Facing increased scrutiny over an explosive article about an alleged gang rape on the campus of the University of Virginia, Rolling Stone has issued a formal apology for its reporting.
In the Nov. 19 article, writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely described the following: the brutal rape of a woman — identified as Jackie — by seven men at a 2012 Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party during an apparent pledge initiation; the university's failure to respond to the alleged attack; and the school's troubled history of handling such cases. As a result of the article, both the university and the Charlottesville, Va., Police Department launched investigations and the fraternity voluntarily suspended its operations.
On Friday, Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana issued an apology, saying there were "discrepancies" in the woman's account.
"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. "We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story."
Friday evening, Dana posted a series of six tweets taking responsibility for the flawed report:
1/I can’t explain the discrepancies between Jackie’s account and the counter statements made by Phi Psi.— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
2/The fact that there is a story that appears in Rolling Stone in which I don’t have complete confidence is deeply unsettling to me.— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
3/We made a judgment – the kind of judgement reporters and editors make every day. And in this case, our judgement was wrong.— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
4/ We should have either not made this agreement with Jackie…— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
5/…or worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story.— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
6/ That failure is on us – not on her.— Will Dana (@wdana) December 5, 2014
Erdely could not immediately be reached for comment. Earlier this week, Erdely, who had been criticized for relying on a single source and not contacting the men accused of rape, said she stood by her reporting.
“I am convinced that it could not have been done any other way, or any better,” Erdely told the New York Times. “I am also not interested in diverting the conversation away from the point of the piece itself.”
In a statement released Wednesday, the magazine stood by the victim's story: "Through our extensive reporting and fact–checking, we found Jackie to be entirely credible and courageous and we are proud to have given her disturbing story the attention it deserves."
But Dana said the magazine now regrets not contacting the accused.
"We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault," he wrote, "and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account."
After the magazine's apology, Phi Kappa Psi's Virginia chapter issued a statement saying the fraternity did not host a party on the night of the alleged attack, and cast doubt on several other assertions made in the piece, including the pool where Jackie said she first met one of her alledged attackers:
We continue to be shocked by the allegations and saddened by this story. We have no knowledge of these alleged acts being committed at our house or by our members. Anyone who commits any form of sexual assault, wherever or whenever, should be identified and brought to justice.
In tandem with the Charlottesville Police Department’s investigation, the Chapter’s undergraduate members have made efforts to contribute with internal fact-finding. Our initial doubts as to the accuracy of the article have only been strengthened as alumni and undergraduate members have delved deeper.
Given the ongoing nature of the criminal investigation, which we fully support, we do not feel it would be appropriate at this time to provide more than the following:
First, the 2012 roster of employees at the Aquatic and Fitness Center does not list a Phi Kappa Psi as a lifeguard. As far as we have determined, no member of our fraternity worked there in any capacity during this time period.
Second, the Chapter did not have a date function or a social event during the weekend of September 28th, 2012.
Third, our Chapter's pledging and initiation periods, as required by the University and Inter-Fraternity Council, take place solely in the spring semester and not in the fall semester. We document the initiation of new members at the end of each spring. Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiation process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.
Earlier Friday, the Washington Post said it had spoken to Jackie, a 20-year-old junior at the school, several times this week, and that she stands by her version of events.
“I never asked for this," she said. “What bothers me is that so many people act like it didn’t happen. It’s my life. I have had to live with the fact that it happened every day for the last two years.”
But a group of her close friends told the newspaper while they believe "something traumatic happened to Jackie," they have come to doubt her account:
They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also confirmed that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
“One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Alex Pinkleton of One Less at UVA, an all-female student group committed to educating students on sexual violence, wrote on Facebook. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who come forward are telling the truth.”
The school did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Last month, University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan suspended all events by fraternities and sororities until the start of the spring semester.
On Monday, Sullivan announced that the school would re-examine its policies regarding sexual violence in the wake of the article.
"U.Va. is too good a place to allow this evil to reside," she said.
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.
With Yahoo News' Michael Walsh contributing reporting.