Journalists watched with horror as the Rolling Stone story about the gang-rape of a University of Virginia student unraveled. What went wrong? Could it happen in your newsroom? The 12,644-word review by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism methodically eviscerated the Rolling Stone article, almost paragraph by paragraph.
“There were so many flaws, so many red flags” in the story, Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute said in a National Press Foundation discussion.
“In addition to bad reporting, I think there was lying going on,” said Erik Wemple, an editor at the Washington Post, which wrote several stories that undercut the Rolling Stone.
Derek Kravitz, one of the Columbia report authors, noted that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was no novice – she was a 42-year-old prize-winning journalist. “This is not the single fault of the reporter. This was an error of her primary editors concerned, her supervising editor, the fact-checking department. When you take all those errors, it was like a snowball effect… What we saw was collective failure.”
Should anyone at Rolling Stone be disciplined, a question the Columbia report did not address?
Melinda Henneberger, a reporter with Bloomberg Politics, said, “If this isn’t a firing offense, I don’t know what would be -- for their own credibility and for the credibility of our business.”
Wemple added: “I’m in favor of firing. I’ve made mistakes. This looked to me like it was purposeful. The egregious circumstances are right there on the table.”