Tags: Rolling Stone

The Violent Threat Near UVA that Rolling Stone Downplayed


There is one more bitter, tragic irony to Rolling Stone’s erroneous coverage of allegations of gang rape at the University of Virginia. Evidence is mounting that young women on the campus indeed faced a violent threat for a long time. It just didn’t come from fraternities or the student body.

On September 13, 18-year-old University of Virginia student Hannah Graham disappeared; authorities recovered her remains from a rural part of Albemarle County, Va., on October 18. Police arrested Jesse Matthew Jr. on September 25, and he was charged in the disappearance of Graham.

What’s astounding is how many young women disappeared in such a short period of time around the University of Virginia’s campus:

Hannah Graham is the fifth young woman in five years to vanish within a few miles of Route 29, the main highway which runs through Charlottesville.

Nineteen-year-old Samantha Ann Clarke, who vanished after leaving her Orange County town house in September 2010, 19-year-old DaShad Laquinn Smith, who disappeared in Charlottesville in November 2012, and 17-year-old Alexis Murphy, who was last seen near Lynchburg, Va. in August of 2013 and whose car was found in Charlottesville, remain missing. . . . Morgan Harrington, a 20-year-old Virginia Tech student, disappeared from the University of Virginia’s John Paul Jones Arena while attending a rock concert in October 2009. collected 13 cases of women disappearing from central Virginia since 2009 — some young, some old, some white, some black. It is far from clear that they are all the crimes of the same perpetrator, but there are unnerving similarities in several of the cases.

Then there’s this chilling detail:

Sources confirm that at least two local cab employees informed federal and state investigators that Jesse Matthew Jr. — the man behind bars for the abduction of missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham — was working as a cab driver the night murdered Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington disappeared.

What is the one thing everyone says when a young woman has had too much to drink? “Call her a cab.”

In the Rolling Stone article, there’s a brief reference to Graham and Matthew, attempting to shoehorn the crime into the article’s established narrative about a “rape culture” on campus:

Suspect Jesse Matthew Jr., a 32-year-old UVA hospital worker, will be charged with Hannah Graham’s “abduction with intent to defile,” and a chilling portrait will emerge of an alleged predator who got his start, a decade ago, as a campus rapist. Back in 2002, and again in 2003, Matthew was accused of sexual assault at two different Virginia colleges where he was enrolled, but was never prosecuted. In 2005, according to the new police indictment, Matthew sexually assaulted a 26-year-old and tried to kill her. DNA has also reportedly linked Matthew to the 2009 death of Virginia Tech student Morgan Harrington, who disappeared after a Metallica concert in Charlottesville. The grisly dossier of which Matthew has been accused underscores the premise that campus rape should be seen not through the schema of a dubious party foul, but as a violent crime — and that victims should be encouraged to come forward as an act of civic good that could potentially spare future victims.

Jesse Matthew Jr. does not “fit the narrative” of the article’s spoiled, entitled, privileged, out-of-control frat boys:

This is one more consequence of “narrative journalism”: When you set out to write the evil-fraternities story, you end up missing the serial-killer-stalks-campus story.

Tags: Rolling Stone , UVA , Crime

We’re Now in ‘The Guy Is Toast’ Territory for Rolling Stone


Quite a few folks enjoyed this section of the Morning Jolt today:

The Rolling Stone University of Virginia Story Explodes

Gentlemen, start your lawyers.

In their first interviews about the events of that September 2012 night, the three friends separately told The Post that their recollections of the encounter diverge from how Rolling Stone portrayed the incident in a story about Jackie’s alleged gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity. The interviews also provide a richer account of Jackie’s interactions immediately after the alleged attack, and suggest that the friends are skeptical of her account.

“Diverge” is a gentle word, considering the circumstances:

They said there are mounting inconsistencies with the original narrative in the magazine. The students also expressed suspicions about Jackie’s allegations from that night. They said the name she provided as that of her date did not match anyone at the university, and U-Va. officials confirmed to The Post that no one by that name has attended the school.

