Rolling Stone’s Columbia Journalism School Cleanup

The worst journalism incident of 2014, the dreaded Rolling Stone debacle— in which the magazine published a piece about a woman who was gang raped by some students in a fraternity, some internet troll harassed people to poke holes in the story, and then Rolling Stone essentially retracted the article—has gone in a new direction.

According to an article at Slate:

Rolling Stone has already spent weeks trying to figure out where exactly it went wrong, and on Monday the magazine’s publisher announced it was seeking help. “We have asked the Columbia Journalism School to conduct an independent review – headed by Dean Steve Coll and Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel – of the editorial process that led to the publication of this story,” Rolling Stone editor and publisher Jann Wenner said in a statement on Monday. “As soon as they are finished, we will publish their report.”

That’s an interesting tactic, and really a rather clever one.

ColumbiaJournalismSchool

As a result of that investigation Rolling Stone will discover what Rolling Stone already knows: it had a potentially awesome piece of journalism about how colleges cover up campus sexual assault. This story then became, as a result of insufficient fact-checking of a very sensitive issue, a much more complicated tale about who’s telling the truth. No one really seems to know what happened here.

In fact, the only one who’s really likely to be better off as a result of the inquiry is Rolling Stone. By sending the matter over to Columbia to investigate, Rolling Stone has attached itself to an institution with a reputation for journalistic integrity and gets to make all of this look somewhat respectable.

But there’s no need for a special look into what happened. What occurred here is pretty clear. The Washington Post has provided readers with a thorough account of what happened: a magazine published a poorly verified story because it was just too compelling to pass up or wait a few weeks for proper verification.

And what really happened to the woman named Jackie at Phi Kappa Psi isn’t going to be any clearer as a result of this project.

This is essentially a public relations move on the part of Rolling Stone. That’s fine, but there’s no journalistic reason for this at all.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer