On December 5 at 1:01pm, T. Rees Shapiro, the education reporter for the Washington Post, hit the internet with a blockbuster story exposing Rolling Stone‘s UVA gang rape article as full of errors.
It ran with the headline of “U-Va. fraternity to rebut claims of gang rape in Rolling Stone” and had an accompanying photo of a nighttime protest in front of the Phi Psi fraternity house.
Anyone that had originally shared or bookmarked that story at the link http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/u-va-fraternity-to-rebut-claims-of-gang-rape-in-rolling-stone/2014/12/05/5fa5f7d2-7c91-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html would later be greeted with a new headline of “Key elements of Rolling Stone’s U-Va. gang rape allegations in doubt” and a new photo of a calmer, more soothing close-up photo of tea candles being lit, in place of the angry signs of the mob in front of the frat house. (Note also that the current URL of the story is evidence that it was originally the old story, because the headline in the URL is the headline of the original story, not the one that appears there now.)
But it wasn’t just the headline and leading photo that changed over time. The text also dramatically changed.
It’s difficult to display the entire scrolling screen of the original WaPo story in a blog post. The complete text of that story is provided later in this post, but for photographic comparison of the original and its current state, here are the opening paragraphs of the original story:
in comparison to the completely rewritten lede that currently appears at the link:
In doing a crude comparison of the text of the original and the current article, it appears to be completely rewritten, keeping many whole paragraphs, rearranging their order, correcting minor factual errors (such as the names of the aquatic facility where Jackie worked and the name of the restaurant where Jackie claims “Drew” took her), adding numerous new paragraphs, and deleting numerous paragraphs, including quotes from various parties.
Despite all of these changes, the Washington Post has made no mention at the article that changes, corrections and updates have been made, leaving readers to assume the article they view now is the same unaltered information they viewed in the early afternoon of December 5.
When the article was first posted, the article ended with these notes.
Here is the current state of the page’s area where a correction or update notice is usually made. Note the absence of one, but the clear addition of extra reporters contributing to the story. Also note that the original ending paragraph giving information from the Inter-Fraternity Council is gone (information that some may have deemed as important to the fraternity’s defense, or pointing to hole in it):
The Prudence Paine Papers has attempted to get a comment from Shapiro, starting with the simple inquiry of where the original story went, but tweets requesting information have gone unanswered.
It has become an ongoing trend, even for the supposed standard bearers of journalism, in which leading newspapers make alterations to their stories without alerting readers that the story has changed. The Washington Post itself got significant attention for its reporting that the original Rolling Stone apology for their rape story had been changed without any notice.
Perhaps some do it out of sloppiness, figuring it’s just a minor little tweak, why call attention to it. Or perhaps it’s because it’s embarrassing to have to point out that the original post had errors that needed correcting.
Rolling Stone‘s quietly turning its three-paragraph apology into a four-paragraph one, with significant changes in tone and blame-casting, garnered much attention. Maybe they figured it would be too hard to write an update notice to attach to it, since the political correctness that caused their changes could fill an entire essay.
It’s quite mind-boggling, though, that they actually thought they would be able to get away with making such changes to their already-widely-quoted apology without noting it had been changed.
But the amount of change they made, without notice to the reader, cannot compare to the astonishing number of changes that the Washington Post‘s article on the Rolling Stone story has undergone.
The WaPo post has enough changes to warrant its own URL as a separate story. A correction notice cannot possibly explain all the alterations and deletions. In fact, several changes may even warrant stories about why the change or deletion was made.
Here is the complete text that was originally posted (unless changes were already made before this copy was opened in a browser).
A key to the text colors:
- Brown is text that a quick “Find” search was unable to locate in the final article. It appears to have been completely deleted and not reused in later versions.
- Purple is text that appears (most likely) without change in the final article, although it may have been significantly moved to another location. (The qualifier “most likely” is appropriate because in the crude comparison, not every word was checked. There may be some changes that were not caught–or that may have even been changed since the comparison was run several days ago.)
- Black/gray is notes from The Prudence Paine Papers calling attention to certain changes, additions or deletions.
- Red is text that contained an error that is later corrected.
- Lime green is text that has been tweaked in later versions.
- Teal is text that has been moved to a different paragraph. (Efforts to consistently highlight teal and lime text was not diligently done due to time constraints. Therefore, there may be other tweaked or separated/merged text that goes unnoted here.)