Since Friday, the question on lots of minds has been whether the account of the victim in Rolling Stone was a gross exaggeration of a genuine but less dramatic traumatic event or a wholesale hoax.

Here’s where things get really problematic for our victim:

And photographs that were texted to one of the friends showing her date that night actually were pictures depicting one of Jackie’s high-school classmates in Northern Virginia. That man, now a junior at a university in another state, confirmed that the photographs are of him and said he barely knew Jackie and hasn’t been to Charlottesville for at least six years.

Here’s where things get really, really problematic for Rolling Stone:

The friends said they never were contacted or interviewed by the pop culture magazine’s reporters or editors. Though vilified in the article as coldly indifferent to Jackie’s ordeal, the students said they cared deeply about their friend’s well-being and safety. Randall said that they made every effort to help Jackie that night.

How in the name of Tawana Brawley can Rolling Stone quote people without contacting them?

Shattered Glass is a pretty good film depicting the real-life tale of The New Republic’s serial fabulist, Stephen Glass. Adam Penenberg, the reporter who ultimately exposed the lies, lays out the twists and turns of the investigation in a great personal essay here. There’s a moment during Penenberg’s first confrontation with Glass, in front of both men’s editors, where it becomes clear that Glass’s story cannot possibly be true. Penenberg whispers, “The guy is toast.”

We’re now in “the guy is toast” territory for Rolling Stone.

Here’s where Rolling Stone reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely may be getting into Stephen Glass/Jayson Blair territory:

The Rolling Stone article also said that Randall declined to be interviewed, “citing his loyalty to his own frat.” He told The Post that he never was contacted by Rolling Stone and would have agreed to an interview. The article’s writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not respond to requests for comment this week.

We have now veered past shoddy journalism to writing things that didn’t happen. The only scenario in which Erdely isn’t putting words in people’s mouths is if the victim — do we refer to her as an alleged victim now? — sent e-mails on behalf of Randall and her friends, i.e., an elaborate hoax that involves impersonating other people.

Here’s the one piece of evidence contending the victim’s story is not made up out of whole cloth:

“She had very clearly just experienced a horrific trauma,” Randall said. “I had never seen anybody acting like she was on that night before and I really hope I never have to again. . . . If she was acting on the night of Sept. 28, 2012, then she deserves an Oscar.”

By the way, here’s the University president, Teresa Sullivan:

On Greek life, Sullivan said she is working “collaboratively” with fraternity leaders. “The students have brought forward some great ideas,” she said. But she said a suspension of social activities would remain in place until Jan. 9.

One extremely dubious allegation in a national magazine prompted the suspension of all Greek activities for the semester. They’re teaching those kids a lesson — unfortunately it’s a lesson about collective punishment and modern academia’s increasing lack of interest in the rights of the accused.

Ace observes: “It’s an interesting, and I’m sure entirely unrelated, quirk of history that Sabrina Rubin Erdley was a colleague of Steven Glass’ on the Daily Pennsylvanian newspaper. Both were UPenn, Class of ’94.”

Tags: Media , Rolling Stone , University of Virginia

Rolling Stone Has Not Retracted Its UVA Rape Story


Although Rolling Stone managing editor Will Dana yesterday published a “Note to Our Readers” regarding the magazine’s University of Virginia rape story, the note in no way says what Rolling Stone’s current designation of the story is.

“We are taking this seriously and apologize to anyone who was affected by the story,” Dana wrote, but the note contains neither any retraction nor any reference to correction of material in the story.

The original story is still available in full at, and while it now includes the Note to Readers appended at the beginning, the story itself does not seem to have been corrected in any way. Names, including the name of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi, have so far not been changed. Although the first paragraph of the Note praises the story for generating “worldwide headlines and much soul-searching at UVA,” it does not say whether Rolling Stone does or does not stand by the story, in full or in part.

