The Columbia School of Journalism was tasked with delivering the final verdict on the already thoroughly discredited Rolling Stone story “A Rape on Campus,” which first ran Nov. 19, 2014. The report, which was published yesterday, could not be more critical or devastating to the publication’s reputation and credibility. The one positive conclusion about Rolling Stone that the report documents is that the magazine cooperated fully with the investigation. In light of everything else Rolling Stone has done in this indefinably awful instance of atrocious and unethical journalism, that compliment is like praising a serial killer for leading police to the bodies of his victims.
The news media this morning is full of punditry on the CSJ report, none of it kind to Rolling Stone, so I will confine any new commentary here to the following 10 observations Ethics Alarms has already discussed the matter and related ethics issues extensively.
1. Upon receipt of the CSJ report, Rolling Stone finally took down and retracted the story by Sabrina Rubin Erdely. The story has been on the magazine’s website since mid November, and it has been universally identified as unreliable, misleading and false before the month was over. Why was the piece still up almost five months later? What the reporting of the Washington Post and others demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt was that the story was based on unsubstantiated allegations and terrible reporting practices sparked by the reporter’s ideological agenda and her own biases. Once a news article is found to be so sub-standard that it should never have been published, that means it need to be un-published, and does not belong on a news source website, unless it is under a banner stating: “Retracted and Discredited.”
2. While the Columbia report added some new details and had the name of a university on it, its findings added little to what had already been reported elsewhere. The CSJ’s proper role was to examine the lack of professional and ethical journalism policies and procedures that led to this fiasco, and to make recommendations to prevent similar abuses of the First Amendment from occurring. The fact that the article itself was indefensible did not need confirmation.
To me, it looks like Rolling Stone used the investigation to stall, delaying accountability as long as possible. Continue reading