The story goes like this. Two weeks ago, Rolling Stone magazine published a lengthy article about a brutal rape that supposedly took place in a frat house at the University of Virginia. According to the magazine, a young woman named “Jackie” was lead upstairs to a darkened room and gang-raped by a group of frat boys for several hours. Afterwards she fled the house and encountered three friends, who encouraged her not to report the crime or go to the hospital. Jackie suffered severe mental trauma. She contacted the university’s officer in charge of sexual assault claims, but nothing came of that.
Now that Rolling Stone has brought the story to light, everyone’s in a tizzy. Other national media outlets took the story at face value. Outraged protestors stormed around the UVA campus. The frat house where the alleged assault took place was thoroughly vandalized. Administrators promised swift and decisive action, starting with abolishing all Greek life activity at UVA for the next several weeks. Some commentators speculated that this would be a turning point in the struggle to bring the problem of on-campus sexual assault to light. The entire country seemed to be marching in lock-step in response to Rolling Stone’s article.
Then reality caught up.
It began when Richard Bradley, veteran journalist and editor, published a skeptical take on the article, noting obvious flaws and logical contradictions. That was on Nov. 24. Then, on Nov. 28, the Washington Post dug in, pointing out that the author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, hadn’t carefully interviewed enough witnesses and had made other mistakes. Yesterday, Reason magazine asked whether the whole story was a gigantic hoax. Today the floodgates burst open: outlets ranging from the Wall Street Journal to the L. A. Times to The New Republic have started asking serious questions, and Erdely seems to be on the run, not wanting to talk to anyone anymore.