Written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the story opened with the chilling story of Jackie, a University of Virginia student who, according to the story, suffered a brutal gang rape in 2012 at the school’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Reaction to the piece was immediate, as the university suspended all fraternity activities and the piece became a national media obsession.
Doubts about the gang-rape described in the piece didn’t take long to surface. As exposed by some nifty reporting by The Post’s Metro section, Rolling Stone’s reporting on the gang-rape incident crumbled. Friends of Jackie’s told the newspaper that what they experienced on that 2012 night didn’t comport with what Rolling Stone had reported. Erdely had done very little to confirm the essential elements of her lede.
Rolling Stone ran an apology for the story and admitted fault in having failed to contact critical sources to confirm various details. It specifically noted its failure to contact the alleged gang-rapists in deference to Jackie’s wishes. And Rolling Stone farmed out an investigation of the story to the Columbia Journalism School.
To recap the main points of Longo’s press conference: The police investigation, which featured hundreds of hours of interviews, found no evidence that Jackie was sexually assaulted in the Phi Kappa Psi house on the night of Sept. 28, 2012. “We are not able to conclude to any substantive degree that an incident that is consistent with facts contained in that article occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, or any other fraternity house, for that matter,” said the chief. The case is suspended, though not closed, said Longo. In their investigation, Charlottesville police found essentially what The Post had reported: The friends cited in the Rolling Stone article told a different story of events on that night than what Rolling Stone had reported. “A lot of time and energy went into tracking down people,” said Longo, who made clear that the department’s failure to corroborate the allegations in the Rolling Story doesn’t mean that nothing traumatic happened to Jackie that night.
In his presentation, Longo also addressed two other sexual assaults that Jackie had alleged in discussions with a U-Va. dean, Nicole Eramo. Those cases, said Longo, took place in 2010 and 2014 at the Phi Kappa Psi house, according to Jackie’s explanation to Eramo. “We have no evidence of that — no one has come forward making such allegations. No witnesses, no victims, no evidence whatsoever to support those claims,” said Longo.
This information from Longo appears to challenge a significant contention in the Rolling Stone piece, which cites two additional sexual assaults that the magazine alleges through Jackie: “Through her ever expanding network, Jackie had come across something deeply disturbing: two other young women who, she says, confided that they, too, had recently been Phi Kappa Psi gang-rape victims,” reads Erdely’s account. In May 2014, Erdely writes, Jackie presented those allegations to Eramo.
And yet more: The Rolling Stone piece recounts the harrowing story of Jackie being assaulted on “The Corner,” a nightspot near the U-Va. campus. “This past spring, in separate incidents, both Emily Renda and Jackie were harassed outside bars on the Corner by men who recognized them from presentations and called them ‘c[—]’ and ‘feminazi b[—-],'” writes Erdely. “One flung a bottle at Jackie that broke on the side of her face, leaving a blood-red bruise around her eye.”
The Charlottesville police department casts investigative doubt on this version of events. The incident supposedly occurred on April 6, 2014, according to Longo. Jackie told the police that her roommate, a nursing student, “picked the glass particles from her face,” as Longo tells it. The roommate denied having done so and described the injury as an “abrasion,” “as opposed to a blunt trauma injury.”
What is left of the Rolling Stone piece? Very little. There’s some reporting on the university’s culture, which shouldn’t be taken seriously in light of the fraud exposed by the police; there’s some reporting on the university leadership’s approach to the issue, which shouldn’t be taken seriously in light of the fraud exposed by the police; there’s some reporting on an old rape case, which pretty much holds up, but, again….
Though Longo is not paid as a media critic, his statements make clear that Rolling Stone propagated a biased work built on a mix of naivete and advocacy. As we’ve written before, Rolling Stone personnel should lose employment over this disaster.