Imagine the impact an accusation of rape can have on a young man. Even if he’s not found guilty, the reputation of being a rapist, a predator, never leaves. You’d think any legitimate journalist would do some investigating and fact-checking before running a big story accusing an entire fraternity of gang rape. Yet, Rolling Stone’s November issue ran a large story under the headline, “A Rape on Campus,” in which a female University of Virginia student proclaimed that a group of young men belonging to a fraternity had teamed up to rape her. Rolling Stone prevented the story as fact.
The story turned out to be entirely fabricated. Fortunately, it was debunked relatively quickly.
Hopefully embarrassed, Rolling Stone turned to Columbia University’s graduate program in journalism and asked them to help figure out what went wrong. It doesn’t seem like it should take Columbia’s Journalism grad students to figure out where they failed. They took one person’s word for it, despite a lack of evidence.
Unsurprisingly, Columbia’s report called the Rolling Stone piece, “a journalistic failure at every level.” The report cited fact-checking, negligence, ethics, bias, and other problems as causes of this false report. The original article regarding the rape called the alleged victims fruitless attempts to get university police to shut down the fraternity and arrest a large group of its members a “struggle for justice.” Columbia’s analysis called that bit of information something more like a “clue” that the victim might be lying. The police tend to take credible reports of rape very seriously.
The Rolling Stone does not intend to fire anyone, and they’ve said that the story was not “wrong” because, “this does happen,” referring to rape on college campuses. The fraternity that was slandered in this article is suing.