Last year, Rolling Stone reported a shocking story about the epidemic of rape on college campuses, and specifically at the University of Virginia -- one of 86 schools under federal investigation for its mishandling of rapes and sexual assaults on campus. The story focused on the alleged gang rape of a woman named Jackie at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Naturally, because the story was freaking horrific, "legitimate" rape is very rare, and most so-called rape victims are lying, the media immediately called bullcrap on the report and devoted several weeks and a million column inches to proving the story was false, because if Jackie was lying, that means all allegations of rape are probably false too.


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So we can all breathe a sigh of relief now, because Rolling Stone has retracted its story, following an exhaustive review by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism showing that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, and every editor who touched the story, did a piss poor job of journalisming:

The Columbia report cataloged a series of errors at Rolling Stone, finding that the magazine could have avoided trouble with the article if certain basic “reporting pathways” had been followed. [...]

The reporting errors by Ms. Erdely were compounded by insufficient scrutiny and skepticism from editors, the report said. And the fact-checking process relied heavily on four hours of conversations with Jackie.

Erdely has apologized for being terrible at journalism that one time only, which is sufficient for Rolling Stone, because why wouldn't it be? Also sorry are managing editor Will Dana and the story's editor, Sean Woods, who will presumably get to keep their jobs. Really, Erdely is super very double sorry:

“The past few months, since my Rolling Stone article “A Rape on Campus” was first called into question, have been among the most painful of my life. Reading the Columbia account of the mistakes and misjudgments in my reporting was a brutal and humbling experience. I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.

In December, Rolling Stone's managing editor Dana, wrote that thanks to other news outlets doing the basic fact-checking the magazine's editors should have done, "there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account" and that in retrospect, they were all "mistaken in honoring Jackie's request" that Rolling Stone not bother with fact-checking its report.

And while Rolling Stone is now extra sorry for running a story it should not have run, it also appears to be sticking by its story of who's to blame for its journalistic failure, despite the report's finding that the failure lies squarely with Rolling Stone, whose decision to simply trust Jackie, without verifying her story, is Not Good Journalism:

In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine. The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

Rolling Stone's publisher isn't blaming Jackie for its failure, but, come on, it's kind of her fault for manipulating these professionals into abandoning their journalistic duties.

“Ultimately, we were too deferential to our rape victim,” Mr. Woods, the article’s editor, said in the report. “We honored too many of her requests in our reporting. We should have been much tougher, and in not doing that, we maybe did her a disservice.”

Ms. Erdely, Mr. Wenner said, “was willing to go too far in her effort to try and protect a victim of apparently a horrible crime. She dropped her journalistic training, scruples and rules and convinced Sean to do the same. There is this series of falling dominoes.”

So, what have we all learned from this? That Jackie is a hell of a "storyteller," so powerful that she was able to manipulate Rolling Stone into simply repeating her story without bothering to verify any of it at all. That journalists cannot possibly be sensitive to a rape victim's story AND do good journalism at the same time. That the humiliation of having to retract a story is punishment enough for the reporter and editors who failed so spectacularly at their jobs.

And of course -- and most importantly -- that we can and should disregard the entire Rolling Stone story, even the parts that had nothing to do with Jackie, because Jackie lied about her story, and that makes everything else a lie too. Like, for example:

UVA is one of only 12 schools under a sweeping investigation known as “compliance review”: a proactive probe launched by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights itself, triggered by concerns about deep-rooted issues. “They are targeted efforts to go after very serious concerns,” says Office of Civil Rights assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon. “We don’t open compliance reviews unless we have something that we think merits it.”

That's irrelevant now. Thanks to the shoddy "reporting" and editing at Rolling Stone and its retraction of its story -- and its insistence that it never would have been fooled into running that story if that liar Jackie hadn't been so convincing and manipulative -- there's no need to continue that national dialogue we had, for all of about two seconds, about how colleges routinely mishandle rape and sexual assault. Which is why the worst offenders, including UVA, are being investigated by the federal government. At least now everyone will know to be that much more skeptical on those rare occasions when women actually come forward to report sexual assaults. Because Jackie lied, so all those other women are probably liars too. And now we don't have to believe any of them. And that's what really matters, isn't it?

[NYT/NYT again/Rolling Stone]

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