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Press Conference Held on Rolling Stone Article Review

Posted: Updated: Apr 06, 2015 06:30 PM
Columbia Journalism School Academic Dean Sheila  Coronel and Dean Steve Coll Columbia Journalism School Academic Dean Sheila Coronel and Dean Steve Coll
After a four-month investigation, the Columbia Journalism School released its review of Rolling Stone's discredited University of Virginia gang rape expose on Sunday. The report was titled "Rolling Stone's investigation: 'A failure that was avoidable.'" Just how badly Rolling Stone erred in their story was underlined again at a press conference held on Monday by the authors of the review.

In November 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published an article titled “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. In the article, a student known as 'Jackie' described being brutally gang raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at UVA in September 2012. Soon after being published the disturbing allegations in the article quickly fell apart. In December 2014, Rolling Stone issued an apology, pointing out that discrepancies in Jackie's story were discovered.  Several weeks later, Rolling Stone contacted the Columbia Journalism School to conduct an investigation of what had gone wrong.

The Columbia Journalism School review was an indictment of both the magazine and its staff for accepting Jackie's story without double-checking the facts or corroborating her story with other people supposedly involved.  The authors of the review say it took almost four months of interviews with people connected to the article to understand what Rolling Stone's mistakes were and what lessons can be learned from what they're calling a 'failure that could have been avoided.'

Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll says Rolling Stone's report had flaws beyond putting so much trust in one source. "These are not failures of dishonesty in an individual,” he stated. According to Coll, "They are systematic failures, collective failures, that involve people who have worked at the same place for a long period of time."

He and academic dean Sheila Coronel say their review looked into every angle of Jackie's story. "We looked at what the university administration did at the time when Jackie first reported her assault. We saw that Rolling Stone had an improper understanding of what was actually reported,” Coronel stated.

They say journalistic malpractice started with the article's writer Sabrina Erdely herself, and went all the way up to the magazine's managing editor. The review states that the failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.

Coronel says the consequences could be detrimental. "It may be discouraging women from coming out publicly for fear that their accounts are going to be questioned just as Jackie's account was," she stated.

The authors maintain that Jackie is not at fault for what happened, and the magazine blaming her after publishing the article is yet another major mistake in the publication's journalistic practices.

"Placing the blame on her after the story blew up, yeah we think that was not the right way to understand what had happened and not the right way to articulate to the public their position," Coll stated.

A good portion of the review went in-depth about how hard it is to report on rape or sexual assault. The writers say journalists have to make double the effort to ensure they're being sensitive but also get the facts right and corroborate a single source's story, which just simply did not happen in Rolling Stone's case.


Governor McAuliffe's statement on Columbia University's Review of Rolling Stone's Campus Sexual Assault Article:

RICHMOND – Governor Terry McAuliffe released the following statement on Columbia University School of Journalism's review of Rolling Stone's ‘A Rape on Campus' article.

“The abject failure of accountability in journalism that led to Rolling Stone's ‘A Rape on Campus' article has done untold damage to the University of Virginia and our Commonwealth as a whole. More importantly, this false account has been an unnecessary and dangerous distraction from real efforts to combat sexual violence on our college campuses. My administration will not allow this shameful episode to stop the momentum we have built working with administrators, law enforcement, students and advocates to keep our campuses safe.”

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