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A University of Virginia fraternity at the center of a now-retracted story announced it will take legal action against Rolling Stone magazine after an independent journalism group commissioned by the magazine found serious lapses in reporting and editing.
Rolling Stone published "A Rape on Campus" last November, which told a horrific story of gang rape at the school's Phi Kappa Psi house. Within days of publication, readers started to question the piece and the allegations made by a source who went only by her real first name, Jackie.
A Washington Post investigation shortly after the original story ran concluded that some of the alleged events could not have happened in the manner the story described. Facing mounting criticism, the magazine's publisher commissioned the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism to review the story. The school concluded in a report released yesterday that Rolling Stone had failed to follow basic journalistic safeguards.
"The report by Columbia University's School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit," said Stephen Scipione, chapter president of Phi Kappa Psi, at the University of Virginia, according to the Washington Post.
Among the lapses in the article: The reporter failed to verify Jackie's story with three of her friends. Nor did the reporter confront the fraternity or the alleged rapists with the story before publication. Rolling Stone editors apologized for what they called "discrepancies" in December, when doubts about the story dominated the news.
The suit will most likely turn on recklessness, Rebecca Tushnet, a Georgetown University law professor, told Reuters. "Did they have a little voice in the back of their heads, saying, 'You might have a problem here,' and ignore that voice?"
A fraternity spokesman said he did not know who would be involved in the fraternity's legal action, and that the damage extends beyond the fraternity's reputation.
"Clearly our fraternity and its members have been defamed, but more importantly we fear this entire episode may prompt some victims to remain in the shadows, fearful to confront their attackers," Stephen Scipione, president of the fraternity, said in a statement.