Everyone makes mistakes, even journalists. That is why there are a series of checks and balances before a story gets published. Fortunately this system rarely fails; However, it still has its share of failures. “A Rape on Campus” the Rolling Stone story about a gang-rape at the University of Virginia is an example of this.
Handling cases with such serious and sensitive material, like this one, are tough for anyone. You have to take the victims emotions into consideration while still making sure you are getting the correct story.
The mistakes that Rolling Stone made are mistakes that I could see myself making. You want to believe that people are honest. But unfortunately we live in a world where that isn’t always true. It is sad to think that someone would lie about sexual assault, but it happens.
With that being said, I think that Sabrina Rubin Erdely, author of “A Rape on Campus,” could have done much more fact checking and reporting on her own. She failed to get many other sides of the story. Erdely heard the alarms going off. If Erdely had delved deeper into the story of ‘Jackie’s’ rape, she would have found holes. These holes could have been filled with correct information. Erdely would have found the story to be false and the article would not have been published or at least the correct information would have and Jackie would not have been involved.
It is disappointing to see a seasoned journalist fail at the fundamentals, but it can be a lesson to the rest of us. If you get a feeling that something doesn’t seem right, or if an alarm goes off that this can’t be true, you dig deeper. You report more and find the information. As sensitive as victims of sexual assault can be, sometimes you need to investigate a bit more to get the whole truth. This doesn’t mean you have to harass the victim for information, but there are other ways to find out those much needed informative bits. Some little pieces could change the whole course of the story.
Not everyone is inherently good. Some people lie or exaggerate the truth so it is always important to get multiple sides of a story. Give the accused the chance to defend themselves.
As unfortunate as it was to see such an important and possibly life changing story fail, it is a failure that all journalists should learn from. Do the research. Dig deeper. Get all sides of the story. Because everyone makes mistakes, even journalists.