Journalists have only one job: to uncover the truth. When they fail to do their job, the repercussions are endless.
The case of Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Erdely and her now infamous article which detailed a University of Virginia student’s horrifying rape at a fraternity party is the perfect example.
In the article titled “A Rape On Campus,” the student called “Jackie” described her traumatic experience at a Phi Kappa Psi party in excruciating detail, instigating a long-awaited nationwide discussion on the topic of sexual assault on college campuses.
However, when the Charlottesville police department found no evidence to back up any of Jackie’s claims, it became a story about Erdely’s failure to do her job.
What could have opened the door for other rape victims to speak up about their experiences and the larger issue of rape and sexual assault on college campuses turned into an awful journalistic blunder. She perpetuated the already preconceived idea that most rape victims lie about their experiences, and with rape being so prevalent, 19% of undergraduate women have experienced “attempted or completed sexual assault” according to the Center for Disease Control, this is especially disappointing.
The story also prompted suspension of all fraternities for the rest of the semester as the Phi Kappa Psi members had “their civil rights have been infringed; their characters, impugned,” according to a statement issued by the fraternity, who are now planning on suing Rolling Stone for making them “spend the last six months living in the shadow of flagrant falsehoods.”
According to her website, she allowed her “concern for Jackie’s well-being, [her] fear of re-traumatizing her, and [her] confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning.”
This is understandable because rape is a very sensitive topic and no one wants to be responsible for a victim’s relapse; however, it would have been in everyone’s best interest if Ederly had been more persistent. More questioning would have lead to the realization that the story was a dud and it would have made way for another, and actually true, victim’s account.
Erdely did not perform the bare minimum requirements of getting the facts right when she relied solely on the student for all of her information causing, her to tarnish the reputation of journalists and rape victims alike.