The University of Virginia chapter of Phi Kappa Psi has announced it will pursue “all available legal action” against Rolling Stone magazine for its debunked and now fully retracted story about an alleged gang rape at the frat’s UVA house. In a statement, Phi Psi called the story “a sad example of the decline of journalistic standards.”
The statement calls the story defamatory, saying it was published with a “reckless” disregard for the facts. That is the textbook definition of the basis for a defamation lawsuit. It looks likely too that they’ll ask for damages related to the vandalizing of the frat house the day after the story was published. Here’s the key part of the statement:
After 130 days of living under a cloud of suspicion as a result of reckless reporting by Rolling Stone Magazine, today the Virginia Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi announced plans to pursue all available legal action against the magazine.
“The report by Columbia University’s school of journalism demonstrate the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article before that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” said Stephen Sciopione, president of the Virginia Alpha chapter of Phi Kappa Psi. “This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.
The Rolling Stone article viewed by millions fueled a court of public opinion that ostracized Phi Kappa Psi members and led to the vandalization of the fraternity house. According to the Columbia report:
“Rolling Stone’s repudiation of the main narrative in “A Rape on Campus” is a story of journalistic failure that was avoidable. The failure encompassed reporting, editing, editorial supervision and fact-checking. The magazine set aside or rationalized as unnecessary essential practices of reporting that, if pursued, would likely have led the magazine’s editors to reconsider publishing Jackie’s narrative so prominently, if at all.”
The statement also says the national media “descended” on the frat house and cast them as “iconic” examples of the problem of campus rape, saying, “To this day images of the fraternity house continue to be used by news organizations to cover this issue on other campuses,” despite the conclusions of both Columbia and the Charlottesville police department.
Sciopione also expressed concern about how the Rolling Stone story might affect victims of campus rape.
“Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed,” he’s quoted as saying. “But more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to return to the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers. If Rolling Stone wants to play a real role in addressing this problem, it’s time to get serious.”
The statement also attacks the magazine for managing editor Will Dana’s statement that the incident doesn’t mean “we need to overhaul our process, and I don’t think we need to necessarily institute a lot of new ways of doing things.” Other senior editors at the magazine have said the same thing, and publisher Jann Wenner said in an interview with New York Times that the real problem was accuser “Jackie,” who he called “a really expert fabulist storyteller.” Phi Psi’s statement says the fact that the magazine isn’t committing to any kind of editorial overhaul is “a clear and sad indication that the magazine is not serious about about its journalistic obligations, leaving the door open for equally irresponsible reporting in the future.”
In a press conference today at Columbia Journalism School, Dean Steve Coll said there was “no evidence” of any kind of time pressure on the story that meant Rolling Stone would have needed to rush it into print.
“This is an important moment in journalism,” Coll added. “It’s a very valuable case study.” That it is.
Photo via AP
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