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Rolling Stone Slammed Over Gang-Rape Apology: 'A Minor Mea Culpa'

By    |   Friday, 05 December 2014 10:23 PM

Media observers slammed Rolling Stone's apology on Friday for publishing a cover story last month on the brutal gang rape of a woman by seven University of Virginia fraternity pledges that turned out not to be true, with Boston University assistant professor Tobe Berkovitz calling it "a minor mea culpa."

"They've hardly apologized," he told Newsmax. "Almost all the entire press is appalled by this, and Rolling Stone is just floating along, saying: 'Whoops, sorry. We shall go forth.'

"This was just gross negligence that a publication the size of Rolling Stone would publish such a powerful piece that had so many inherent flaws in it," Berkovitz said.

However, former CBS News investigative reporter Sharyl Attkisson cautioned: "I don't think Rolling Stone should be viewed as a news organization.

"Obviously, it's just as serious as if they make a mistake as if anyone makes a mistake, but they're a pop-culture magazine that does a lot of different things.

"People shouldn't be surprised that a magazine that's not a news organization especially does something that turns out to be editorially questionable," Attkisson said.

In a statement on Rolling Stone's website, Managing Editor Will Dana apologized for the story, written by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The article cited the alleged gang-rape as an example of what it called a culture of sexual violence hiding in plain sight at UVa.

"We were trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, and now regret the decision to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account," Dana said. "We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by this story."

The story identified a woman as "Jackie," who claimed that she was asked on a date by a college junior and went to a party at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on Sept. 28, 2012.

The woman told Erdely that she went to an upstairs bedroom with the frat member and then was brutally raped by pledges, who had been directed by the junior student and another man in the room.

Erdely's report included no comments from any of the alleged perpetrators. Dana said Rolling Stone honored the woman's request to not contact any of the men because her story was very sensitive. The move prompted widespread criticism from other news organizations.

"Because of the sensitive nature of Jackie's story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her," Dana said.

"In the months Erdely spent reporting the story, Jackie neither said nor did anything that made Erdely, or Rolling Stone's editors and fact-checkers, question Jackie's credibility."

Dana said that discrepancies in the woman's account became apparent "in the face of new information," but provided no details about what facts might be in question.

That wasn't enough for some of the magazine's critics.

"It is deeply troubling that Rolling Stone magazine is now publicly walking away from its central storyline in its bombshell report on the University of Virginia without correcting what errors its editors believe were made," said Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring.

The university was roiled by the magazine's initial article, which prompted protests, classroom debates, formal investigations — and Phi Kappa Psi's activities were suspended. The frat house also was attacked after the article was published.

UVa is among 90 schools facing Title IX sexual-violence investigations from the U.S. Education Department.

In his Newsmax interview, Berkovitz said Rolling Stone's apology proved that it "really doesn't have much respect for the concept of journalism and responsibility.

"In the media, journalists love to take responsibility when they do strong investigative reporting that finds malfeasance — whether it's government, corporate or an individual. In this case, it appears to be a totally botched story, and yet they have done the scantest of vague apologies.

"If you're going to hold yourself up to standards when you do good work, then you should hold yourself up to standards when you do flawed, horrid work," Berkovitz said.

He likened the situation to the 2006 alleged gang rape of an African-American woman by three white Duke University lacrosse players that proved to be false.

The team was suspended for two games, the coach was forced to resign — and the rest of the season was canceled. The criminal charges against the athletes were dropped in 2007.

"There, you had — basically — an entire, significant sports team destroyed because of allegations that ended up being proven false," Berkovitz said. "In that case also, the media jumped on the bandwagon."

Attkisson said the Rolling Stone controversy illustrated "a blurring of the lines in recent years between straight news media and these quasi-media outlets, many of which are online, that people somehow view as a reputable news organization when they're not."

She is the author of the best-selling book, "Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington."

Rolling Stone's debacle should not discourage sexual-assault victims from coming forward, but Attkisson and Berkovitz both acknowledged that their efforts could face even more scrutiny.

"It makes an already difficult situation worse, because the credibility of victims is often called into question as it is," Attkisson told Newsmax. "That makes it very tough for the victims and tough for the story at times.

"But when you have a story that then is legitimately questioned… it hurts the credibility of all of them when it shouldn't. It just tends to cast aspersions on the whole issue.

"I don't think it should," she added. "Sometimes, that's the effect that it has. Almost an overreaction to a mistake is that some people — certainly not all people — will view other victim's stories more skeptically than they deserve because of this."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Media observers slammed Rolling Stone's apology on Friday for publishing a cover story last month on the brutal gang rape of a woman by seven University of Virginia fraternity pledges...
rolling stone, rape, article, apology, media, college
Friday, 05 December 2014 10:23 PM
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