The managing editor of Rolling Stone said Friday that he now believes the magazine “misplaced” its trust in Jackie, the subject of a blockbuster article on an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, due to discrepancies in her account of the incident.
Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s report on Jackie’s alleged, horrific gang rape in 2012 at a UVA fraternity and the university’s subsequent slow response to her case had been met with heavy criticism in the past week. Media critics began to wonder why Erdely did not include a sentence in the story addressing whether and how she attempted to contact Jackie’s alleged rapists.
In subsequent interviews about her reporting, Erdely declined to say whether she ever knew the identities of the alleged rapists, telling the Washington Post that “this was a topic that made Jackie extremely uncomfortable.”
Erdely and her editor, Sean Woods, stood by the piece amid the onslaught of criticism. But on Friday, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana essentially pulled the magazine’s support for Jackie’s story.
“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” Dana wrote in an editor’s note. “We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account.”
The editor’s note came as the UVA fraternity where Jackie alleged the gang rape took place, Phi Kappa Psi, said that the organization would issue a statement rebutting the Rolling Stone article.
The Washington Post reported Friday that Phi Kappa Psi was prepared to say it did not host a party on the date Jackie alleged she was gang raped, nor did any member of the organization match the description of the student Jackie said brought her to the party [Ed note: See the fraternity’s full statement here].
Here’s how some of the details in Jackie’s story unraveled, according to the Post’s report:
Earlier this week, Jackie revealed to friends for the first time the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone. But after looking into that person’s background, the group that had been among her closest supporters quickly began to raise suspicions about her account. The friends determined that the student that Jackie had named was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier about her perpetrator.
The Post determined that the student Jackie named is not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and had never met her in person. [Ed note: The Washington Post later struck this claim from its story; see update below.]
In an interview with the newspaper this week, Jackie described feeling manipulated by Erdely and “out of control” of her own account of the alleged rape (the Post also reported that at some point Jackie had asked Erdely to be taken out of her article, a request Erdely refused).
In another interview Thursday, Jackie told the Post that some details in Rolling Stone’s story may not be accurate and admitted to not knowing whether her main attacker was indeed a member of Phi Kappa Psi, though she maintained that the alleged rape happened at that fraternity house.
Read Rolling Stone’s full statement on the story below:
To Our Readers:
Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university’s failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school’s troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone’s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
This post has been updated.
Late update 2:27 p.m.: The Post has struck from its story that the student Jackie named in the Rolling Stone story as her main attacker never met her in person.
Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.