Authors of Report on What Went Wrong in Rolling Stone UVA Rape Story to Speak at Princeton University



The authors of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism report that analyzed what went wrong with the Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” will speak at Princeton University on Monday, April 27.

Lead investigator Steve Coll, Pulitzer Prize-Winning journalist and dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, and Columbia School of Journalism Dean of Academic Affairs Sheila Coronel will discuss their review of what went wrong in the reporting and editorial process for the Rolling Stone article. The discussion will be moderated by Joe Stephens, an investigative reporter at The Washington Post and Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

“The collapse of Rolling Stone’s article on UVA ranks among the most distressing media failures in recent history, a cautionary tale for readers and journalists alike. It will be studied in classrooms for many years,” Stephens said. “We’re incredibly lucky to have Steve and Sheila — two of the most esteemed journalists of their generation — coming to Princeton to explain precisely what went wrong and how we can avoid a recurrence.”

Rolling Stone commissioned the independent report after its story depicting a University of Virginia student’s gang rape at a campus fraternity house came under attack as  journalists at The Washington Post and other publications raised questions regarding the accuracy of the facts and inconsistencies about the assault. The Washington Post uncovered details suggesting that the assault could not have taken place the way it was described, and the truth of the story became a subject of national controversy.

The Columbia report “A Rape on Campus” What Went Wrong? was released on April 5. The report shows how basic fact-checking with sources other than the victim was not done and members of the fraternity were not confronted with details from the story and given the opportunity to give their side of the story. The report also raises the issue of the use of pseudonyms in stories.  The report served as Rolling Stone’s “official retraction” of the story.

The discussion about the report, titled “‘A Rape on Campus’: What Went Wrong – An Anatomy of a Journalistic Failure” will be held in Dodds Auditorium at the Woodrow Wilson School on Washington Road at 7 p.m. on April 27. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required to attend.

The event is co-sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, the Ferris Journalism Seminars in the Council of the Humanities, and the University Press Club.

Ticket distribution schedule at the Princeton University Ticketing office on the 100 level of the Frist Campus Center:

Tickets will be available to Princeton University students beginning at noon, on Tuesday, April 21.

Tickets for Princeton University faculty will be available beginning at noon, on Thursday, April 23.

Any remaining tickets will be available to the general public beginning at noon on Friday, April 24.

Ticket distribution will continue while supplies last during normal business hours, (M-F 10am-6pm).

For those not able to obtain a ticket, the event will be simulcast in Bowl 016, Robertson Hall.


  1. The rather thorough critique of Rolling Stone’s failures in journalistic practice, policy and integrity, detailed in the lengthy Columbia Journalism School report, nevertheless supports a core element of Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s and Rolling Stone’s bias:

    “Because questioning a victim’s account can be traumatic, counselors have cautioned journalists to allow survivors some control over their own stories. This is good advice.”

    “Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward.”

    Letting a reporting subject have “control over their own story” is a recipe for the very sort of journalistic malpractice that the Columbia Deans uncovered at Rolling Stone, and it was the primary reason that both Erdely and her editors chose to give too much control to Jackie over who could be interviewed.

    The Columbia report also used the term “victim” or “victims” 19 times, and yet put the word “alleged” before “victims” only once, in reference to other UVa students. It put “alleged” before “assault” only twice, and before “gang rape” only once.

    The report similarly used the term “survivor” or “survivors” 21 times, and yet put the word “alleged” before it not a single time.

    In the concluding section “For Journalists: Reporting on Campus Rape”, the Columbia Deans offer several areas of concern, including “balancing sensitivity to victims and the demands of verification”, “corroborating survivor accounts”, and “holding institutions to account” – but ignores what is almost certainly the most pervasive pitfall: accepting as scientific dogma the exaggerated statistics on rates of campus sexual assault and rape, merely because they have been repeated, ad nauseam, by everyone from victim-advocacy groups to college administrators, Congress-people, and the President of the United States. This is the argumentum ad verecundiam, or appeal to authority logical fallacy, that is nearly ubiquitous in mainstream reporting on campus rape.

    Fortunately, and just in time for this renewed national debate, we have the 18-year DOJ study (the first one actually performed by Bureau of Justice Statistics professional statisticians, rather than by academic researchers with a bias), released in December of 2014, which shows that, nationally, the average rate of sexual assault in the last years of 1995-2013 was 0.61%, and for rape was 0.2%, and that those rates are 20% lower than for similarly-aged non-student women, and reduced 50% from the late 1990s. This data not only puts the lie to the “1-in-5” factoid that has become the accepted catechism, but also to the insistence that there is an “epidemic” of campus rape and sexual assault.

    For all the honest analysis of the journalistic failures of Rolling Stone, the Columbia report also engaged in a similarly wanton act of misreporting, worrying that “the magazine’s failure may have spread the idea that many women invent rape allegations” and stating that “social scientists analyzing crime records report that the rate of false rape allegations is 2 to 8 percent”.

    In fact, the best research has consistently shown rates of false rape allegations of between 25% and 50%, with the higher numbers being on campus.

    Just as the Rolling Stone writers, editors and fact-checkers simply assumed the veracity of Jackie’s story because it fit the narrative of an “epidemic” of campus sexual assault, Columbia’s Steve Coll repeated an oft-stated statistic, and gave it credibility simply because it comes from apparently reliable sources – but he failed to fact-check his own sources.

    1. I see very little discussion about checking Erdely’s previous Rolling Stone work. Why do we assume she didn’t do the same with those stories as she did on this one? They all read like bad Lifetime movies. And why has nobody been fired? Oops, sorry …. we’re really ashamed. That’s it?! Erdely has caused a lot more damage than Stephen Glass or Jayson Blair ever did.

      1. I posted a link to my investigation of Erdely’s checkered career, but it got put into moderation. So Google: Journalistic Fabulism and Ideological Agendas – the Sabrina Rubin Erdely Story

      2. No one was fired because Jann Wenner ordered the story to be run. All the people involved were following his instructions. This wasn’t a “rogue” story but rather was a deliberate action. Rolling Stone loves controversy and evidently subscribes to the notion that publicity, even negative, is great for business.

        They sold more magazines and have more clicks on their website than ever before, which add up to lots and lots of $$$$.

  2. As brilliant as both of these Columbia University individuals may be, and more importantly as error filled as the Jackie-UVA story was, Is Columbia University – Any College Within Columbia University – In A Position To Judge Reports of Sex Assault, Sex Harassment and Retaliation Against Complainants At Another School?
    When Bollinger Administration – Columbia University current strategy is to make the Title IX sex assault and harass problems at CU only part of a larger national problem?

    While the Jackie-UVA story should not have been published as it was because of the pretty blatant lack of fact checking, especially given the heinousness of the accusations, is it really best that Columbia University be the institution that continues to critique it?
    The integrity of any media-story that has to do with sex assault and harassment, and retaliation against complainants at any academic university should not, it really can not be measured in earnest without prejudice, by Columbia University because, given the number of Title IX sex assault and harassment complaints that have been presented against Bollinger Administration – Columbia University since at least November 2004, Columbia University has too much skin in the game, so to speak. That Bollinger Administration – Columbia University wants to make it’s problem part of a larger issue, share the culpability for its actions/inaction in this regard, so to speak, should be considered when valuing the Columbia University – School critique.

  3. “You can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. If so, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system?
    And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? In fact, isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society?”

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