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Revisiting 'Rolling Stone's' Discredited Campus Rape Story


There are new developments in the story of the widely discredited 2014 Rolling Stone article about campus rape at the University of Virginia. The piece centered around one woman, an undergraduate identified as Jackie. She had claimed to have been raped. But when other news organizations started picking apart the reporting behind the Rolling Stone piece, her account came into question.

The magazine retracted the story, partly due to the reporting of T. Rees Shapiro of The Washington Post. He told me that since then, there have been three lawsuits filed against the magazine, the most significant by Nicole Eramo, an associate dean at UVA.

TAYLOR REES SHAPIRO: She argued in her filing that she was portrayed as callous and indifferent to Jackie's claims that she'd been sexually assaulted. And she's sort of viewed in what she describes as sort of this villain in the piece which tries to show that the administration didn't do a lot in light of Jackie's claims.

So right now her lawsuit is still ongoing, and the latest development is that Jackie has been deposed for the case. And that means she had to answer statements under oath, in sworn testimony, that could possibly even be used at trial.

MARTIN: What has been the fallout for Rolling Stone, the magazine that published this piece in the first place? Did anyone lose their job over this?

SHAPIRO: One of the editors of the piece resigned, and that's sort of the most significant fallout. The writer of the piece, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, remains employed by the magazine. She was a contributing editor. And I don't know specifically why that would be, but I imagine that if she were fired or let go by the magazine, the other lawyers could argue that it clearly - the magazine clearly believed that she had some sort of fault in the publication. That's not the case, at least for now. More largely, obviously the magazine's reputation was damaged from its subsequent publication of the story they later had to retract. But other than that, its popularity doesn't seem to be diminished at all.

MARTIN: What about UVA? What's the vibe on campus? How do students feel about all of this?

SHAPIRO: It's a very tight-knit community. And even in the aftermath of the allegations sort of being shown to be untrue, there were still a lot of students on campus who rallied around Jackie and her cause. And there was even a, for a brief time, this sort of movement where they said, I stand with Jackie.

And they're torn because UVA students are not one to turn on each other obviously, but there is a lot of support on campus obviously for Nicole Eramo. She's a beloved figure. And so this is one of those strange moments where they're pitted necessarily against two members of the community.

MARTIN: And have you spoken with any members of the campus community who might work with victims of sexual assault about how this story and the complicated twists and turns of this, how it's affected that group of people, people who've survived sexual assault?

SHAPIRO: Actually right before I was beginning to do my investigation and to publish our first reports, I spoke with a number of advocates, students on campus who work in the, you know, sexual assault prevention sort of sphere, and they questioned me. You know, how will this affect us moving forward? Will this set us back a step, having to admit that perhaps, you know, the allegations that were described in Rolling Stone were false?

And false reporting about rapes, we know statistically, are extremely low nationwide. And these were survivors themselves coming to me. And they actually ended up answering the questions themselves. They came back and they said, you know what? No matter what, the truth is what matters the most. And I can tell just from my experience continuing to report at UVA that students are not coming forward at a pace any less. You know, it's not like all of a sudden women on campus don't feel comfortable reporting a sexual assault. That's in fact the opposite. If anything, it's created an atmosphere where they understand that it's OK to talk about it.

MARTIN: T. Rees Shapiro, a reporter with The Washington Post who's been covering all this. Thanks so much for talking with us, Taylor.

SHAPIRO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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