Consequence-Free: 'Scathing' Columbia Report Leads to No Firings at Rolling Stone

Earlier this evening, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued its report on Rolling Stone Magazine's November "A Rape on Campus" story. The report follows up on the magazine's request of Columbia to conduct an independent review of how the disastrously false 9,000-word story made it through to publication.

USA Today is reporting that for all the harsh criticism the piece's author and the others at the magazine received, and despite the fact that RS has now formally and fully retracted the story, no one is losing their job or suffering any other visible consequences. In fact, the magazine considers the whole affair "an isolated and unusual episode" (bolds are mine):

Columbia issues scathing report on Rolling Stone rape story

The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism issued a scathing report Sunday on the editorial breakdown at Rolling Stone magazine that allowed publication of a searing, now thoroughly discredited story about a woman who said she had been gang raped at the University of Virginia, ending a three-month review meant to shed a light on and calm the storm surrounding a saga that had triggered a police probe and institutional soul searching at the university.

Rolling Stone, which had backed off from its original story in December, also officially retracted the article, titled "A Rape on Campus," and said it will implement recommendations about journalistic practices that are listed in the report.

The 13,000-word report ... concluded that the magazine's editorial policies clearly have failed in catching the reportorial shortcomings by the story's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely.

"The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking," the authors wrote. "The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine's editors to reconsider publishing Jackie's narrative so prominently, if at all. The published story glossed over the gaps in the magazine's reporting by using pseudonyms and by failing to state where important information had come from."

... The report's authors noted that the magazine cooperated fully and allowed interviews all the relevant parties involved, including Erderly, and the magazine's managing editor, Will Dana.

"The report was painful reading, to me personally and to all of us at Rolling Stone," Dana said in a statement released Sunday by Rolling Stone.

The report's authors acknowledged the business realities of the shrunken magazine --its editorial staff has contracted by about 25% since 2008 -- but concluded that a lack of resources was not a factor in the failure.

"The problem was methodology, compounded by an environment where several journalists with decades of collective experience failed to surface and debate problems about their reporting or to heed the questions they did receive from a fact-checking colleague," they wrote.

The magazine's publisher is clearly living in a fantasy world if he really believes what he said to the New York Times (link is in original):

Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, told The New York Times that the story represented "an isolated and unusual episode" and plans retain Dana in his current job. Erdely also will continue to write for the magazine, Wenner said.

It's clear from the very first paragraph of Columbia's report that Sabrina Erdely was on a mission:

Last July 8, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, a writer for Rolling Stone, telephoned Emily Renda, a rape survivor working on sexual assault issues as a staff member at the University of Virginia. Erdely said she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case that would show "what it's like to be on campus now … where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there's this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture," according to Erdely's notes of the conversation.

If you already know what kind of story you're going to write about before you even get to the facts, and if you've already decided what the "pervasive culture" is before you've even seen it for yourself, your credibility is already compromised beyond repair.

The fact that Wenner won't relieve Erdely of her duties confirms beyond doubt that the magazine's slogan — "all the news that fits," which at one time was supposed to mean "that Rolling Stone will expand the page-space to fit all the news and nuances relevant to a subject, rather than the other way around" — really means "all the news that fits our agendas."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Crime Education Higher Education Government Agencies Media Bias Debate Bias by Omission Covert Liberal Activists Labeling Sexuality Feminism Media Scandals Online Media Rolling Stone Magazines Major Newspapers USA Today Jann Wenner

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