Dana does not specify whether the story is considered retracted, under revision, being corrected, or in some other status. As a result, coverage of the Rolling Stone story by other media is replete with nebulous phrasing saying the magazine “backed off” or “orphaned” the piece.

Neither Dana nor the magazine responded to questions emailed to the magazine’s editorial and publicity addresses as well as a presumptive address for Dana himself; questions tweeted to Dana’s Twitter account; and a message left at Wenner Media’s Los Angeles phone number. Wenner Media’s New York telephone number is unattended and does not accept messages.

It is important for the magazine to specify, quickly, whether any changes have been made to the online version of the story, whether the online version will be revised, and what Rolling Stone institutionally considers the status of Sabrina Erdely’s story to be. In addition to having disappointed countless moviegoers who believed the fact-checking and story-spiking plotline in Almost Famous, the magazine may be compounding its legal liabilities by allowing the story to remain unchanged. Conversely, if Dana still believes the story to be correct in some or most of its particulars, he owes it to Erdely to say so.

The level of correction necessary is difficult but not impossible to do within a few days, as was demonstrated recently by io9 editor Annalee Newitz, who thoroughly revised a bad animal testing story almost immediately after it went live and took responsibility, using the first person singular, in a lengthy note about the correction.

Update: Rolling Stone has changed the note to readers, adding some material and eliminating Dana’s name. Here is the relevant new material: 

In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account. The fraternity has issued a formal statement denying the assault and asserting that there was no “date function or formal event” on the night in question. Jackie herself is now unsure if the man she says lured her into the room where the rape occurred, identified in the story, as “Drew,” was a Phi Psi brother. According to the Washington Post, “Drew” actually belongs to a different fraternity and when contacted by the paper, he denied knowing Jackie. Jackie told Rolling Stone that after she was assaulted, she ran into “Drew” at a UVA pool where they both worked as lifeguards. In its statement, the Phi Psi says none of its members worked at the pool in the fall of 2012. A friend of Jackie’s (who we were told would not speak to Rolling Stone) told the Washington Post that he found Jackie that night a mile from the school’s fraternities. She did not appear to be “physically injured at the time” but was shaken.  She told him that that she had been forced to have oral sex with a group of men at a fraternity party, but he does not remember her identifying a specific house. Other friends of Jackie’s told the Washington Post that they now have doubts about her narrative, but Jackie told the Washington Post that she firmly stands by the account she gave to Erdely. 

We published the article with the firm belief that it was accurate. Given all of these reports, however, we have come to the conclusion that we were mistaken in honoring Jackie’s request to not contact the alleged assaulters to get their account. In trying to be sensitive to the unfair shame and humiliation many women feel after a sexual assault, we made a judgment – the kind of judgment reporters and editors make every day. We should have not made this agreement with Jackie and we should have worked harder to convince her that the truth would have been better served by getting the other side of the story. These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie. We apologize to anyone who was affected by the story and we will continue to investigate the events of that evening.

The content of the story itself does not appear to have changed.

Tags: University of Virginia , Rolling Stone , Rape Culture

Zerlina Maxwell Will Believe Anything


Zerlina Maxwell — a lawyer last seen making the fully commonsense case that if John Cusack is outside your home with the sleeves of his eighties coat rolled up and holding a loud boombox over his head, he is to be taken down by main force — throws caution to the wind in praising Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s University of Virginia rape story, which has now been orphaned by Rolling Stone.

Source: screenshot

The story of J, Maxwell writes in the Washington Post, “helped dramatize what happens when the claims of victims are not taken seriously.” Maxwell also flirts with libel by asserting that some identifiable young man who attends or attended the Charlottesville school did rape the pseudonymous Jackie: She allows that “her rapist wasn’t in the frat she says,” but omits the weasel word “alleged.”

Maxwell continues:

We should always believe, as a matter of default, what an accuser says. Ultimately, the costs of wrongly disbelieving a survivor far outweigh the costs of calling someone a rapist. Even if Jackie fabricated her account, UVA should have taken her word for it until they could have proved otherwise.

