A Huge Black Eye for Rolling Stone Magazine

PhiKappaPsiUVAIt’s every magazine editor’s worst nightmare. One that, per a Note to Readers posted today at the top of the November 19 Rolling Stone article heard around the U.S. college campus world (“A Rape on Campus”), has become a sad reality for managing editor Will Dana.

From the Note:

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 Sabrina Rubin Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made her, or Rolling Stone‘s editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie’s credibility.

… 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.

Over at Romenesko, the first wave of Facebook reaction is uniformly critical:

Michael David Smith: Rolling Stone‘s explanation is wholly inadequate. What, exactly, led them to stop trusting the primary source of the original story? Do they think she’s telling the truth as she knows it but have reason to doubt her memory of some of the details of the attack? Do they think she made the whole thing up and there was no attack at all? Somewhere in between? This requires a more thorough explanation than Rolling Stone has offered.

Amy French: This is so sad because fact-checking should have caught these issues, and RS should blame itself for that – not “misplaced trust” in a young woman who may have lied willfully, or may be ill.

Something horrible may have indeed happened to Jackie at the party sponsored by the named fraternity. And her apparent difficulties in relating the details may be a result of that.

But for the moment, it’s increasingly about some very careless journalism and the muddying of a reading public’s perception of an extremely serious, endemic issue.

Update (December 7):
Per BuzzFeed’s Jim Dalrympe II, Rolling Stone on Saturday quietly amended and expanded the note to readers at the top of the article.

[Photo via: virginiaifc.com]

@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.