He said, she said: Rolling Stone article fails in more ways than one


Photo credit/ Alex Weidner

Patrick Kernan and Brigid Edmunds

Editor’s note: Typically, the He Said/She Said features a discussion of the pros and cons of a given topic. However, given the circumstances surrounding the Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus,” this issue’s He Said/She Said will feature an investigation into multiple negative aspects of the story.

He Said: Rolling Stone failed the public

As someone who is as into music as I am, and as someone who eventually wants to pursue a career in music journalism, the name “Rolling Stone” was synonymous with one thing: the end goal.

Now, though? I’m not so sure.

In the December 2014 issue of Rolling Stone, the magazine ran an article by Sabrina Erdely entitled “A Rape on Campus,” which claimed that a few members of a fraternity at the University of Virginia raped a woman, identified as “Jackie,” as part of an initiation ritual.

The problem with the article, though, is that Erdely framed it mostly from the account of Jackie. Upon later investigation, it was discovered that major parts of her story were fabricated, including, according to The Chicago Tribune, the very existence of some of the accused rapists.

The main question that I have is this: Why did this sort of fact-checking only go on after the article was published? Rolling Stone must have too much faith in its writers if it is willing to run an article like this without the necessary fact-checking.

This was a major mistake from Rolling Stone. The Columbia Journalism review labeled the article as the “winner” of “The Worst Journalism of 2014”, while the Poynter Institute called it “error of the year”.

Ultimately, this article will just make it difficult for people to believe Rolling Stone, and perhaps even the journalistic process as a whole. If Rolling Stone wants to do hard-hitting stories such as these, then it needs to do the hard work necessary to fact-check. If it’s not willing to do that, then maybe the magazine should just stick to the (typically excellent) music reporting it’s famous for.

Contact the writer: [email protected] 


She said: Rolling Stone failed rape survivors

Pat makes excellent points on how Rolling Stone failed the public in unbelievable ways, but I also think it is important to discuss how they also failed every person who has survived rape.
A New York Magazine article outlines an intense and graphic scene of a freshman girl getting raped at a frat party, including inserts from the original article. After this piece was published, Jackie became the poster child for rape victims standing up against their aggressors. Even though she was anonymous, she was now the symbol for how to speak up.

Since the story fell apart, people have been questioning Jackie’s story, as well as countless stories of rape on college campuses. This fall from grace didn’t only happen for Rolling Stone; it happened for Jackie and everyone she now represented.

According to a Medical Daily article, “Rolling Stone’s Retraction of UVA Fuels Idea There Are Only Perfect Rape Victims,” once the Rolling Stone article had to be retracted, the blame shifted from the publication to Jackie.

I am not saying that Jackie shouldn’t share the blame, but if the media and general public are going to rip her story to shreds, it makes it harder for victims of sexual assault and rape to come forward without being second-guessed. Jackie, and rape survivors in general, become ‘The boy who cried wolf.’

In a Huffington Post article by Tyler Kingkade they track how since the investigation started in May of 2014, the number of universities under investigation went from 55 to 106. Action was finally being taken to put an end to college sexual assault and rape.

So, with Jackie’s story and Rolling Stone’s errors, the clock automatically gets set back a few years. Moving forward, it might still be difficult for victims and survivors to come forward with the dark cloud of Rolling Stone’s article looming behind.

Contact the writer: [email protected]