The UVA Mess Is Now a Full-Fledged Shitstorm


On Friday, Rolling Stone announced in a note signed by managing editor Will Dana that in light of new information, they had concluded there were serious “discrepancies” in the account of Jackie, the University of Virginia student who told journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely that she was gang-raped during a 2012 party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. As every media outlet in the known universe pores over Rolling Stone‘s missteps in this story, they’re continuing to make them: over the weekend the magazine quietly changed their editor’s note on the story, removing a widely-quoted line: “[W]e have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” Meanwhile, a conservative blogger has released what he claims is the real name, address, phone number, and picture of “Jackie.”

(At the same time, I’ve gotten a lot of well-deserved criticism for a salty post I wrote defending Erdely from Reason’s Robby Soave and Worth‘s Richard Bradley — formerly Richard Blow, before he changed his name during his own brush with bad publicity).

Rolling Stone‘s stealthy edits didn’t go unnoticed; reporter Maryn McKenna was one of several people who pointed out how the statement had been updated:

The new statement tries to take some of the blame off Jackie, with a reworded closing paragraph that acknowledges it is the job of the magazine’s reporters, editors and fact-checkers to write an accurate story, not the subject:

We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.

Erdely’s direct editor, Sean Woods, also acknowledged on Twitter that the original statement placed too much blame on Jackie:

In the meantime, the Washington Post also quietly removed a key claim from their own scathing report on the UVA story.

Erdely, meanwhile, has not commented publicly since Rolling Stone released their statement. She’s gone silent on Twitter and didn’t respond to interview requests from Jezebel, the New York Times or CNN host Brian Stelter:

That means neither Erdely nor Rolling Stone has yet commented on two important details about their handling of the story: their decision to use Jackie’s real first name, and Erdely’s alleged refusal, outlined in the WaPo story, to remove Jackie from the story when she asked: “Overwhelmed by sitting through interviews with the writer, Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused, and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.”

This is a request that sources make all the time, usually late in the reporting process, when it becomes clear that a story isn’t going the way they’d hoped or won’t cast them in the light they wished. Erdely wasn’t, strictly, under any obligation to take Jackie out of the story, although it might have made most reporters wonder whether she was the best person to hang the story around. Jackie’s reluctance is, at the very least, something she should have noted, along with her evident agreement with the girl not to contact her alleged attackers.

And given Jackie’s increasing reluctance, if Erdely wasn’t willing to take her out of the story, she should have at the very least made her far less easily identifiable. Because now, predictably, conservative blogger and seeping asshole Chuck C. Johnson has published what he says is her full name, along with screenshots from what he called her “rape-obsessed Pinterest page,” and proof, he says, that the girl ” has lied about sexual assaults in the past.” (Despite his zeal in outing Jackie, Johnson has a rich history of threatening people who expose his highly sensitive personal information, like the phone number he’s tweeted himself.)

Jackie’s suitemate her freshman year has written a letter to UVA’s student paper, saying strongly that she doesn’t believe the girl made up her story: “I fully support Jackie, and I believe wholeheartedly that she went through a traumatizing sexual assault,” she wrote. She says it was Jackie’s mistrust in Rolling Stone that was misplaced, not vice-versa, and adds: “[T]he articles released in the past few days have been troubling to me, and the responses to them even more so. While I cannot say what happened that night, and I cannot prove the validity of every tiny aspect of her story to you, I can tell you that this story is not a hoax, a lie or a scheme. Something terrible happened to Jackie at the hands of several men who have yet to receive any repercussions.”

Recently returned Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi has expressed puzzlement with how the story was handled, noting that the fact-checking at the magazine is usually so rigorous it sometimes drove him insane:

There are still a great many questions to be answered here, ones Erdely should step forward and address directly. In the meantime, Politico reports that UVA’s fraternities and sororities are planning a “sweeping offensive” against the school, asking that the suspension of the Greek system be lifted and complaining that the story cast them in an unfair light: “Greek leaders say they would like the university to apologize, publicly release records that explain the basis of its decision to suspend the Greek system and outline how it will restore the reputation of fraternities and students at the university.”

Image via Jay Paul/Getty

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