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Here's what the Columbia J-School found out about Rolling Stone's UVA rape story

Sunday April 5, 2015

Rolling Stone's UVA Rape Story Was A 'Journalistic Failure' That Could've Been Avoided, Columbia Finds

Rolling Stone's discredited story of an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia amounts to a "journalistic failure that was avoidable," Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism concluded in an exhaustive report published Sunday night.

"The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking," the authors wrote. "The magazine set aside as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine's editors to reconsider publishing Jackie's narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine's reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from."

In a Nov. 19 story, Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely described in horrific detail how a UVA student given the pseudonym Jackie was lured two years earlier by her date into a dark room at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house and brutally raped by seven men. But the Washington Post, and other news outlets, soon discovered inconsistencies in the riveting account that served as the crux of Erdely's 9,000-word bombshell, "A Rape on Campus."

Rolling Stone apologized on Dec. 5 for the article, but did not fully retract it. The magazine continued to face questions over Erdely's reporting -- notably why she didn't interview three of Jackie's friends quoted in the story or the alleged perpetrators -- and the editorial process that allowed such a flimsy story to run. Meanwhile, Erdely, deputy managing editor Sean Woods, her editor on the piece, and Will Dana, the magazine's managing editor, went silent in the face of scrutiny.

On Dec. 22, Rolling Stone founder and publisher Jann Wenner announced Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism would conduct an independent investigation, the results of which were revealed Sunday. Upon publication of the report, Rolling Stone retracted the story.

It's long been clear that Rolling Stone screwed up, and the editorial breakdown is arguably the magazine's biggest in its nearly half-century existence. Also, the Charlottesville police, after conducting 70 interviews, already concluded last month that there is no evidence to support Jackie's claims in the article.

So in a broad sense, the roughly 13,000-word Columbia report confirms what's already known: Rolling Stone didn't exercise due diligence before publishing a controversial story that included serious allegations with no verifiable basis in reality.

But the Columbia report -- written by Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel, Dean Steve Coll and postgraduate research scholar Derek Kravitz -- fills in several gaps in the editorial process through interviews with Erdely, Woods and Dana. Jackie, through an attorney, declined to speak to the report's authors.

The authors walk through several reporting lapses and make recommendations, such as Rolling Stone considering not using pseudonyms and for fact-checkers to be more assertive in the editorial process. But the report falls short of making recommendations about which of the principals, if any, should lose their jobs over the debacle. Wenner told The New York Times that Dana and Woods would keep their jobs and Erdely would continue writing for the magazine.

Dana, at one point, acknowledged to the authors: "It's on me. I'm responsible." And Woods spoke of this "extraordinarily painful and humbling experience."

"I've learned that even the most trusted and experienced people -- including, and maybe especially, myself -- can make grave errors in judgment," Woods said.

Still, the magazine's top editors do not see any need to change their editorial system, including how articles are fact-checked, in the wake of this collapse.

"It's not like I think we need to overhaul our process, and I don't think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things," Dana told the authors. "We just have to do what we've always done and just make sure we don't make this mistake again."

The Columbia report details how Erdely repeatedly failed to do even rudimentary reporting that would've cast doubt on Jackie's story, including independently verifying that the alleged ringleader even existed. Erdely also stuck with the story despite Jackie's erratic behavior, which included her not responding to the writer at times and refusing to provide key names and information to support her claims.

Columbia's authors zero in on three of Erdely's reporting failures that should've been part of "basic, even routine journalistic practice -- not investigative effort." They involve Erdely not contacting Jackie's three friends referenced and quoted in the story, not providing details of Jackie's claims to the fraternity when seeking comment, and not verifying that the alleged ringleader, given the pseudonym Drew in the story, in fact existed.

Erdely did not interview Jackie's friends, whose quotes depicted them as callous and unsupportive of the alleged victim. The account, and the three friends' quotes, came solely from Jackie.

