Within moments of a jury returning a verdict that Rolling Stone, publisher Jann Wenner’s company, and reporter Sabrina R. Erdely acted with malice to defame a University of Virginia administrator, the magazine sent out a statement trying to save face. Here it is, with my comments:
For almost 50 years, Rolling Stone has aimed to produce journalism with the highest reporting and ethical standards, and with a strong humanistic point of view.
Oh please. It is true that Rolling Stone used to be a good magazine. It produced interesting music journalism and touched on important social issues. That was mostly in the 1960s and 1970s. Heck, even as late as the 1990s, the magazine’s political journalism was at least interesting and diverse. They published folks like William Greider, sure, but P.J. O’Rourke was there to balance it out. In 2008, Jonah Goldberg observed, “Rolling Stone has essentially become the house organ of the Democratic National Committee.” Nobody would say that now because nobody cares what Rolling Stone publishes or expects it to be anything other than a far-left rag for aging hippies who sold out.
The magazine hasn’t had much cultural relevance since its earlier heyday. In part that’s because it still has a focus on the music of that era. Its audience has shrunk, music journalism has gone almost completely online, and its core readership is a bunch of liberal white Baby Boomers who are interested in cover stories about how awesome Bruce Springsteen and Barack Obama are.
When we published ‘A Rape on Campus’ in 2014, we were attempting to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that is more relevant today than ever.
No. When Rolling Stone published “A Rape on Campus” in 2014, it was attempting to drive a sketchy narrative for progressive political results. That’s what Sabrina Erdely has done with many of her pieces over her career. That’s why Rolling Stone hired her. They took a very serious issue of how the sexual revolution has led to all sorts of abuses on college campuses and decided instead to focus on the dubious “rape culture” message pushed in recent years by progressive activists. Abuses on college campuses — and especially off college campuses — are real, but the recent “rape culture” craze has led to attacks on the civil liberties of men and created a panic built on emotion more than reality.
In our desire to present this complicated issue from the perspective of a survivor, we overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again.
This is both an incredible understatement and a misdirection. Erdely smeared someone and failed to do obvious due diligence with her sources. At every step of the fact-checking process, the magazine failed. The publication didn’t just fail to do its job, its staff didn’t seem to want to, putting a blockbuster story over basic journalism practices.
One key factor in the verdict, according to the jury, was the magazine’s delayed retraction and its decision to keep the article online with an editor’s note.
Further, this was not some one-off mistake but part of a pattern of the politically driven narrative journalism genre the magazine has paid Erdely and countless other reporters to do for decades.
We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo.
I can’t help but notice this statement from the magazine does not mention the fraternity or the members it defamed, who suffered swift and serious consequences as a result of a false story alleging they were violent gang rapists.
It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students.
The magazine’s journalism, which was designed and orchestrated for a particular political outcome, did grievous damage to the cause. More than that, actual victims of rape will suffer and not be believed because of the magazine’s failure to do even a modicum of due diligence in reporting the story. This is scandalous and serious.
We will continue to publish stories that shine a light on the defining social, political and cultural issues of our times, and we will continue to seek the truth in every story we publish.
There was a time when Rolling Stone published stories on the defining social political and cultural issues of our times. It is obvious that false stories such as this one the magazine peddled are desperate attempts to recapture that relevance.
This casual response to the jury’s finding of defamation with malice reflects what journalism has become, an enterprise focused on progressive political activism at the expense of truth. This is nothing less than a fancier “fake, but accurate” defense that was mocked when Dan Rather offered it many years ago.
This year, two media companies — Gawker and Rolling Stone — have been brought low by their own unethical behavior. In general, the media have pushed things too far in terms of going after ordinary people. They can’t keep doing this and expect not to deal with the consequences. May the punishment they suffer be severe enough to make others reconsider the harm such journalism causes.
Rolling Stone, Jann Wenner, and Sabrina Erdely have lost their reputations, and rightly so. May they come to true repentance for their actions.