After reading the Rolling Stone article and then reading the retractions, it’s clear the the journalist, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, who wrote A Rape on Campus, was sloppy and had a reckless disregard for the truth.
In fact, retractions were implimented almost immediately into the story. In the second paragraph of the story, it states, “She smiled at her date, whom we’ll call Drew, a good-looking junior – or in UVA parlance, a third-year – and he smiled enticingly back.” However, it later turned out that the name she had given, and ultimately accused of sexual assault, did not match anyone at the university.
After further investigation on my end, the actual name was Haven Monohan, which would explain why no one matched that name on campus. That is an uncommon name and i’m not surprised that name didn’t match any of the 20,000 enrolled students at the University of Virginia at the time.
Furthermore, this is a prime example of sloppy reporting. All Erdely had to do was check and see if the name that Jackie had originally given her matched anyone on campus. That would have immediately put a hole in Jackie’s story. But Erdely decided to continue on with the story.
On a similar note, the original story also said that, “She and Drew had met while working lifeguard shifts together at the university pool.” However, that was almost immediately debunked as it turned out that the 2012 roster of employees at the Aquatic and Fitness Center did not list a member Phi Kappa Psi as a lifeguard, especially by the name of Haven. This, too, could have been easily confirmed by Erdely, but she continued to have a reckless disregard for the truth.
It also turned out that Phi Kappa Psi, on September 28th, 2012, the very night Jackie claimed to have been gang raped at a party at the fraternity house, did not actually have a party. This is another thing Erdely should have followed up on. If there was no party on September 28th, how could Jackie have been gang raped at their party?
So far, all of these mistakes, or retractions, seemed like rookie errors that a journalist of Erdely’s magnitude should know better than to make. I say this because all of these retractions could have been prevented if she had simply dug a tiny bit deeper and followed up on Jackie’s accusations.
The original story also claims that “seven men took turns raping her”. However, after speaking to Jackie’s friend, he stated that she originally said it was five men. Although this could be an accidental error, it would have at least put Erdely on notice if she had just talked to Jackie’s friend before publishing the nation-rocking article. In other words, Erdely should not have published the story without talking to and confirming information with Jackie’s friend, regardless of whether he’s available or wants to speak with them or not. If Erdely can’t speak with the friend, then she must leave the information out. This was a major error by Erdely and again was another example of her recklessly disregarding the truth.
Moving on, the story also mentions “Pussy!” the other men jeered. “What, she’s not hot enough for you?” Then they egged him on: “Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too.” Someone handed her classmate a beer bottle. However, it later turned out that Phi Kappa Psi’s Chapter’s pledging and initiation periods, as required by the University and Inter-Fraternity Council, took place solely in the spring semester and not in the fall semester. In addition, Phi Kappa Psi documents the initiation of new members at the end of each spring.
This follows the same pattern of sloppy reporting. Again, all Erdely had to do was check and see when pledging and initiation periods were. At this point, Erdely definitely ruined her career. There is no going back from this and ultimately her credibility, which is necessary in order to be a successful journalist, is permanently destroyed.
The remaining retractions all followed the same pattern as well. Erdely made the mistake to trust and sympathize with Jackie, rather than finding Jackie’s friends and confirming their sides of the story. Yes, Jackie had original told Erdely that her friends did not want to speak with her, but even if that was truly the case, which it wasn’t, but if it was, Erdely should have immediately suspended her story and not published it.
I can understand a reporters excitement, especially Erdely’s, when they feel that have something major, something that will rock the nation. But, with that, you must make sure that the information you have is valid and that, when questioned, you can prove that the information is valid. If you don’t, a lot of people can be affected. In this specific case, the University of Virginia took a major hit, the dean of the university took a major hit but won a $3 million dollar libel case against the Rolling Stone later on, actual rape victims around the globe took a hit, and of course, Erdely’s credibility disintegrated and her career ended.
The ironic thing about all this is that it could have easily been prevented if Erdely had not made such rookie mistakes by not fact checking her information originally. This is ultimately why the errors not just simple omissions, but sloppy reporting and a reckless disregard for the truth.