On Sunday April 6, Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism released a review describing the Rolling Stone gang rape article as an “avoidable journalistic failure”. The report criticized the way the magazine reported, edited and verified the facts before releasing the now-discredited journalistic piece.
The magazine officially withdrew the story regarding the gang rape which occurred on September 28 2012 at a University of Virginia fraternity house (the Phi Kappa Psi). The article identified the victim as first-year student Jackie.
The story generated nationwide discussions regarding campus sexual assaults while also affecting the reputation of the university along with its fraternities and sororities.
However, important disparities were quickly noticed by the Washington Post and other magazines. In March of this year, police reported they were unable to find evidence that the incident actually took place.
The Rolling Stone editors were aware of the fact that Jackie refused to name the lifeguard who raped her but allowed the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, to publish the story, even though no one knew the perpetrator’s name of if he actually existed.
The Columbia School of Journalism review criticized the magazine’s fact-checking. It seems after the story was published, the team asked once again the victim to identify the lifeguard but the girl couldn’t spell his last name. This is when the author asked herself a very important question:
“How could Jackie not know the exact name of someone she said had carried out such a terrible crime against her — a man she professed to fear deeply?”
But no measures were taken.
According to the review, the desire to “believe the victim” was one of the key factors that led to this journalistic error. The editors, together with Erdely admitted to being at fault for being too agreeable of Jackie because she was portrayed as the victim of an awful sexual assault.
The report also explains that “social scientists, psychologists and trauma specialists” who treat rape survivors have stressed “the need to respect the autonomy of victims” in order to avoid other psychological traumas from taking place. The review mentions that “rape survivors are as reliable in their testimony as other crime victims”.
The magazine team, together with the editors and the author of the paper made an official statement, apologizing to everyone who was damaged because of their story.
Image Source: Business Insider