The Rolling Stone piece “A Rape on Campus” is a huge story in all senses of the word. It is long and expansive, documenting a culture at the University of Virginia that seems to shrug off sexual assault. It has also helped kick off a broad national conversation about fraternity culture, rape on campus, and whether our colleges and universities are equipped to adjudicate alleged sex crimes. At its heart, though, Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article is about a single event: an orchestrated gang rape of a woman named Jackie. In the course of 9,000 words, Erdely chronicles an administration’s tepid response to a terrible crime. But what the piece is missing is one small thing: that single, standard sentence explaining that the alleged perpetrators of the crime deny it, or don’t deny it, or even that they could not be reached for comment. It’s often a boring sentence, one that comes off as boilerplate to readers, but it’s absolutely necessary, because it tells readers you tried your best to get the other side of the story. You notice when it isn’t there.
Last week, we invited Erdely on the DoubleX Gabfest to talk about the story. I asked her in several different ways if she knew anything about the seven men whom Jackie accused of committing this crime, or if she had talked to them. In the story, Jackie’s roommate at the time, Rachel Soltis, tells Erdely, “Me and several other people know exactly who did this to her.” Jackie says she still sees “Drew,” the guy she alleges orchestrated the gang rape, walking around campus sometimes. (Jackie is the alleged victim’s real first name. Drew is Erdely’s pseudonym for the alleged perpetrator.) Drew was on Jackie’s lifeguard shift at the university pool. He’s a junior and a member of the fraternity Phi Kappa Psi. An open campus is relatively friendly terrain for a reporter, and students’ email addresses aren’t difficult to track down. He couldn’t be that hard to find. And yet, based on Erdely’s answers, we couldn’t tell how hard she’d tried. [Read more]
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