Rolling Stone found guilty in rape story

Rolling Stone found guilty in rape story

It was a story the readers of Rolling Stone were waiting for, practically salivating for. The tale of a real, tangible, horrible rape on a college campus. A woman only identified as “Jackie” claimed to have been beaten and raped by members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the fraternity house during a party. It fit the narrative they wanted to read … and it certainly fit the narrative the reporter, Sabrina Erdely, desperately wanted to tell.

Erdely was so desperate to get the story “out” she didn’t bother to check her single source. She didn’t even interview the source’s friends, who would have likely been sympathetic … but could have proven conclusively the alleged rape never happened. Instead, Erdely wrote the story, and Rolling Stone, desperate to get it out there, didn’t bother with any standard editorial follow-up. They just laid it out and hit the proverbial print button.

Then, in a fit of overreaction in order to stave off the PR firestorm, the University suspended all Greek activity indefinitely.

It didn’t help. The University of Virginia was the laughingstock of the college world, the target of vicious attacks and constant criticism. How could they let this happen! How could school administrator Nicole Eramo be so “callous” to a poor victim, who never asked for any of this!

Only problem … and it’s a big one … the rape never happened. In fact, according to court docs released by the press, the frat didn’t have a party on the night in question, and the frat brothers weren’t even in town.

The story ran before the police even had the opportunity to investigate the alleged rape. Once they did, the cops determined Jackie’s claims were not substantiated. There was no evidence the rape ever happened … once this evidence hit the news, Rolling Stone and Erdely became the focus of a massive investigation. When journalists learned that Erdely never actually spoke to any of the men Jackie identified as her attackers that cast, even more, suspicion on the case.

About a year after it was published, Rolling Stone printed a retraction. This came after the Columbia School of Journalism condemned the story, the writer, and the magazine for “journalistic failure.”

But that wasn’t the end of the fallout. The case went to court, and a jury of eight women and two men recently found Rolling Stone liable for defamation. The verdict also named Erdely and Rolling Stone publisher Wenner Media. The verdict cited that fact that the story had been republished weeks after doubts surfaced with a simple editor’s note acknowledging some doubt.

Credibility now officially damaged, Rolling Stone has fired no one over the incident, causing many to further question the publication’s commitment to journalistic excellence.

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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