Rolling Stone Apologizes, Retracts UVA Rape Article After CJR Review

CJR critique says magazine failed to follow proper journalistic procedures.

ByABC News
April 6, 2015, 12:45 AM

— -- Rolling Stone issued an apology for a November 2014 article that detailed allegations about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, retracting the article and posting a critique of the magazine's editorial process on the story in its place.

The Columbia University Journalism School review published Sunday on the Rolling Stone web site said that it found the journalistic failure was avoidable, and encompassed problems with reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking.

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, "A Rape on Campus," also issued an apology.

"The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article 'A Rape on Campus' was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article," she said in the statement.

Erdely concedes that she "didn't go far enough to verify her story."

"I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts. These are mistakes I will not make again," she wrote in the statement.

“Reporting on rape has unique challenges, but the journalist still has the responsibility to get it right. I hope that my mistakes in reporting this story do not silence the voices of victims that need to be heard.”

The article prompted an investigation by police in Charlottesville, Virginia, that concluded last month with officials saying they found "no evidence" that the allegations were true.

The woman, identified as "Jackie," alleged in the article that she was gang-raped by seven men at a UVA Phi Psi fraternity party in September 2012.

After the article was published, the magazine backpedaled on the story and Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana said Erdely did not talk to any of the students involved in the alleged rape before publishing the story out of respect for Jackie.

Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie's and advocate for sexual assault victims, shared her own story with Erdely.

"I did encounter skepticism with Sabrina because it seemed like she was unwilling to listen to anyone besides Jackie," Pinkleton said.

"I think in the report, the most surprising part of it was that there seemed to be a lack of ownership on the terms of the Rolling Stone. They still talked a lot about Jackie and what she had supposedly done wrong, when in reality the article should not have been written at all," Pinkleton told ABC News. "I don't think the review can help the damage that was done to Jackie and I think it's been an unfortunate situation and something that should not have been published."

University of Virginia Student Council President Abraham Axler said he did not find the report particularly shocking, and was pleased to see that it vindicated particular university figures.

"I think the most important lesson to be learned from all this stuff is that when we read something really evocative, we read something that really hits us at a visceral level that we wait until we hear all of the facts before rushing to judgement," Axler told ABC News. "I think one lesson that our community has learned is that we cant target people on the basis of a narrative."

University President Teresa A. Sullivan addressed the review, and the article's negative impact, in a statement.

"Rolling Stone’s story, 'A Rape on Campus,' did nothing to combat sexual violence, and it damaged serious efforts to address the issue," the statement reads. "Irresponsible journalism unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone falsely accused some University of Virginia students of heinous, criminal acts, and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate. The story portrayed University staff members as manipulative and callous toward victims of sexual assault. Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored."