From the Notebooks of Sabrina Rubin Erdely …
In the Washington Post, T. Rees Shapiro has a look through Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s Night of Broken Glass notes:
By T. Rees Shapiro July 2 at 4:14 PM
Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely spent five months investigating a shocking claim of a gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity, and the 9,000-word account of the brutal attack published online on Nov. 19, 2014 sent a tremor through the Charlottesville campus and beyond.
Then on Dec. 5, at 1:54 a.m., Erdely sent an e-mail to the magazine’s top tier editors, Will Dana and Sean Woods, with a simple subject line: “Our worst nightmare.” …
Erdely’s e-mail was a signal flare warning of turbulent months to come for the magazine, but, according to hundreds of pages of Erdely’s notes and other materials related to the case filed in court on Friday, there were many other warnings — before the story published — that Jackie’s account was shaky.
The court documents, submitted as evidence in U-Va. associate dean Nicole Eramo’s $10 million defamation lawsuit against the magazine, reveal new details about the reporting that went into the story and show how Erdely deferred to Jackie’s wishes and account instead of digging deeper to verify the student’s claims.
The documents also show that aspects of Jackie’s account of her gang rape closely mirror details from prominent books about sex assault survivors — including one that explores several gang rapes at fraternities — and the plot line of a Law and Order SVU episode that ran about a year before Jackie first spoke to the reporter. According to Erdely’s notes, Jackie mentioned those books and the television show in her first interviews, and Erdely was warned that the nature of Jackie’s claims had changed over time. …
Among the trove of documents released Friday evening include Erdely’s 431 pages of notes that she used to build her story.
Down through history, a lot of embarrassing documents have gotten released right before a Fourth of July Weekend.
The cache illustrates Erdely’s meticulous note-taking and the breadth of her reporting at U-Va.; Erdely interviewed Jackie at least six times, accumulating hours of recorded interviews.
At one point, she even talked her way into the Phi Psi fraternity house and ventured to the top floor — where Jackie said she had been raped — saying that she and other students acting as her guides needed to use a restroom.
And it still didn’t dawn on Erdely that seven men raping in the dark on a floor covered with broken glass was a little implausible. As I commented on Richard Bradley’s blog on November 27, 2014:
Sorry to keep coming back to this, but I’ve done some more thinking and here’s where the story falls apart: pitch darkness _and_ broken glass on the floor. The glass table is smashed, but nobody turns on the light to see what happened or where the broken glass is? Instead, each man, having heard the glass table get smashed, still gets down on the floor covered with shards of broken glass, risking not only his hands and knees, but also pulling out an even more personal part of his anatomy, one that he only has one of.
… The notes also show that Erdely was aware of inconsistencies in Jackie’s account — including the number of men who allegedly assaulted her and the sex acts that took place during the attack — prior to publication.
Early on in her reporting, Erdely was adamant about the importance of naming the fraternity where Jackie said her assault took place in order to “take them to task” and hold them accountable, according to her interview notes. Yet the documents also show that Erdely made just minor efforts to persuade Jackie to provide Rolling Stone with the full name of the ringleader of her alleged rape.
[‘Catfishing’ over love interest might have spurred U-Va. gang-rape debacle]
“I don’t even want to get him involved in this,” Jackie told her. “I just kind of wanted him to never exist again.”
Erdely told her: “I’m going to have to make this phone call. Our lawyer is going to insist.”
Because Erdely didn’t locate or identify the men who allegedly assaulted Jackie, Erdely had to rely on a single point of view for the narrative: Jackie’s.
“Hers was the only eyewitness perspective I had,” Erdely wrote later in an internal Rolling Stone statement, which was never publicly released, acknowledging errors in her reporting. “After much internal debate we ultimately decided not to push her any farther, in order to protect her mental health, and honor her bravery for coming forward.”
Keep in mind that Jackie Coakley isn’t some kind of criminal mastermind. She’s a super-girly ditz. What little there is inside Jackie’s head is from watching TV. Her stroke of genius was just to replay back to Erdely all the ludicrous mainstream media nonsense that people like Erdely already believe in for psychological reasons of their own.
In the original account, Jackie identified three friends who came to her aid on Sept. 28, 2012, a month into her freshman year, when she said she was attacked by a group of fraternity brothers after a date with a handsome upperclassmen turned into a nightmare.
According to Erdely’s notes, she was unable to find the three friends, partly because Jackie told her she had a falling out with them after the incident. But in interviews with The Washington Post in December 2014, the three friends said that the events portrayed in Rolling Stone vastly differed from what Jackie had told them occurred that night.
Erdely eventually acknowledged the error in the unreleased statement.
“In my focus on nailing down many other elusive facts, perhaps I stopped pushing as hard as I could for those names,” Erdely wrote.
… Jackie told Rolling Stone that during her attack, she was shoved through a glass table and that numerous fraternity brothers took turns raping her while she was on top of the shards of glass, Jackie told Erdely. She also told Erdely that her dress was soaked in blood as a result; her three friends said she appeared uninjured that night.
During a reporting trip to Charlottesville, Erdely asked Jackie to see the scars on her back.
“I was trying to look for them earlier and they’re not distinct anymore,” Jackie told Erdely.
Erdely’s notes show that Jackie’s boyfriend quickly chimed in: “I haven’t really seen any marks on your back.”
Erdely also asked to see scars on her arm. Jackie rolled up bracelets around her wrists to show the reporter.
“In the dim lighting,” Erdely wrote. “I see nothing.”
What about the seven rapists? Why did they spend hours slashing to ribbons their own hands, knees, and more personal parts of their anatomies?
… In other interviews with Erdely, Jackie said that she was an avid fan of Law and Order SVU, a network drama that specializes in law enforcement investigations into allegations of sexual assault.
Jackie told Erdely that at one point her father suggested they watch an episode together. Jackie said that the one he randomly picked happened to be one about rape claims at a college campus. The episode, Girl Dishonored, originally aired in April 2013.
“It’s this girl who’s at a fraternity party and one guy takes her into a room and calls his friends in and like four of them gang rape her and no one believes her and they find out that this has been going on for a very long time,” Jackie told Erdely.
Jackie told Erdely that her father then asked if such attacks happened at her school.
“I was like ‘Yes dad this happens at U-Va. This happened to me,” Jackie said. …
How could Jackie be lying when we’d all just seen her virtually identical story on Law & Order? To doubt Jackie would be to raise doubts about the empiricism of the Messages in the last several decades of television!