A Rolling Stone magazine article on an alleged gang rape of a student at the University of Virginia has been discredited. Arizona State University journalism professor Tim McGuire will discuss the damage the article has done to journalism.
Ted Simons: The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism released a report this week that ripped into a "Rolling Stone" article about the alleged fraternity sexual assault of a University of Virginia female student. The review blasted the magazine for ignoring basic rules of reporting. Here to talk about the article and the report is Tim McGuire, The Frank Russell chair for the Business and Journalism professors at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Good to see you again.
Tim McGuire: Good to see you again, Ted.
Ted Simons: What exactly did "Rolling Stone" report?
Tim McGuire: They reported a woman named Jackie was raped in a violent manner by a fraternity or pledges to a fraternity. And it was set up by a guy who was allegedly from the fraternity and asked her out on a date.
Ted Simons: How did the story unravel?
Tim McGuire: Primarily with the reporting of the "Washington Post" and a few others who made some of the basic checks that you would make in this kind of story, that "Rolling Stone" simply failed to make. They did not show that these people existed. They did not corroborate anything that was being said. They totally lacked skepticism and that's what the report says.
Ted Simons: Sources never vetted, the student's story was never confirmed, the alleged ringleader, there was a pseudonym used; they never -- we don't know if this person exists.
Tim McGuire: There's heavy evidence he does not.
Ted Simons: What happened here?
Tim McGuire: Again, I think skepticism was suspended. I think there was way too much empathy. I think -- and I think that "Rolling Stone" was protecting a story. If you find out too much the story is going blow up. And this was a weak story that relied on a pseudonym, which is always dangerous. Nobody really seemed to know who the people were in the story. The editors let the reporter get away with things that I've never seen a newsroom do. It's an extremely disappointing case. We've been using it, ethics teachers, Rick Rodriguez and myself at the Cronkite School, using this case for the last several months as an example of what you don't do. We've talked about the fact that there are consequences. The terrifically disturbing thing here is there are no consequences.
Ted Simons: No one's been fired.
Tim McGuire: No one's been disciplined in any way. It's simply amazing. It's terribly disappointing. We're sitting there saying, well, maybe there aren't any consequences for this kind of horrible journalistic behavior.
Ted Simons: You mentioned empathy early on. The fact that this was a story involving a rape victim, how does that play into this? That's touchy stuff.
Tim McGuire: It always is. And for a long time I've said in an active rape case we should not name victims or what some people call accusers. However, when you're doing a narrative a year or two after and using pseudonyms, you really need to at least produce the person for editors. And there's no sign that was done here. And I do believe that this Jackie, alleged Jackie, ran too much of the show. The reporter, if you read the report, the reporter and the editors were desperately afraid they were going lose the story, that she would pull out. Well, at any time -- the point that Senate President Biggs -- any point in politics, journalism, trucking, if somebody owns you, if you're totally dependent on one person, you probably better run. That's definitely what happened in this case.
Ted Simons: In this case, just a couple minutes left, but this is fascinating stuff. It makes you wonder: Is this something that is -- could this have happened 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago? Will it more likely happen in the coming years?
Tim McGuire: I think we have to factor "Rolling Stone" into this. They have always prided themselves on being out on the edge. Its history has been to push the envelope. And so this may be a repeat of that. For "Rolling Stone," it might have been 15 or 20 years ago. I don't think most responsible newsrooms it would be. And I don't think this is indicative of what's happening in newsrooms. Certainly there are reduced resources, reporting is more difficult. But the basic touching of bases, does this person exist, is the story corroborated, have I followed up with the witnesses -- none of those things were done here. And I think that's unique to this case.
Ted Simons: And the push to be first to, have the big story, sometimes you just have to sit on it.
Tim McGuire: And in this case they were just too desperately afraid to lose the story. And I think it put them into a hopeless box. But we still have a situation, editors and reporters were in a box and there are absolutely no consequences.
Ted Simons: The consequences, you think something's going happen here?
Tim McGuire: Well, the big theory is that they are protecting themselves -- on a lawsuit. I think mitigating by punishing someone would help them in a lawsuit. But that's just my opinion.
Ted Simons: Good to have you here, thanks for joining us.
Tim McGuire: Thank you very much, good to see you again.
Ted Simons: Thursday on "Arizona Horizon," ASU physicist Lawrence Krauss updates the science news including the restart of the Hadron collider. That's at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.
Tim McGuire:Journalism Professor, Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University;