The accused would have a rough period. He might be suspended from his job; friends might de-friend him on Facebook. In the case of Bill Cosby, we might have to stop watching, consuming his books, or buying tickets to his traveling stand-up routine. These errors can be undone by an investigation that clears the accused, especially if it is done quickly.

The cost of disbelieving women, on the other hand, is far steeper. It signals that that women don’t matter and that they are disposable — not only to frat boys and Bill Cosby, but to us. And they face a special set of problems in having their say.

This writer is open to one part of Maxwell’s argument: that an open charge of an infamous crime does and perhaps should carry with it societal penalties. For example, that Bill Cosby’s revenue streams have been sharply curtailed these last few months seems to be no miscarriage of justice in a free society. Although the conscience recoils at the idea of a kid trying to earn a college diploma losing his job over unproved charges, the same standard must be applied to a poor scholar and a multimillionaire.

However, Maxwell uses so much communalist grammar and vocabulary that it is impossible to say if this is her point. The word “we” appears more than 20 times in the piece, and it’s full of neologisms like “dignity-crime.” There are several typos that the online copydesk should catch while fixing this piece: “given the research on the aftermath a sexual assault and how PTSD affects,” “It signals that that women don’t matter,” and “Because rape it is such a poisonous charge…” The piece is shorn of individual character and injection-basted in group-identity goo, to the point of being as hard to read as Anthem, the first-person Ayn Rand novel in which all singular pronouns including “I” have been banned by a totalitarian state.

None of this would matter except that it is not clear whether Maxwell believes that only entities of civil society (and for the purposes of this argument we can assume U. Va. is part of the civil society though 10 percent of its academic budget is taken from the people of Virginia), should be free to engage in non-presumption of innocence. She seems to think the courts should presume guilt as well:

While the clock is ticking on the physical evidence, survivors are often grappling with the first stages of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), creating a perfect storm of foggy memories, isolation, and denial. It’s common for them to experience a dissociative moment when they try to “get over it” and move on with their lives . . . 

The lasting psychological wound left by sexual assault is unique — and makes justice less likely . . . 

Disbelieving women, then, not only compounds their trauma (often by making them doubt their own stories), but it also lets a serial rapist go free.

That’s a way for lawyer to think. Not sure it’s the best way.

Update: Maxwell’s op-ed has been given an unindicated edit, including a title change and at least one text change that specifies her argument is limited to “what happens outside the court.” 

The typos remain in place and the material quoted above does not appear to have been changed.

Tags: Rape Culture , Rolling Stone , University of Virginia , Media Jackassery

Rolling Stone, Begging the World to Pay Attention Again


Also from today’s Morning Jolt:

Like a Crazy Ex, Rolling Stone Desperately Hoping You’ll Pay Attention to Them Again

Look, we get it. It’s tough to run a print magazine, particularly if a magazine thinks of itself as a journal of cultural trends that entice and excite young people. Kids don’t read print anymore. People pass by the newsstand and don’t give it a second glance, their eyes pulled away by the latest starlet half-naked and pouting on the cover of Maxim. And if a publication’s editors start feeling financial pressure and a sense of declining relevance to the conversation they seek to influence, they can get desperate, resorting to shock headlines and a sneering tone . . . as we’ve seen:

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But Rolling Stone editors knew what they were doing by putting the Little Brother Bomber on the cover. They were getting the news world to talk about a magazine that had in past months become largely indistinguishable from Entertainment Weekly: Johnny Depp in full Tonto regalia, comedian Louis C. K., Mad Men lead actor Jon Hamm, Seth Rogan and his co-stars of This Is the End.

And in using the soft-focus, Dylan-esque image of Little Brother Bomber on the cover, they scrambled some of our usual political lines. The editor of ThinkProgress says the image makes the bomber look like Jim Morrison.

And some complaints are coming from on high:

Former White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor expressed concern on Wednesday about Rolling Stone magazine putting Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover, tweeting that “A disaffected US kid could see this and think terrorist are afforded rock star status.”

