The mainstream media has already said volumes about the future of Rolling Stone’s UVA story as a case study of how not to cover a story in journalism classes. Few would dispute the numerous mistakes in fact checking and judgment associated with this story.
Rolling Stone deserves all the fall out it gets about its failed reporting. There will be reams of reporting will focus on ramifications to the reputations of UVA and the Fraternity named in the story. Far less attention will be paid to the ramifications to present and future survivors of rape. Many will equate a discredited news story with a discredited claim that “Jackie” was raped.
The Fraternity Phi Kappa Psi will pursue “all available legal action” against Rolling Stone for the damage done to the fraternity’s reputation. Of course, this aspect of the story will get attention.
To add insult to injury, when Rolling Stone officially retracted the story, they blamed “Jackie”, the alleged victim. It’s the story they told Steve Coll who conducted the external investigation and they’re sticking to it.
Coll’s findings are blistering condemnation of multiple mistakes and errors in judgement on the part of everyone from the writer to multiple editors, a fact-check and possibly a lawyer. Moreover, he makes it abundantly clear that none of this was “Jackie’s” fault.
This was despite Rolling Stone’s attempt to excuse its journalistic shortcomings because they were “too accommodating” of the alleged victim, “Jackie.” Even in their retraction, Rolling Stone tried to shift responsibility to Jackie. Rolling Stone didn’t get it when they ran the story and they don’t get it now. Instead of advancing the very real issue that rape does happen on campus, Rolling Stone reinforced the fears that every rape victim has. First, that she won’t be believed and second that she will be blamed.
The tragedy is none of this proves, as is inferred, that “Jackie” lied about being raped.
This story was a gift to defenders of rape culture and to Republicans who claim that women lie about rape to get an abortion or to get even with a former lover or to hide their unbridled promiscuity from their parents. Moreover, when we’re talking about “false reports” often the falsehood is not about if a rape occurred, but rather that she changes the circumstances, to make her story more sympathetic in a culture that inherently chooses to disbelieve victims of this violent crime.
You can bet that Republicans will point to the Rolling Stone story to “prove” that women lie about being raped. The thing is, “Jackie” may very well have been raped. But like other survivors of rape, she is aware of the culture in which she lives. If the attacker was their partner, too many will claim that no really means yes. If the rape survivor drank alcohol, took drugs or did something else that makes her an imperfect victim, she will alter or omit those facts because they can and do undermine the victim’s credibility. Ironically, alcohol and drugs are used as a defense by the rapist.
We still live in a culture that blames the victim because she had a glass of wine, or wasn’t covered from head to toe, or she went to a party or went on a date.
In reality, we don’t know if Jackie was raped or not. Only she (and knows that for sure. She, like other rape victims never made a police report. Thanks to Rolling Stone, she and other rape victims are less likely to trust the media.
The only thing that was worse than Rolling Stone’s botched reporting is the slap in the face they gave to present and future rape survivors. Instead of fully accepting responsibility for their failings, Rolling Stone blamed the alleged victim.
Ms. Woodbury has a graduate degree in political science, with a minor in law. She is a qualified expert on political theory with a specific interest in the nexus between political theories and models and human rights.
Based on her interest in human rights and the threats that authoritarian regimes are to them, Ms. Woodbury’s masters thesis examined the influence of politics on the enforcement of international criminal law was cited in several academic studies.
Published work includes case summaries for the War Crimes Research Office.
She has an extensive background doing legal research in international and domestic law.
Ms. Woodbury’s work for politicusUSA includes articles on voting rights, the right to asylum and other civil/human rights.