In the weeks before the University of Virginia was made the subject of a scathing magazine piece about campus rape, the school’s public-relations team raised issues about an alleged incident this year that, they said, didn’t happen, according to documents released today.
What was not discussed, though, was the shocking 2012 fraternity-house gang rape that Rolling Stone magazine focused on in a now-discredited November piece.
U.Va. officials declined to discuss the documents, emailed to ABC News today in response to a public-records request. And Rolling Stone also had no comment.
At one point in the 104-pages of emails released, university spokesman Anthony de Bruyn wrote to a Rolling Stone fact-checker that an issue had already been raised with the article’s author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
“As I mentioned to you, we have expressed our concern to Sabrina regarding what we believe to be her mischaracterization of facts about a case that occurred in Spring 2014,” de Bruyn wrote on Nov. 13, a week before the story ran. “I recall I mentioned this to you on the phone. It has been brought to our attention by a few students that Sabrina has spoken to that she is referencing an incident where a male student raped three different women and received a one-year suspension. This is in fact objectively false.”
De Bruyn declined to say more in the exchange, citing student confidentiality laws. And he would not say anything after the U.Va. governing board met in Charlottesville today.
“The university remains focused on the well-being of all students, and especially, any survivor of sexual assault,” he said in an email. “There is important work ahead regarding efforts to strengthen student safety, and the university respectfully declines comment on the records released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests.”
Rolling Stone’s spokeswoman said an internal review of the story is continuing. But the magazine has backed away from key points after acknowledging that Erdely did not contact a key person in the narrative at the request of the article’s central figure, rape victim “Jackie.”
From the emails released today, it appears that Erdely explained in writing her story in the broadest of terms.
On Sept. 5, Erdely wrote to Associate Dean of Students Nicole Eramo: “I'm writing an article about rape/rape culture on college campuses, and would very much like to talk to you about the ways in which sexual assault is handled at University of Virginia.”
The emails give little additional information about Erdely’s reporting process, except to show she engaged in fairly typical discussions about arranging meetings with officials and balking at perceived interference from public relations staffers. Interactions between U.Va. officials and the magazine’s fact-checker were also pretty standard.
Rolling Stone’s reporting processes and standards have come under brutal criticism from both people inside the media and out. The sentiment was the first topic discussed earlier today when the university’s Board of Visitors convened for a special session on the main campus.
Chairman of the Board, Rector George Keith Martin, called the reporting "a massive failure of journalistic ethics" and a piece of "drive-by journalism" that has unfairly tarnished the University's reputation.
Rector Martin said today that the university has “nothing to fear from the truth” and wants to bring "the full truth to the light of day."
Following the rector’s remarks, President Teresa Sullivan presented a progress report on safety measures, resources and short, medium and long-term goals.
By January 15, 2015 -- the first day of fraternity recruitment -- the university will upgrade its security camera system on campus and work with merchants on "The Corner" to install security cameras. Lighting on crosswalks on and adjacent to campus will also be enhanced along with intensified University Police Department patrols.
Sullivan said she also plans to reach out to high school students, noting that 50 percent of students who enter college at the University of Virginia are drinking regularly and have experienced a form of sexual trauma.
In the long-term, Sullivan emphasized the importance for the school to examine students' social life. She said she hopes the culture can change by talking more openly about healthy sexual relationships and by changing the mindsets brought with new students from high school.