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Columbia Journalism School Releases Damning Report on Rolling Stone’s Campus Rape Story

Four months after Rolling Stone first retracted elements of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s story “A Rape on Campus,” about a University of Virginia student identified only as “Jackie” who claimed she had been gang-raped at a fraternity party, the Columbia School of Journalism has released its exhaustive external review that attempts to answer the question: “What Went Wrong?”

Led by the school’s dean, New Yorker writer Steve Coll, the piece breaks down exactly how Erdely found her source and how Rolling Stone magazine failed to properly vet the facts before printing it. Soon after the story was published, reporters at the Washington Post and elsewhere uncovered discrepancies that ultimately led to an apology from the magazine. Just last month, Virginia police said they could find no evidence to back up the claims in the story.

Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable,” the review found. “The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine’s reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from.”

Furthermore, Columbia’s report determined that Erdely’s story may have had the exact opposite effect on the culture than it intended. “Erdely and her editors had hoped their investigation would sound an alarm about campus sexual assault and would challenge Virginia and other universities to do better,” it states. “Instead, the magazine’s failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations.”

RELATED: Concha: Jann Wenner’s Statement on UVA Rape Story Self-Serving and Reckless

Above the report on Rolling Stone’s website managing editor Will Dana has a short statement that explains how the magazine came to ask Coll and Columbia to conduct their review. He says he found it “painful” to read.

“We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report,” Dana writes. “We would like to apologize to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students.”

Dana does not, however, indicate that anyone at the magazine will be fired or otherwise disciplined for their roles in the story’s publication. Sources confirmed that conclusion to CNN and in an interview with The New York Times, publisher Jann Wenner said Erdely will continue to write for the magazine.

Erdely released her own statement Sunday evening in which she offered her “deepest apologies” to her readers, editors and victims of sexual assault everywhere:

The link that used to host Ederly’s original story now redirects to the Columbia review.

Read the full report at rollingstone.com.

[Photo via screengrab]

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