Veteran journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely had “complete confidence” in a story she wrote for Rolling Stone magazine in 2014 that focused on a University of Virginia student named “Jackie” who said she had been gang raped at a fraternity house. The facts of the story fell apart and it was eventually retracted. In newly-filed court documents, Erderly provided insight into what led her to believe Jackie was a credible victim. Erderly said that she was convinced Jackie was telling the truth not only because of the her willingness to allow Erdely to talk to other friends and witnesses, but because the reporter witnessed the subject burst into uncontrollable sobs at the sight of the frat house where the incident allegedly occurred.
“For me to have witnessed her spontaneous, uninhibited reaction dramatically reinforced the fact that Jackie appeared as a traumatized sexual assault victim,” Erderly wrote.
Jackie’s other behavior, including changing the details of her story and her refusal to name the alleged ringleader of the attack, seemed consistent with other victim behaviors, Erderly wrote. She only began to distrust Jackie’s claims after the story was published and other news organizations began finding holes, she said. At that point, she wrote an email to her editors with the subject line “our worst nightmare.” The magazine later retracted the story and now faces a defamation case from a school administrator.
“If I had had any doubts prior to publication about the integrity of this story, or about Jackie’s credibility as a source, I would not have published it,” Erderly said. “Instead, I would have gone back to my extensive reporting file to write a different story, one in which Jackie’s story was at most a footnote.”
Read the full story at The Washington Post.