By T. Rees Shapiro December 5 at 1:01 PM Follow @TReesShapiro
A lawyer for the University of Virginia fraternity whose members were accused of a brutal gang rape said Friday that the organization will release a statement rebutting the claims printed in a Rolling Stone article about the incident. Several of the woman’s close friends and campus sex assault awareness advocates said that they also doubt the published account.
Officials close to the fraternity said that the statement will indicate that Phi Kappa Psi did not host a party on Sept. 28, 2012, the night that a university student named Jackie alleges she was invited to a date party, lured into an upstairs room and was then ambushed and gang-raped by seven men who were rushing the fraternity.
The officials also said that no members of the fraternity were employed at the university’s Aquatic Fitness Center during that time frame–a detail Jackie provided in her account to Rolling Stone and in interviews with The Washington Post–and that no member of the house matches the description detailed in the Rolling Stone account.
The attorney, Ben Warthen, who has represented Phi Kappa Psi, said the statement would come out Friday afternoon. He declined to comment further. [Note: in final story, the attorney is never named.]
Capt. Gary Pleasants of the Charlottesville police department said that detectives are looking into the allegations at the request of the university but declined to comment on the status of that investigation. [Note: This original is missing a Pleasants quote that is later added.]
Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, also released a statement with new doubt. “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced,” he said in a statement. [Note: A later edition adds tweets by Dana that are missing here.]
A group of Jackie’s close friends, who are sex assault awareness advocates at U-Va., said they believe something traumatic happened to Jackie but have come to doubt her account. They said details have changed over time, and they have not been able to verify key points of the story in recent days. A name of an alleged attacker that Jackie provided to them for the first time this week, for example, turned out to be similar to the name of a student who belongs to a different fraternity, and no one by that name has been a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
Reached by phone, that man, a U-Va. graduate, said Friday that he did work at the Aquatic Fitness Center and was familiar with Jackie’s name. He said, however, that he had never met Jackie in person and had never taken her on a date. He also confirmed that he was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
The Washington Post has interviewed Jackie several times during the past week and has worked to corroborate her version of events, contacting dozens of current and former members of the fraternity, the fraternity’s faculty adviser, Jackie’s friends and former roommates, and others on campus. Fraternity members said anonymously that the description of the assailant doesn’t match anyone they know and have been telling others on campus that they did not have a party the night of the alleged attack.
Speaking for the first time since the details of her alleged sexual assault were published in Rolling Stone, the 20 year-old U-Va. junior told the Post that she stands by her version of the events. In lengthy in-person interviews, Jackie recounted an attack very similar to the one she presented in the magazine: She had gone on a date with a member of the house, went to a party there and ended up in a room where she was brutally attacked–seven men raping her in succession with two others watching–leaving her bloody, permanently injured and emotionally devastated.[Note: The final version mentions “bloody” in other places, as well as “emotionally devastated.” But the words “permanently injured” are absent–a critical claim made here, forever vanished without comment or explanation.]
“I never asked for this” attention, she said in an interview. “What bothers me is that so many people act like it didn’t happen. It’s my life. I have had to live with the fact that it happened every day for the last two years.”
A lawyer who is representing Jackie said Friday morning that she and her client are declining to comment beyond her interviews. The Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission, and the Post is identifying Jackie by her real nickname at her request.
The University of Virginia held a special meeting last week to discuss recent allegations of sexual assault that have rocked the campus. University President Teresa Sullivan said any systemic problems “must be rooted out.” (AP)
Alex Pinkleton, a close friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and an attempted rape during her first two years on campus, said in an interview that she has had numerous conversations with Jackie in recent days and now feels misled.
“One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Pinkleton said. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who come forward are telling the truth.”
Pinkleton said that she is concerned that sexual assault advocacy groups will suffer as a result of the conflicting details of the Rolling Stone allegations.
“While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: Rape is far more prevalent than we realize and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large,” Pinkleton said. “We in the advocacy community at U-Va. will continue the work of making this issue accessible to our peers, guiding the conversation and our community into a place where sexual assaults are rare, where reporting processes are clear and adjudication is fair and compassionate.”
The fraternity’s statement will come two weeks after Rolling Stone ran a lengthy article about what it characterized as a culture of sex assault at the flagship state university, using Jackie’s story to illustrate how brazen such attacks can be and how indifferent the university is to them. The article, which said Jackie was raped repeatedly during the course of a three-hour attack in a Phi Kappa Psi bedroom that at one point involved a beer bottle, has received increasing scrutiny in recent days as major details have come into question.
