Despite an apology and two lawsuits, Rolling Stone still has multiple posts boosting its story ‘A Rape On Campus’

Posts on RollingStone.com call the debunked story ‘a harrowing report’


This week Rolling Stone reportedly agreed to pay the UVA chapter of Phi Kappa Psi $1.65 million for the damage it caused to their reputation with its debunked story “A Rape On Campus.” It follows an even bigger payout to the UVA administrator who was defamed in the article.

The original article was retracted when Rolling Stone admitted there were “discrepancies” in the account of a gang rape given by a student called “Jackie.” A report by the Columbia School of Journalism said the story represented a “journalistic failure.” Now the magazine and its author have agreed to pay millions in compensation.

So why are there still stories on Rolling Stone’s website boosting the debunked story and referring to it as if its allegations are true?

This story, from November 20 2014, describes “A Rape On Campus” as “explosive.” There is no note on the story explaining that the original story has been retracted, although it shows the Columbia School of Journalism’s report as a “related” story. The story mentions the fraternity by name, and would seem to be highly defamatory in its own right.

Then there’s a feature story published a day later, entitled “Rape at UVA: Readers Say Jackie Wasn’t Alone” which refers to “A Rape On Campus” as “Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s harrowing report.” No attempt is made to substantiate the assault stories posted below, which is one thing.

But more important, the headline implies that Jackie’s assault has been established as a fact – when we now know most of what she told the magazine didn’t add up.

A screenshot of the November 21 story

A screenshot of the November 21 story

Similar stories – see here and here – puffing the original story and treating its findings as valid were published in the days ahead, and are still online with no notes about corrections or highlighting the retraction.

Several of the stories which are still online use the descriptor “harrowing report” about “A Rape On Campus.” One of the posts quotes New York Times reporting about a campus “meeting focused on the fraternities’ consumption of alcohol and hazing rituals” – showing how far the flawed story had spread by November 26.

Perhaps most surprising is a December 1 post on Rolling Stone’s site, detailing the nationwide spread of anti-rape activism. The story will likely be read and cited by students and activists in future because of its reporting on other assault cases. One passage reads as follows (the emphasis is mine):

“The protests are part of a larger nationwide movement to reform campus sexual assault policies – one whose necessity is exemplified by Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s recent Rolling Stone feature on a harrowing sexual assault at a University of Virginia fraternity.”

The story has no notes from the magazine’s editors about the retraction of “A Rape On Campus.”

Why does it matter?

The stories, because they appear on the website of the original publisher, are probably defamatory in their own right, treating as fact an article which was retracted and has been the subject of two lawsuits and settlements. They treat the frat and the UVA administration the same way the story does – as responsible for something terrible.

But more importantly, this story was one of the most seismic journalistic failures of our times. The editor on the story, has described its implosion as “an extraordinarily painful and humbling experience” – a sentiment presumably shared by the people whose reputations it trashed. And yet these posts remain on RollingStone.com uncorrected, continuing the damage and the deception.

The Tab reached out to Rolling Stone’s editors this morning and we have yet to get a response.

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More reading on the Rolling Stone on this story:

Is the Rolling Stone Story True?

Rolling Stone’s investigation: ‘A failure that was avoidable’