The same image once appeared on the cover of the New York Times; objections seem to primarily revolve around the fact that Rolling Stone almost only features celebrities on its covers — most recently Johnny Depp — and thus this image would put an accused terrorist into that category, of someone to be celebrated.

Bingo. A traditional newsweekly could have run that image with the headline, “Into the Mind of a Killer” or something similar, with little objection. The New Republic recalls Time magazine covers featuring Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden.

But this is the cover of Rolling Stone, where we’re used to seeing Janet Jackson’s cleavage, or Angelina Jolie’s cleavage, or Katy Perry’s cleavage, or Shakira’s cleavage, or . . . where was I going with this? Ah, yes! For most of the past decades, Rolling Stone covers have fit into three categories 1) celebrity cleavage 2) here’s a singer or band who is very hot at the moment and whose image will instantly date this magazine 3) “Isn’t Obama awesome!”

There really isn’t a strong tradition of “here’s a detailed look into the face of evil” cover pieces.

Let’s also note that the cover’s text doesn’t help matters, either.

How a Popular, Promising Student Was Failed by His Family, Fell Into Radical Islam and Became a Monster

To their credit, the editors label him a monster. But “failed by his family” seems to suggest his actions aren’t entirely his responsibility, and “fell into radical Islam” is a strangely passive way of describing the choice to commit murder. It’s not a pothole.

Also . . . had Rolling Stone editors personally known any of the victims, would they have made the same choice?

Apparently Rolling Stone editors are comfortable writing off Boston from their circulation area:

Pharmacy chain CVS has announced it will not sell copies of next week’s Rolling Stone featuring suspected Boston terrorist Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover.

“As a company with deep roots in New England and a strong presence in Boston, we believe this is the right decision out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones,” the company said in a statement.

The cover, which was teased late Tuesday night, has incited a flurry of controversy, with Rolling Stone’s website being bombarded with complaints and a Facebook page started to boycott to the music magazine. Boston Mayor Thomas Menino and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick have both criticized the cover as in poor taste.

Here’s Erik Wemple, a usually fair-minded reporter and blogger on the media beat for the Washington Post:

*This is good journalism, as the photo depicts the same Dzhokhar Tsarnaev that The Post and the New York Times — and others — depicted in deeply reported pieces. That is, a regular, good guy with friends, interests and activities — a “joker,” even.

*Showing this alleged bomber in his full humanity makes him appear even more menacing.

*Some are saying that Rolling Stone is exploiting this image — this story — for commercial gain. Well, Rolling Stone is a magazine. It exploits all its stories for commercial gain, some more effectively than others.

. . . I’ll leave the last word to two of the victims:

Brothers J.P. and Paul Norden of Stoneham each lost a leg in the attacks and they let the magazine know how they feel in this long Facebook post Wednesday morning.

Here you go Rolling Stones; if you required a cover and wanted marathon related, one would assume that you would have promoted a nation of continued healing, provided American heroes and encouraged moving forward. This is just one of several available shots that would have made sense if you were looking for togetherness.

Instead, your irresponsible behavior did more to tear open wounds and insult victims, survivors and families that have been slowly healing and accepting the horrendous acts of terrorism. There is a very long road that awaits the involved victims and your magazine ripped at the hearts in an instance and cut at the deepest levels and for what, “To increase sales of a magazine that usually is worthy of music celebrities.” Well, Rolling Stones, you just reclaimed your 15 minutes of fame, we only hope, it lasts only fifteen minutes.

What you did yesterday with your incredibly poor decision, was weaken extreme good that has been built from unimaginable evil.

Well, we are here to remind you that we are 2 BROTHERS 1 NATION. . . . Standing Boston Strong. . . . and no room for magazines intended on highlighting evil, hate and death.

Today, we take a step over that magazine and hold our heads up high and ask our supporters to do the same and to also ignore the sensationalism perpetrated by RS.

Tags: Boston Marathon Bombing , Rolling Stone , Media

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