CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – A fraternity at the University of Virginia announced Monday that it will “pursue all available legal action” against Rolling Stone, saying a Columbia Journalism School review shows the magazine acted recklessly and defamed its members by publishing an article that falsely accused them of gang rape.
“The Rolling Stone article viewed by millions fueled a court of public opinion that ostracized Phi Kappa Psi members and led to vandalism of the fraternity house,” the fraternity’s statement said.
“Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers,” said Stephen Scipione, president of the the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter. “If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it’s time to get serious.”
Rolling Stone’s “shock narrative” about sex assaults at the University of Virginia was rife with bad journalism, and the magazine has nobody but its own staff to blame, Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll said Monday at a question and answer session about the review he led at the magazine’s request.
The magazine pledged to review its practices and removed “A Rape on Campus” from its website, but publisher Jann S. Wenner said he won’t fire anyone despite the blistering review. In a New York Times interview, Wenner described “Jackie,” whose claims provided the article’s narrative thread, as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who manipulated the magazine’s journalism process.
“Rolling Stone Magazine admits its staff engaged in reckless behaviour while covering this story, yet the magazine refuses to take any action against those involved in reporting the story or address needed changes to its editorial process. The reporter in question not only failed to apologize to members of Phi Kappa Psi, but doesn’t even acknowledge the three witnesses she quoted in the article but never interviewed. This is a clear and sad indication that the magazine is not serious about its journalistic obligations,” the fraternity said.
Coll strongly disagreed “with any suggestion that this was Jackie’s fault.”
“The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position,” the report found.
Jackie’s lawyer, Palma Pustilnik, told The Associated Press on Monday that “we are not making any comment at all at this time.”
University President Teresa A. Sullivan said the article hurt efforts to fight sexual violence, tarred the school’s reputation, and falsely accused some students “of heinous, criminal acts and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate.”
The story horrified readers, unleashed campus protests and sparked a national discussion about sex assaults. Charlottesville police launched a separate investigation, which they suspended two weeks ago for lack of evidence even while publicly appealing for Jackie to co-operate. Her lawyer declined to make her available to police or the team at Columbia.
The Columbia review was requested by Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, who apologized again Monday as he retracted the article. Author Sabrina Rubin Erdely also apologized, saying she would not repeat the same mistakes.
But Sheila Coronel, the journalism school’s dean of academic affairs, said “nothing ever disappears on the Internet.”
To rebuild trust, Coll said the magazine should prohibit pseudonyms, take care to share the details of allegations so that the accused can fully and fairly respond, and be transparent to readers about what the authors don’t know.
Hajela reported from New York City.