U.Va. Student Paper Criticizes ‘Columbia Report’ of Rolling Stone’s ‘Rape on Campus’ Story

The Cavalier Daily is disappointed in the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s new report detailing the failures of the now-infamous Rolling Stone “A Rape on Campus” feature. In an editorial posted yesterday not long after the report was released, the University of Virginia student newspaper argued that it focused too much on the screw-ups related to “Jackie’s story” at the expense of other journalism misdeeds and the author’s alleged larger mischaracterizations of U.Va.

1For those in need of a refresher, Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely this past December. The 9,000-word story explored the seemingly rampant, poorly adjudicated cases of rape and sexual assault at U.Va. and other colleges and universities nationwide. The focus of the article’s stunning opener: a U.Va. student identified as “Jackie” recounting an alleged gang rape carried out by seven members of a university fraternity.

The report overall — and especially Jackie’s story — set the national press and general public abuzz upon its release. Yet, the buzz quickly turned to doubt and then rebukes when it was determined the gang rape allegation was most likely made up and the reporting and editing that led to its inclusion in the piece were horrendously flawed.

The Columbia j-school investigation of those flaws — carried out at Rolling Stone’s request — has produced what The New York Times calls “a 25-page report on how not to practice journalism.”

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The Cavalier Daily leadership agrees, confirming, “The report is scathing.” But editors also feel it is limiting.

As the paper’s board argues early on in the editorial:

“[A]s thoroughly as these professionals investigated the journalistic failures of Sabrina Rubin Erdely (the article’s author), Sean Woods (its editor) and Will Dana (Rolling Stone’s managing editor), they confined their investigation just to Jackie’s story. This, we feel, was a mistake. For University students, Rolling Stone did not just get one story wrong. It presented a skewed perspective of our student body; it vilified administrators without adequately explaining the constraints of federal law regarding these issues; it reduced the significance of [sexual assault prevention] organizations like One Less and One in Four, as well as the work of many students; it selected egregious elements of university culture — such as the “Rugby Road” song and the phrase ‘UVrApe’ — and treated them as ubiquitous when they are not. The Columbia report does not address these issues.”

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One other major element that Cavalier Daily editors contend is missing from the Columbia report is a focus on the dangers inherent in narrative storytelling without safeguards.

According to the CD squad, “[W]ithin the text of this narrative-style article, Erdely frequently inserted her perspective and opinion: when discussing U.Va.’s sexual misconduct policy, she called the adjudication of sexual assault by universities an ‘absurdity’ and wrote that, though Title IX requires such adjudication, ‘no university on Earth is equipped to do [it].’ This is not a balanced presentation of facts; this is an opinion being framed as objective reporting.”

A New York Times analysis of the Columbia report described its chief takedown of Rolling Stone being the “lack of skepticism” Erdely and editors displayed toward sources, anecdotes and purported news. By comparison, Cavalier Daily editors say Rolling Stone’s chief failure was not “presenting information in its entirety” — something they feel the Columbia report is also lacking on a much less egregious scale.

Bottom line, the paper states, “It is not up to the authors of this report to account for every wrong Rolling Stone committed. … But as we reflect on Erdely’s article, we should not confine our analysis of it just to Jackie’s story and the editorial failures surrounding its presentation. It is a dramatic oversimplification to reduce this article — which shook our university to its core — just to that one narrative.”

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