Unbelievable: Rolling Stone Writer Is Re-Reporting Her Botched UVA Story

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Dec 19, 2014 11:45 AM
Unbelievable: Rolling Stone Writer Is Re-Reporting Her Botched UVA Story

Talk about sending the arsonist to put out the fire. Rolling Stone made it known that a re-reporting mission will be assembled to address the abysmal journalism in their disgraceful Nov. 19 story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote the piece and came under fire for failing, amongst other things, to reach out to the alleged attackers for their account of the night’s events. Now, it seems Erdely is re-reporting what happened on the night of the alleged assault, a night where the fraternity allegedly at fault held no social gathering.

To recap, the alleged victim named Jackie claims several men gang raped her in a darkened room on a broken glass table. When the ordeal was over, she was bloodied, beaten, and traumatized. Yet, her three friends (“Andy,” “Cindy,” and “Randall”) who also weren’t contacted by RS, claimed that they felt something traumatic had happened to her, but there were no visible injuries on her when they saw her that night. They wanted to go to the authorities, but Jackie was against this course of action.

It’s a far cry from how Erdley described them. In her piece, they were distant, apathetic, and consumed about their position on UVA’s social ladder; claims they rejected in their recent interview with ABC News. Oh, and their real names are Ryan Duffin (“Randall”), Alex Stock (“Andy”), and Kathryn Hendley (“Cindy)”

Now, Erdely is reaching out to them (via Associated Press) [emphasis mine]:

One of the friends, a 20-year-old, third-year student referred to as "Randall" in the Rolling Stone article but whose real name is Ryan Duffin, told the AP that not only did he encourage the alleged victim to go to police, but he started to dial 9-1-1 on his cellphone until she begged off saying she just wanted to go back to her dorm and go to sleep.

"I couldn't help but notice that everything that the article said about me was incorrect," Duffin said.

The AP also spoke with the other two friends portrayed in the article: third-year, 20-year-old U.Va. students Kathryn Hendley and Alex Stock, known as "Cindy" and "Andy" in the article. None of the three friends was contacted by Rolling Stone's reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, before the article was published; each of them rejected multiple assertions made in the article, for which Rolling Stone has since apologized for and noted discrepancies.

All three say Erdely has since reached out to them, and that she has told them she is re-reporting the story. Hendley told the AP Erdely apologized to her for portraying her the way she did.

Erdely and Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana did not respond to an email from The Associated Press on Sunday morning seeking comment.

Should we be skeptical about this effort? Yes! Alex Pinkleton, a student at UVA and a friend of Jackie, was interviewed for the original RS piece, and mentioned that Erdely had an agenda when writing this story (via Newsbusters) [emphasis mine]:

BRIAN STELTER, HOST OF CNN’s RELIABLE SOURCES: So what did you experience with the reporter? She was on campus for a long time. She interviewed you and a lot of other students. What were your impressions of her?

ALEX PINKLETON, FRIEND OF ALLEGED UVA ASSAULT VICTIM: I think she had her heart in the right place. She wanted to bring light to this issue – and it is a prevalent issue at UVA, and on campuses across the nation. However, she did have an agenda, and part of that agenda was showing how monstrous fraternities themselves as an institution are, and blaming the administration for a lot of the sexual assaults.

STELTER: What were some of the questions she asked you that made you feel that way?

PINKLETON: When she asked about my own assault, she kept asking – you know, did he feed you the drinks? Was he keeping tabs of the drinks that night? And he wasn't, and that's something that I had to keep saying over and over again, and I think – I felt like she wasn't satisfied with my perpetrator as someone who wasn't clearly monstrous.

[…]

PINKLETON: I think that she should have fact checked, and I'm really upset and angry, like a lot of people are, that that didn't happen. And now, we're in a very difficult situation....

...Again, I think her intentions were good. I just think that the job was done poorly, and I am upset with that aspect of it. But I also know that she was trying to come from a point of advocacy. But as a reporter, you can't be like an advocate and support a story and listen to it and think everything is true; and then, report on it without trying to figure out if it's true.

My job as an advocate was never to question Jackie's story or question the details, because I didn't need to. But the role that she's in, as a reporter....she needed to do that.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, who incurred the wrath of the right on social media when he penned an inflammatory obituary to the late Andrew Breitbart; said the magazine is feels awful about how this story fell apart, especially on the fact-checking side. According to Taibbi, the process for him is a slow, arduous one, but noted that he feels safe publishing pieces there since he knows everything has been looked at with a fine-tooth comb (via WaPo):

“For people like me and for a lot of the other reporters who’ve worked there over the years, this was a real shock to us because, speaking personally — people laughed at me when I said this on Twitter — what I go through normally in the fact-checking process at that magazine has always been a really difficult, long, thorough, painful process,” said Taibbi. “And that was actually one of the things that always attracted me to working there, which is that I feel safe when I publish things because I feel like it’s been double-checked and, you know, that was always a good feeling. And clearly I think in this particular situation, the controls got broken down somewhere and they’re looking into that. I’m sure they’re coming up with some answers.”

That’s fine, but Erdely’s fact-finding mission is already complete. All she has to do is read the Washington Post. After all, they did the job she was supposed to do when first reporting on this story. Red flags should have gone up when the pictures of her date that her three friends saw on the night of Jackie’s alleged assault turned out to be one of her former classmates from high school. But, Erdely never contacted them, so this tripwire was never seen.

I can only imagine what kind of Frankenstein monster-like article will come out of this re-reporting initiative on behalf of RS. Seriously RS, everyone else did the legwork for you; it’s over now.