh, and she claims: Jackie asked her not to.
Even the Washington Post took Erdely to task:
This lapse is inexcusable: Even if the accused aren’t named in the story, Erdely herself acknowledges that “people seem to know who these people are.” If they were being cited in the story for mere drunkenness, boorish frat-boy behavior or similar collegiate misdemeanors, then there’d be no harm in failing to secure their input. The charge in this piece, however, is gang rape, and so requires every possible step to reach out and interview them, including e-mails, phone calls, certified letters, FedEx letters, UPS letters and, if all of that fails, a knock on the door. No effort short of all that qualifies as journalism.
But for the first 10 days or so after publication, the story sent shock waves throughout the country. Hardly any one publicly doubted the veracity of not only Jackie's account, but also the unambiguous conclusion from the piece that elite universities are breeding grounds for a culture of rape.
One of the more memorable lines from the piece:
Some UVA women, so sickened by the university's culture of hidden sexual violence, have taken to calling it "UVrApe."