In November 2014, Rolling Stone magazine published a story called “A Rape on Campus” about an unidentified woman, later identified online as Jackie Coakley, who was allegedly violently raped at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house of the University of Virginia by seven men. The story garnered national attention and prompted many schools to reevaluate their stance on fraternities.
Photo by Jay Paul/Getty Images
However, a little bit of digging unveiled that the story was entirely false, a fabrication of an overzealous journalist who violated almost every tenet of the craft. Now, the defamed fraternity is about to turn the tables.
On the day the story was first published, nobody had any reason to disbelieve Jackie’s plight. Rolling Stone is perceived a reputable magazine with a wide readership, rigorous journalistic standards, and careful investigative reporting. However, other media outlets, such as the Washington Post, began to fact-check the article, uncovering troubling discrepancies that led Rolling Stone to request an official review by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism.
The review determined that the author of the article, Sabrina Erdely, consistently dropped the ball when it came to backing up her claims. Essentially, Erdely took Jackie’s accusations at face value and then created the story after the fact. She didn’t bother to interview Jackie’s friends or seek assistance from the police because Jackie supposedly did not want to contact others.
The result was a story that left the reputation of UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi chapter in shambles. Now that we know it was all a lie, Rolling Stone is the entity whose integrity will be called into question as the fraternity plans to sue the magazine over the ordeal. “Our fraternity and its members have been defamed,” said chapter president Stephen Scipione, who plans to take “all available legal action” in order for justice to be served.
Phi Kappa Psi was the victim of a knee-jerk response by the community, leading to their house being vandalized and their members shunned. This lawsuit will give the fraternity the chance to prove its innocence in the court of law and to receive recompense for the irresponsible actions of a journalist who failed miserably at her job.