Phi Kappa Psi Plans to Sue Rolling Stone Over Discredited UVA Rape Article

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UPDATE: The fraternity at the center of a discredited Rolling Stone article about an alleged gang rape at University of Virginia “plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine,” the Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi said in a statement. The announcement came a day after the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism released a report finding that the article violated “basic, even routine journalistic practice.”

“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” Stephen Scipione, president of the Virginia Alpha Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, said in the statement.

“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,” Scipione said. “If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it’s time to get serious.”

Rolling Stone’s managing editor, Will Dana, said in a statement after the Columbia review was released Sunday night that the magazine’s staff was “committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report.” Dana also said the magazine was formally retracting its debunked story about the alleged sexual assault.

The article, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely and published online in November, detailed a brutal gang rape of a UVA student referred to as “Jackie” at the school’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. The article sparked outrage and prompted the president of the university to suspend all fraternities for the rest of the semester.

But police in Charlottesville, Virginia, have found that there was no basis to prove the incident described in the article happened at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

The Columbia report found that the errors made in the article stemmed from Rolling Stone’s failure to reach out to the subject’s friends and identify the alleged attackers. The review also found that Phi Kappa Psi wasn’t given an adequate chance to respond.

Erdely said in a statement Sunday night that reading the report was a “brutal and humbling experience.”

“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,” Erdely said.

At a news conference Monday, Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll said those who conducted the investigation into the story “disagree with any suggestion that this was Jackie’s fault.”

“This was a failure of methodology,” he said. “And this wasn’t the subject’s fault.”



(NBC News) Rolling Stone magazine formally retracted its since-debunked story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia after an independent report found Sunday that it violated “basic, even routine journalistic practice.”

The report on the article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which was titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” was released Sunday night by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Rolling Stone, which commissioned the report, and Columbia University both published it in full.

The article, published online in November, detailed a brutal gang rape of a UVA student named “Jackie” at the school’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. The article sparked outrage and prompted the president of the university to suspend all fraternities for the rest of the semester.

Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone’s publisher, told The New York Times that Erdely would continue to write for Rolling Stone and that managing editor Will Dana and article editor Sean Woods would keep their jobs.

Wenner called “Jackie,” the story’s source, “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who hoodwinked the magazine’s editors.

In a statement, Erdely said reading the report was “a brutal and humbling experience.”

“I did not go far enough to verify her story,” Erdely said. “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.”

Dana, likewise, called the report “painful reading” in a separate statement. “With its publication, we are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus,'” he said.

Columbia found three main sources of error:

Erdely didn’t try to contact three of Jackie’s friends, who later denied quotations attributed to them.
Rolling Stone never identified Jackie’s alleged attackers, making it impossible for police to effectively investigate the case.
The magazine didn’t give Phi Kappa Psi, the alleged attackers’ fraternity, an adequate chance to respond.
Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia journalism school, said in an accompanying interview that the first lapse was the most significant “point of failure” in the story’s production.

“The reporter did not make an effort, an independent effort, to identify those three people,” Coll said. “And yet, by her first draft, we see that she always intended to write in a derogatory way about them.

“Then the editor, in receipt of that anecdote which attributed dialogue to the three, that was quite unflattering, not only accepted a reporting trail that had failed to identify and hear from these three, but also made choices about attribution that hid from readers the fact that they got this speech from Jackie, not from any of the three,” he added. “In fact they didn’t even know their last names.”

Palma Pustilnik, a lawyer who has spoken for Jackie, told NBC News on Sunday that she and her client had no comment on the Columbia report. Coll and other Columbia deans will hold a news conference at noon ET Monday, the school said.

Questions about the validity of the account and methods of reporting were quickly raised by The Washington Post and other media outlets, which found that details of the story had changed and that the alleged ring-leader had never been contacted.

And police in Charlottesville, Virginia, concluded last month that they had “no basis to conclude that anything happened at that fraternity house.”

In late December, Columbia announced in a statement that Rolling Stone had asked it to conduct a review of the “reporting and editorial decision making” that resulted in the article.

In the wake of the police investigation, Phi Kappa Psi asked Rolling Stone to “fully and unconditionally” retract the story and to take it down from its website.

UVA President President Sullivan on Sunday called the story “irresponsible journalism” that “unjustly damaged the reputations of many innocent individuals and the University of Virginia.”

“Such false depictions reinforce the reluctance sexual assault victims already feel about reporting their experience, lest they be doubted or ignored,” Sullivan said. “Sexual violence is a serious issue for our society, and it requires the focus and attention of all in our communities.”

In an editor’s note on its publication of the report, Rolling Stone said: “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.

“Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward,” said the note, which was signed by Dana. “It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.”

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