Review: Rolling Stone rape story a failure of journalism

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) -- Rolling Stone's "shock narrative" about sex assaults at the University of Virginia was rife with bad journalism, and the magazine has nobody but its own staff to blame, Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll said Monday.

RELATED: Columbia Journalism Review's full report on Rolling Stone's "A Rape on Campus"

The magazine pledged to review its practices and removed the discredited article from its website, but publisher Jann S. Wenner said he won't fire anyone despite the blistering critique of his magazine.

The fraternity where the student identified in the article as "Jackie" said she was gang-raped announced Monday that it will "pursue all available legal action against the magazine."

Columbia's review "demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit," its statement said.

EARLIER: Writer of Rolling Stone article on alleged rape apologizes

Wenner said any failures were isolated and described Jackie as "a really expert fabulist storyteller" who managed to manipulate the magazine's journalism process.

"Obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep," he told The New York Times.

But blaming Jackie is the wrong lesson to take, Coll said.

"We do disagree with any suggestion that this was Jackie's fault," Coll said at a news conference in New York, calling the article an object lesson in what NOT to do in journalism. "The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie's position," the report found.

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Review: Rolling Stone rape story a failure of journalism
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A student walks into Peabody Hall the undergraduate admissions building at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The door of the building is littered with notes relating to the recent gang rape allegations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A University of Virginia student looks over postings on the door of Peabody Hall related to the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape allegations at the school in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A few postings on the door of Peabody Hall related to the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape allegations at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Lyra Bartell, right, of Richmond, Va. hugs her friend, Irene Burgoa, grey top, in front of the undergraduate admissions building at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. the door of the building is littered with notes relating to the recent gang rape allegations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Jalen Ross, president of the University of Virginia student council, ponders a question during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Ross called the Rolling Stone article on a fraternity house gang rape a "wake-up call"€ for the university. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Tommy Reid, at podium, the president of the University of Virginia’s Inter-Fraternity Council says that a female student’s account of being sexually assaulted by seven men at a fraternity made him “sick to my stomach.” during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan speaks to the the board of visitors during a meeting at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. Sullivan issued a statement Tuesday evening requesting a police investigation into allegations of sexual assault at a fraternity at the school. 
In this image taken from video, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, University of Virginia student Alex Stock talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Charlottsville, Va. Stock, and two other friends of an alleged victim of a gang rape at a U.Va. fraternity, challenged details in a Rolling Stone article that used the woman's attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on the campus was wrong on a number of key points: most important that they didn't encourage her to report the attack and that they were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being. (AP Photo)
In this image taken from video, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, University of Virginia student Ryan Duffin talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Charlottsville, Va. Duffin and two other friends of an alleged victim of a gang rape at a U.Va. fraternity, challenged details in a Rolling Stone article that used the woman's attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on the campus was wrong on a number of key points: most important that they didn't encourage her to report the attack and that they were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being. (AP Photo)
Tommy Reid, right, the president of the University of Virginia’s Inter-Fraternity Council says that a female student’s account of being sexually assaulted by seven men at a fraternity made him “sick to my stomach.” during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The University of Virginia on Saturday suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations on Saturday in response to the accounts of sexual assault in Rolling Stone. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Images captured by WTVR show the vandalized Phi Kappa Psi house in the wake of a bombshell Rolling Stone report including claims men in the fraternity sexually assaulted a student. 
Students Exercising on Campus by Fraternity Houses at University of Virginia in Charlottesville USA. Phi Kappa Psi, the University of Virginia fraternity where a student interviewed by Rolling Stone claims she was raped by seven men, can be seen on the left. 
Students at the University of Virginia in University of Virginia socialize in afternoon sun outside a fraternity house on campus
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan (center) smiles for a picture with graduating students Brittany Smith (left) and Elizabeth Grizzle after the Valedictory Exercises at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va. on May 18, 2013. 
A view of the Rotunda one of the best known structures on the campus of the University of Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA-JUNE 24, 2012-CAPTION: Over 1,500 students, professors and local citizens turned out forÊ'Rally for Honor' on theÊLawn on the campus of the University of Virginia, two days before the school's board reconsiders its decision. During the two-hour rally, faculty membersÊcalled for the UVA Board of Visitors to reinstateÊousted president Teresa Sullivan.ÊOn Friday Gov. Bob McDonnell threatened to replace the entire board if it fails to resolve the matter. (Photo by Jay Paul for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA
University of Virginia students walk to campus past the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article last week alleged a gang rape at the house which has since suspended operations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo speaks during a news conference Monday, March 23, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va. A five-month police investigation into an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia that Rolling Stone magazine described in graphic detail produced no evidence of the attack and was stymied by the accuser's unwillingness to cooperate, authorities said Monday. (AP Photo/Melody Robbins)
A window is boarded up at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article alleged a gang rape at the house which has since suspended operations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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University President Teresa A. Sullivan said the article hurt efforts to fight sexual violence, tarred the school's reputation, and falsely accused some students `'of heinous, criminal acts and falsely depicted others as indifferent to the suffering of their classmate."

Some students have called for disciplinary action against Jackie. Her lawyer, Palma Pustilnik, told The Associated Press on Monday that "we are not making any comment at all at this time."

Others worried that other women will suffer.

"This is probably going to discourage other sexual assault survivors from coming forward," said Maggie Rossberg, a second-year nursing student from Crozet, Virginia.

The university has not said how many rape reports it has received since Rolling Stone published "A Rape on Campus" last November. But in a response to the AP's public records request, it said five sex assaults had been reported to the Dean of Students office by Nov. 23, 2014, following an increase from 16 to 31 to 40 in the previous full academic years.

The story horrified readers, unleashed protests on the Charlottesville campus and sparked a national discussion about sex assaults. Charlottesville police launched a separate investigation, which they suspended two weeks ago for lack of evidence even while publicly appealing for Jackie to cooperate. Her lawyer declined to make her available to police or the team at Columbia.

The review was requested by Rolling Stone Managing Editor Will Dana, who apologized again Monday as he retracted the article. Author Sabrina Rubin Erdely also apologized, saying she would not repeat the same mistakes.

But Sheila Colonel, the journalism school's dean of academic affairs, said "nothing ever disappears on the Internet."

The report found three major flaws in the magazine's reporting methodology: Erdely did not try to contact the three friends, instead taking Jackie's word for it that one of them refused to talk; She failed to give enough details of the alleged assault when she contacted the fraternity for comment, which made it difficult for the organization to investigate; and Rolling Stone did not try hard enough to find the person Jackie accused of orchestrating the assault.

Dana and Erdely both said they had been too accommodating of Jackie's requests not to contact others. Coll took both to task for seeking shelter in being overly sensitive to an alleged rape victim. "The evidence doesn't support" this explanation, he said, since the magazine also failed to investigate leads that Jackie hadn't asked them not to pursue.

To rebuild trust among its readers, Coll said, the magazine should adopt the best practices of other leading media organizations, including banning the use of pseudonyms, being particularly cautious to share detailed allegations with the accused so that they can fully and fairly respond, and being transparent to readers about what the authors know and don't know.

"Clearer attribution is the best defense," Coll said.

The university, meanwhile, created a group of students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and board members to explore how improve the safety and well-being of students, especially survivors of sexual assault. The ongoing effort is focusing on prevention, institutional response and campus culture, holding town meetings and preparing recommendations for changes.

The magazine's failures "may be discouraging women from coming out publicly for fear that they will be questioned as Jackie was," Colonel acknowledged. But she said "I always believe in silver linings."

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