Jann Wenner – founder of the music and pop culture magazine Rolling stone-is still defending a notoriously inaccurate article that appeared in his publication nearly a decade ago.
“The University of Virginia story was not a botched scheme or an attempt to be loose with the facts,” Wenner said. The New York Time last week. “You go beyond the factual errors that sank that story, and it was really about the issue of rape and how it affects women on campus, their lack of rights. Other than this one important fact that the rape described was actually this woman’s fabrication, the rest of the story was bulletproof.” (Emphasis mine.)
“A Rape on Campus” was published on November 19, 2014. The author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, alleged that a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” was brutally raped by a group of male students at a fraternity party as a form of rape. initiation ritual. Jackie’s account was intended as a representative story, an example of the kind of routine sexual violence that young women face on college campuses.
But the underlying crime never happened. Days after the story was first published, it came under attack from journalists skeptical of the details. I began to suspect that it might all be an elaborate hoax, especially since I found it hard to believe that the perpetrators could possibly have expected to get away with it. Most sexual assaults on campus involve incapacitation with drugs and alcohol; the idea that not one, but several attackers – including a man whose identity was revealed as the victim – would attack a fully conscious woman without any fear that she would go to the police seemed fanciful.
Ultimately, it turned out that Jackie had made the whole thing up. The person she accused did not exist, although she had impersonated him in text messages to her friends. Had Rolling stone followed standard journalistic protocols, Jackie’s fraud would have been exposed before publication, but fact-checkers at the magazine never pressured Erdely to contact Jackie’s friends or the alleged perpetrator. Rolling stone ultimately settled three defamation lawsuits brought by the fraternity in question, several of its members, and a dean who was falsely portrayed as unsympathetic.
So when Wenner says that “the rest of the story was bulletproof,” he’s really saying: Also, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?
This wasn’t the only sentence that raised eyebrows Time interview. Wenner also admitted that he allowed the famous subjects of his own interviews – including John Lennon, Bono and others – to edit articles about them before publication:
[Lennon] continued, making changes here and there. In short, it is the interviewees who clarify what they want to say, making it more precise. Because it’s a long stream of chatter and verbiage and sometimes you don’t think about every word. I want them to have the opportunity to say exactly what they meant.
With journalistic standards like these, it’s easier to see how Rolling stone‘s rape story came about in the first place.