Beat the Press: The Perils of Reporting Campus Rape

Rolling Stone acknowledged Friday serious discrepancies in a story published last month about a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at the University of Virginia.

Editors had said they decided to honor Jackie’s request not to contact the man she claimed coordinated her attack for fear of retaliation. In a letter to their readers on Friday, they admitted that was a mistake. 

“In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” they said.

“Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie’s account,” the magazine explained. “She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn’t confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.”

Related: Defining Narrative Questioned in ‘Rolling Stone’ UVA Rape Story

Regardless of the veracity of the story, what does this kind of bad journalism mean for sexual assault victims seeking to be taken seriously? How will this change how universities respond to allegations?

In writing her explosive story, should Rolling Stone contributing editor Sabrina Rubin Erdely have made a better effort to speak with the accused? Do her explanations for not doing so hold up?

WGBH’s Beat the Press explored these questions on Friday’s broadcast:

Last month, On Campus took a closer look at the evolving role of resident assistants in reporting sexual assaults.

[Cross-posted at On Campus: The WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.