ROLLING STONE: 'We would like to apologise to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story'

University Virginia UVA Students FraternityAP Photo/Steve HelberIn this Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015 photo, University of Virginia students walk to fraternities at the start of rush week at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va.

Rolling Stone has officially retracted a much-discussed feature article on sexual assault at the University of Virginia, managing editor Will Dana said in a statement Sunday evening.

The UVA article has led to a months-long controversy for Rolling Stone, as various elements of the story were disproved by other media outlets and discredited by a local police investigation.

Writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the magazine’s editors have also been criticised for not reaching out to key people involved in the story, specifically those with supposed knowledge of a fraternity gang-rape described by UVA student “Jackie.”

Columbia Journalism School dean Steve Coll announced in December that Rolling Stone had asked the university to conduct an independant review of the reporting and editorial decisions behind the UVA article. Rolling Stone, Coll writes, “agreed to publish our report in its entirety, without editing, on its website, as well as substantial excerpts in the magazine.”

Rolling Stone appears to have replaced Erdely’s original story — titled “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA” — with Columbia’s report.

Jackie told Rolling Stone that she was gang-raped during a date party on September 28, 2012, at the campus’ Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Various subsequent reports — notably by The Washington Post — discovered that no Phi Psi member matched the description of Jackie’s alleged rapist in the Rolling Stone article and the fraternity did not hold a party the night she alleged she was raped.

Additionally, a group of Jackie’s friends who are mentioned using pseudonyms in the Rolling Stone story came out and denied many of the details she provided the magazine. All the friends said that no one from Rolling Stone — including Erdely — ever reached out to them during the course of reporting the story, even though they were quoted in it based on Jackie’s comments.

Jackie reportedly asked the magazine to not name or contact the people she described in the story.

Here’s Dana’s full statement:

Last November, we published a story, “A Rape on Campus” [RS 1223], that centered around a University of Virginia student’s horrifying account of her alleged gang rape at a campus fraternity house. Within days, commentators started to question the veracity of our narrative. Then, when The Washington Post uncovered details suggesting that the assault could not have taken place the way we described it, the truth of the story became a subject of national controversy.

As we asked ourselves how we could have gotten the story wrong, we decided the only responsible and credible thing to do was to ask someone from outside the magazine to investigate any lapses in reporting, editing and fact-checking behind the story. We reached out to Steve Coll, dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter himself, who accepted our offer. We agreed that we would cooperate fully, that he and his team could take as much time as they needed and write whatever they wanted. They would receive no payment, and we promised to publish their report in full.

The report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone. It is also, in its own way, a fascinating document — a piece of journalism, as Coll describes it, about a failure of journalism. With its publication, we are officially retracting ‘A Rape on Campus.’ We are also committing ourselves to a series of recommendations about journalistic practices that are spelled out in the report. We would like to apologise to our readers and to all of those who were damaged by our story and the ensuing fallout, including members of the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and UVA administrators and students. Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings.

— Will Dana, Managing Editor

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