In 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published an article that was pivotal in exposing the "rape culture" at colleges and universities around the nation. In the story, authored by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, a college freshman identified only as "Jackie" discusses her gang-rape and sexual assault by several members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia. The story detailed not only Jackie's assault, but also the cold, insensitive response she received from UVA administrators, and in particular, Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo.
However, shortly after the story ran, its credibility was attacked. Erdely was accused of not adequately interviewing witnesses or following up with sources. Instead, she took Jackie's story at face value, not bothering to address inconsistencies between what the woman told her and what she said to witnesses at the time of the alleged assaults.
Although Jackie did not report the assault to local police, they later investigated after the story was released; however, they could find no evidence that any sexual assault actually took place.
Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism conducted an independent review of the story and found "sweeping editorial failures." In criticizing the story as one of the worst examples of journalism in 2014, the Columbia Journalism Review writes:
Reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely didn’t contact the alleged perpetrators of Jackie’s rape, not to mention three of her friends portrayed as unsympathetic to it. It turns out, as reported in a sterling clean-up job by The Washington Post, that Jackie’s account in the story doesn’t match her friends’ recollections of the incident. A number of other key details from the piece have since been disputed or disproved. In its initial editor’s note regarding the story — since updated — Rolling Stone deflected criticism: “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.” It deserves a DART for blaming its utter failure on someone else, and many more for all the lapses leading up to it.
Rolling Stone quickly retracted the now-discredited story.
Now, Rolling Stone and Erdely have been named in defamation lawsuits by Dean Eramo and the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. As part of Eramo's lawsuit, attorneys requested that "Jackie" be required to testify. Her attorneys, however, said that testifying under oath would "re-victimize" their client, causing her "extreme psychological . . . and irreparable harm."
Attorneys for both Rolling Stone and Eramo pushed to require Jackie to testify. After all, she was not apparently traumatized by recounting her alleged rape to Erdely for publication in Rolling Stone.
Earlier this week, Judge Glen E. Conrad denied a motion by Jackie's attorneys to quash her testimony and ordered that the woman whose tale prompted one of the biggest failures in modern journalism to testify under oath.
Will the real story of "A Rape on Campus" finally come out when Jackie testifies under oath? And if her story is completely fabricated,
as many suggest, what consequences might she face for defamation?
Image credit: Rolling Stone via CNN Money