"Journalistic practice -- and basic fairness -- require that if a reporter intends to publish derogatory information about anyone, he or she should seek the person's side of the story," the authors wrote.

The three friends disputed Jackie's account in earlier media interviews and again in the Columbia report.

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Rolling Stone's UVA Rape Story Was A 'Journalistic Failure' That Could've Been Avoided, Columbia Finds

Apparently Art School Students Have More Sex

A new study reveals (unsurprisingly) that students studying the arts have more sex than those majoring in computer science and dentistry, reports the Daily Mail.

According to a survey by British student newspaper The Tab, 10 percent of computer scientists currently in higher education are still virgins whereas only one percent of students in the arts haven't, well, you know.

In the survey, 11,549 students were asked about their bedroom activity, which was then broken down into which subject each student was majoring in.

Fifteen percent of students polled said they had had intercourse before the legal age of 15, while 19 percent said they were 17 years of age when they first had sex, and 22 percent said they were 18-years-old.

The highest percentage of virgins went to computer science while nine percent of physics students were still holding out. Dentistry clocked in five percent, and chemistry, law, engineering, geography and medicine were at four percent. The national average of virgins in Britain is five percent.

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Apparently Art School Students Have More Sex

Punishment For Sexual Assault At UVA? A Letter In His File

IN 1997, I was sexually assaulted by a fellow student at the University of Virginia. At a closed hearing, the university's committee on sexual assault found him responsible. His punishment? A letter in his file.

It's not clear how many women have won their cases through the university's system since they were first allowed to enroll as undergraduates in 1970. I am one of the women who won, but winning wasn't really winning, was it?

The hearing on my case took place in March 1998, two months after a criminal trial that ended in disappointment and frustration for me when the judge dismissed the charge that the Commonwealth of Virginia had filed against my attacker.

The weak punishment meted out to the student whom the university found responsible for assaulting me doesn't seem to have been unusual; as far as I know, no one has been expelled after being found responsible for sexual assault by the university. Compare this with the fate of the dozens of students, perhaps hundreds, who violated the school's honor code, which deals with lying, cheating and stealing, during the same period. If you are found guilty of violating the honor code, there is only one sanction: expulsion.

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Punishment For Sexual Assault At UVA? A Letter In His File

UNC Charlotte Students: We Protect Our Family, And We Take Sexual Assault Seriously

In recognition of Sexual Assault Awareness month, students at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte put together an anti-assault video for an NCAA-backed competition in honor of the "It's On Us" campaign. "In our family, we take care of each other," the video said. "It's on us to take reports of sexual assault seriously, to honor the dignity and humanity of every person." The video came in first place in the contest, according to USA Today, beating out 40 other schools. Read more.

UNC Charlotte Students: We Protect Our Family, And We Take Sexual Assault Seriously

Police Arrest 31 Following Kentucky's Final Four Loss

Lexington Police say 31 people have been arrested near the University of Kentucky campus following the Wildcats' 71-64 Final Four loss to the Wisconsin Badgers.

Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts says following the game Saturday night about 1,500 fans spilled into a State Street neighborhood adjacent to the university's Lexington campus. She said police dressed in tactical gear allowed fans to mingle but removed anyone who became disobedient. Roberts said pepper balls were used to break up one fight.

Roberts says those arrested will face charges including public intoxication and disorderly conduct, and will be arraigned as early as Monday. Street sweepers were used to disperse the crowd about 2:15 a.m.

Read more.

Police Arrest 31 Following Kentucky's Final Four Loss

How Millennials Feel About Casual Sex

On casual sex, 21 percent of millennials said that the morality of "sex between two adults who have no intention of establishing a relationship" "depends on the situation." The statement is ambiguous enough to warrant mixed opinions. Thirty-seven percent of millennials said it was morally wrong and an equal 37 percent said it was morally acceptable. Read more.

How Millennials Feel About Casual Sex

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