Local Commentary

Editorial: Rolling Stone’s Partial Recant

As shocked as the nation was by the recent publication in Rolling Stone of the terrible account of a gang rape perpetrated at a fraternity on the campus of the University of Virginia, the sudden recantation by Rolling Stone in the next days also made major waves, leaving many confused and unsure what that was all about. Our State Sen. Richard Saslaw, as reported extensively here, and this newspaper have been whipsawed by all this, offering full-throated condemnations based on the report of a gang rape and the lack of response to it by university officials, only to be subsequently confounded by the Rolling Stone apology.

Many have taken the acknowledgment of inconsistencies in the account reported by Jackie, the woman whose story was told in the article, and apology by Rolling Stone to presume the whole matter was a fabrication, and that such things like just don’t happen at the University of Virginia. On that basis, some have sought to turn the tables, making Jackie, Rolling Stone and those who reacted to the story the culprits of wrongdoing.

But the best anyone has actually been able to say about the Rolling Stone account is that “doubts have been raised about key elements of the rape allegation due to apparent discrepancies” in the rape victim’s account. That’s how the Washington Post characterized it as recently as yesterday. Meanwhile, while Rolling Stone issued a second apology, exonerating the woman and taking the full blame on itself for not doing a better job of fact-checking the story, CNN reported Tuesday that one such alleged inconsistency, that there was no side stairway exit to the building as the victim described, in fact proved to be true.

No one has credibly proposed that the event or something very much like it never took place, or that the university has not had a consistent history of inadequate response to such incidents.

In a letter published Monday in the university’s student newspaper, Cavalier Daily, a woman by the name of Emily Clark claimed she was Jackie’s suite mate when the alleged gang rape happened. “I cannot prove the validity of every tiny aspect of her story to you,” the woman wrote. “I can tell you the story is not a hoax, a lie or a scheme. Something terrible happened to Jackie at the hands of several men who have yet to receive any repercussions.”

The letter painfully described Jackie “becoming more and more depressed” even though she never mentioned the alleged rape incident until much later, suddenly leaving school that December.

Ignored by all the noise generated by the Rolling Stone partial retraction are facts like a poll showing 20 percent of all women at the campus saying they’d experienced unwanted physical assaults or that the university is one of 76 in the U.S. currently being investigated for the dynamic of sexual assaults and their official cover up by the U.S. Justice Department.