The article published in the December issue of the pop culture magazine drew headlines around the world and rekindled discussion on college campuses about sexual assault, putting U-Va. at the epicenter and sending its administration scrambling to respond. The article spawned protests and vandalism, and the university quickly suspended all Greek system activities until the beginning of next semester and put out a call for zero tolerance of sex assault.
The Rolling Stone allegations shook the campus at a tumultuous moment, as the university was still mourning the death of U-Va. sophomore Hannah Graham, whose body was found five weeks after she went missing in Charlottesville. Jackie’s story empowered many women to speak publicly about their own attacks, but it also immediately raised questions about the decisions Jackie made that evening–not going to a hospital or reporting the alleged crime to police or the school–while some expressed doubt about her story altogether.
Jackie told the Post that she had not intended to share her story widely until the Rolling Stone writer contacted her. [Note: This initial phrasing could be misunderstood that Jackie had never told her story to the public before speaking to Rolling Stone. The final version implies that Jackie had shared “elements of” her story at a Take Back the Night campus rally before she was ever contacted by the writer.]
“If she had not come to me I probably would not have gone public about my rape,” said Jackie, who added that she had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and that she is now on a regimen of anti-depressants.
Earlier this week, Jackie revealed to friends for the first time the full name of her alleged attacker, a name she had never disclosed to anyone. [Note: was this not critical info? why was this quietly removed?] But after looking into that person’s background, the group that had been among her closest supporters quickly began to raise suspicions about her account. The friends determined that the student that Jackie had named was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and that other details about his background did not match up with information Jackie had disclosed earlier about her perpetrator.
The Post determined that the student Jackie named is not a member of Phi Kappa Psi and had never met her in person. [Note: This “the Post determined” phrasing is deleted in later version. The final version instead places the information in mouths of named person and friends, leaving the Post out of being the judge of the definitive nature of the info.]
Emily Renda was a U-Va. senior when she first met Jackie in the fall of 2013. In an interview, Renda said that she immediately connected with Jackie as they discussed the bond they shared as rape survivors. Renda said that she was raped her freshman year after attending a fraternity party.
Jackie told the Post that she bawled [Note: it says “wept” in rewrite, which seems to indicate a much different emotional state. Which word did Jackie actually use?] as she spoke about her own sexual assault to Renda.
Renda said on Thursday that Jackie initially told her that she was attacked by five students at Phi Kappa Psi on Sept. 28, 2012. [Note: is later deletion of the date a critical admission that Renda had not given specific date that she independently remembered?] Renda said that she learned months later that Jackie had changed the number of attackers from five to seven.
“An advocate is not supposed to be an investigator, a judge or an adjudicator,” said Renda,a 2014 graduate who works for the university as a sexual violence awareness specialist. But as details emerge that cast doubt on Jackie’s account, Renda said, “I don’t even know what I believe at this point.”
“This feels like a betrayal of good advocacy if this is not true,” Renda said. “We teach people to believe the victims. We know there are false reports but those are extraordinarily low.”
Renda said that research shows between 2 to 8 percent of all rape allegations are fabricated or unfounded.
“The doubt cast on Jackie’s story has been feeding the myth that we have been combating for 40 years that women lie about rape and I feel that will put women at a disadvantage in coming forward,” Renda said.
“There’s definitely a lot of confusion and raising of a lot of questions that need answers,” Renda said. “I have faith and hope that Jackie will answer those in time.” [Note: This quote, casting doubt on Jackie’s story, from the person who recommended her to the writer, has been completely removed from the final version. Did Renda request its removal?]
In July, Renda introduced Jackie to Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the Rolling Stone writer who was on assignment to write about sexual violence on college campuses. Overwhelmed from sitting through interviews with the writer, Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.
Jackie said she finally relented and agreed to participate on the condition that she be able to fact-check her parts in the story, which she said Erdely accepted. Erdely said in an e-mail message that she was not immediately available to comment Friday morning.
“I didn’t want the world to read about the worst three hours of my life, the thing I have nightmares about every night,” Jackie said.
Jackie told The Post that she felt validated that the article encouraged other female students to come forward saying that they, too, had been sexually assaulted in fraternity houses.
“Haven’t enough people come forward at this point?” she said. “How many people do you need to come forward saying they’ve been raped at a fraternity to make it real to you? They need to acknowledge it’s a problem they need to address instead of pointing fingers to take the blame off themselves.”
