Sabrina Rubin Erdely is the narrative journalist who wrote the Rolling Stone story about an alleged gang rape. Rolling Stone has since stepped away from that story, admitting to serious fact-checking flaws.
Since then, some interested observers have begun looking at a few of Erdely’s other samples of narrative journalism, both at Rolling Stone and beyond. For instance, a previous story about a rape included details about how the military responded. That response, as written, was logistically implausible, claims one observer. Another previous story was about a series of sexual assaults and how one Roman Catholic archdiocese responded. That story was already under scrutiny from some observers.
All of these stories — even the University of Virginia rape story — involve real people. The alleged problems relate to how well the sources’ stories were reported. In the case of the alleged gang rape, we’ve learned that the other alleged players in the story weren’t interviewed at all. That includes the alleged rape victim’s friends or supposed perpetrators.
Older stories also seem to have a pattern of Erdely credulously reporting a source’s version of events.
A story about a heroin using mother has virtually no facts that could be independently verified. Though it does include a line that names and other details have been changed.
Another story about a prostitute mother would be too unbelievable for a Lifetime movie. Here are just a few of the details mentioned in the story:
- Dad is killed by the mob when she’s 9.
- Runs away from home at 14.
- Gets her GED and gets into Rutgers somehow.
- Becomes a prostitute to pay for college.
- Graduates with a business degree (natch).
- Marries a man from a well-to-do family.
- Transforms herself into a super successful businesswoman/prostitute/manager of prostitutes.
- Complains that illegality of prostitution is just the worst.
- Is also a devout Catholic who goes to church twice a week.
- Anonymously mails the police listings of potential child molesters.
You can read the story here, but here are some screen caps that struck others:
I’m pretty sure all the twice-weekly Catholic Mass attenders you know are very upset that some people find prostitution immoral. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to check these claims on account of the stories including accounts of people identified only by first names.
I guess we’ll have to trust the fact-checkers that everything checks out.