Rolling Stone writer 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 in 2014 sent a tremor through the Charlottesville campus and beyond, says the Washington Post.
On Dec. 5, at 1:54 a.m., Erdely sent an e-mail to the magazine’s top editors with a simple subject line: “Our worst nightmare.” The message detailed how Erdely no longer trusted a primary source for the article: a junior named “Jackie” who said she had been raped by seven men, while two others watched, at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house in 2012. She wrote that as questions arose about the tale, she tried to have Jackie help her verify the identity of her assailant, and “it spiraled into confusion.”
“By the time we ended our conversation, I felt nearly certain that she was not being truthful,” she wrote, noting that she had come to believe that “Jackie isn’t credible.” She said the fraternity denied there was a party at their house the night of the purported assault. “We have to issue a retraction,” she wrote. Erdely’s e-mail was a warning of turbulent months to come for the magazine, but, according to hundreds of pages of Erdely’s notes and other materials filed in court Friday, there were many other warnings before the story published that Jackie’s account was inconsistent. The court documents, submitted in U-Va. Associate Dean Nicole Eramo’s $10 million defamation lawsuit against the magazine, sow how Erdely deferred to Jackie’s wishes and account instead of digging deeper to verify the student’s claims.