As classes resumed this week after Thanksgiving break, Jackie, whose family lives in northern Virginia, went back to the campus where her story is still a daily topic of conversation. Although anonymous for now, she said she remains afraid that fellow students and fraternity members will somehow recognize her as the victim from the Rolling Stone article.
Jackie said that she never wanted to go to U-Va. Graduating near the top of her high school senior class of 700, she had planned to attend Brown University. She dreamed of pursuing a career in medicine like her childhood hero, Patch Adams.
“I wanted to help people,” Jackie said.
She said she was disappointed when her family told her that they could not afford the Ivy League tuition. She enrolled at U-Va. without ever visiting the school.
She said that she performed well in course work that included rigorous pre-med classes in psychology, chemistry and religious anthropology. She said soon found a job as a lifeguard at a campus pool, where she said she met a charming junior who had dimples, blue eyes and dark curly hair.
Jackie told the Post that the same student later took her out for an extravagant dinner at the Boar’s Head Inn before they attended a date function on Sept. 28, 2012 at his fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi. Jackie said that her date appeared to have orchestrated the sexual assault by attempting to ply her with alcohol before escorting her into a darkened room on the second floor of the fraternity house. Jackie said she did not actually drink alcohol that night because she said she was on a migraine medication and said that she remembered the events that night clearly. [Note: is this not critical info to judge her later statements by–that she has a clear memory? why would this be deleted from later versions?]
According to her account in Rolling Stone and in interviews, Jackie said she was thrown to a rug, breaking a low glass table in the process. She said that she did receive cuts to the back of her arm as a result but noted that her attack happened on a thick rug.
Jackie told the Post that the men pinned her down and then raped her, the trauma leaving her bleeding from between her legs.
“One of them said ‘Grab its [expletive] leg,'” she said, ler [sic] lip quivering and tears streaming down her face. “Its. I’ll never forget that. I felt like nothing, like I wasn’t even human.”
Jackie’s former roommate, Rachel Soltis, said that she noticed emotional and physical changes to her friend during the fall semester of 2012, when the two shared a suite on campus.
“She was withdrawn, depressed and couldn’t wake up in the mornings,” said Soltis, who told the Post that she was convinced that Jackie was sexually assaulted. Soltis said that Jackie did not tell her about the alleged sexual assault until January 2013. Soltis said that she did not notice any apparent wounds on Jackie’s body at the time that might have indicated a brutal attack.
The Post asked Jackie on multiple occasions for her to reveal the full name of the two attackers she said she recognized. She declined, saying that she didn’t want the perpetrator “to come back in my life.”
Jackie said numerous times that she didn’t expect that an investigation the Charlottesville Police department opened after the article’s publication to result in any charges. She said she knew there was little if any forensic evidence that could prove the allegations two years after they occurred.
“I didn’t want a trial,” Jackie said. “I can’t imagine getting up on a defense stand having them tear me apart.”
Jackie said early in the week that she felt manipulated by Erdely, the Rolling Stone reporter, saying that she “felt completely out of control over my own story.” In an in-person interview Thursday, Jackie said that Rolling Stone account of her attack was truthful but also acknowledged that some details in the article might not be accurate.
Jackie contradicted an earlier interview, saying on Thursday that she did not know if her main attacker actually was a member of Phi Kappa Psi.
“He never said he was in Phi Psi,” she said, while noting that she was positive that the date function and attack occurred at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house on Sept. 28, 2012. “I know it was Phi Psi because a year afterward my friend pointed out the building to me and said that’s where it happened.”
Tommy Reid, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, said that all Greek organizations must register parties with the IFC. He said that the council’s records did not date back to the fall of 2012. [Note: the name of the IFC president is missing from later editions, as well as his stated defense, and the IFC’s inability to back up Phi Psi’s statement they had no party on the night in question. Did Reid’s statement turn out to be wrong?]
Jennifer Jenkins and Julie Tate contributed to this report. [Note: later edition adds two more reporters]
It’s possible that the Washington Post realizes that they made a journalistic error in making such massive changes to a story without alerting its readers. A follow-up Washington Post article on the UVA rape story was published on December 10 at 5:12pm. But by 6:00pm that evening, they had already added a note to the bottom: “This story has been updated.”
The generic, undefined nature of the note makes it a pretty shabby alert, as it gives readers no idea if that update added, corrected, deleted or massaged critical information, or if it tweaked a grammatical error.
But it’s certainly better than rewriting an entire article and pretending it’s the same one that was originally at that link.