The Rolling Stone article on an alleged brutal gang rape at a fraternity at the University of Virginia is stirring widespread disgust. But the details on the alleged assault appear to come almost entirely from one person who has not come forward. When the Washington Post’s Paul Fahri sought information how journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote the story, “Erdely declined to address specific questions about her reporting when contacted on Sunday and Monday.” Instead, Erdely sent the Post an email:
“I could address many of [the questions] individually . . . but by dwelling on this, you’re getting sidetracked. As I’ve already told you, the gang-rape scene that leads the story is the alarming account that Jackie — a person whom I found to be credible — told to me, told her friends, and importantly, what she told the UVA administration, which chose not to act on her allegations in any way — i.e., the overarching point of the article. THAT is the story: the culture that greeted her and so many other UVA women I interviewed, who came forward with allegations, only to be met with indifference.”
The issue is not whether the University of Virginia has sometimes failed miserably to thoroughly investigate sexual assault allegations in the past. Nor is the issue whether UVA has a surplus of alcoholics, arrogant twits, and obnoxious fraternities.
The issue is whether nine guys participated in a brutal gang rape of one student at a specific fraternity two years ago. Erdely apparently never contacted the alleged assailants to get their response or defense.
The Rolling Stone UVA Gang Rape story is “trust me” journalism: if a single detail is false, then the entire story collapses. And the heinousness of a crime does not absolve a reporter for providing hard evidence.
Working as a journalist the past few decades, I have had plenty of opportunities to write shocking articles based on sole sources who insisted on remaining anonymous. I didn’t do the articles in part because I did not want to ask readers to rely on my assertions in lieu of other substantiating evidence.
If Erdely cannot prove that the key event in her story happened as she reported it, there should be a tidal wave of questions for her and Rolling Stone. And if her story is accurate, then the perpetrators should be vigorously prosecuted and sent up the river for a long time. And if any university officials knew of the crime as Erdely reported it happened, heads should roll.
By the way – Rolling Stone was sued in 1998 for publishing fabricated information by Stephen Glass in an article about DARE America. Many people recall Glass’es connection the New Republic but the Rolling Stone lawsuit has been forgotten by almost everyone.