To Our Readers:
Last month, Rolling Stone published a story titled "A Rape on Campus" by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which described a brutal gang rape of a woman named Jackie at a University of Virginia fraternity house; the university's failure to respond to this alleged assault – and the school's troubling history of indifference to many other instances of alleged sexual assaults. The story generated worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA. University president Teresa Sullivan promised a full investigation and also to examine the way the school responds to sexual assault allegations.
Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her. In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility. Her friends and rape activists on campus strongly supported Jackie's account. She had spoken of the assault in campus forums. We reached out to both the local branch and the national leadership of the fraternity where Jackie said she was attacked. They responded that they couldn't confirm or deny her story but had concerns about the evidence.
In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced. We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story.
Let me put you some knowledge via parsing. Note how they now use the verb "claimed." The purported rape victim, Jackie, now "claimed" that a man (a boy named "Drew") orchestrated the attack. She now "claimed" that other boys participated in the gang rape. Then they say unequivocally that "our trust in her was misplaced." My interpretation? They've figured out through re-reporting the story that it was a hoax. They don't say what "discrepancies" or "new information" caused them to come to this conclusion. But I'll bet they have some pretty damning stuff.
Here's what I think happened to cause this extraordinary mea culpa. I think a lawyer for the fraternity or the boys or the university came to them with hard evidence that the girl was lying. I think they then said that they were prepared to file a multi-million dollar libel suit against Rolling Stone if they didn't retract it. Note here that these aren't public figures. These are young college aged men with a lifetime of earning potential in front of them as graduates of an elite university. The privileges that attach to false statements about public figures so long as they aren't malicious don't apply to libel of non-public figures. So the chances of making out a claim for libel are significantly greater. And the damages to these young men could be very high indeed. Frankly, a class action on behalf of the hundreds or perhaps thousands of members of UVA fraternities against Rolling Stone wouldn't be out of the question.
So... when you read "we are taking this seriously and apologize," you should interpret that as "please please please don't sue us."
Anyway, that's what I now think. If they stood by the story at all, they would say so. But they don't.