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"Drew could not be reached for comment."

Rolling Stone ran a story recently, by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, on the rape-friendly culture at the University of Virginia. Here's a link.

At the heart of the story is a gang-rape of a woman named Jackie, a crime orchestrated by a "handsome Phi Kappa Psi brother" described in the story as "Drew." Erdely indicates that Jackie really is Jackie's first name, whereas "Drew" is a pseudonym.

Still more recently, Rolling Stone has said: "oops." Or, in their words, "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."
They aren't specific about the "new information." But they are pedaling backward from this story as quickly as they can.
Days before they started pedaling, two writers for SLATE  had made an observation that I think germane: although the inference that Drew has gotten away with his crime through the fault of the culture on campus is the heart of the story, nowhere in the original story is there any indication that Erdely tried to talk to Drew, to elicit any responsive comment from him.

There are customary, you might say 'boilerplate,' phrases one often finds in stories like this. "Drew declined to comment" means "He told me to go fuck myself and hung up." Or, "Drew could not be reached for comment" means "I left a message on his machine, he hasn't responded by deadline." Erdely doesn't include any such observation in her story.

When SLATE's reporters brought it up, Erdely said " I reached out to them [Drew and his frat brothers] in multiple ways," but remained rather vague.

Erdely's editor, Sean Woods, said, "We did not talk to them. We could not reach them," but apparently didn't explain why that assertion did not belong within the story.

Now with the RS's December 5th "note to our readers" we can draw a moral from this story. The slatesters, Hannah Rosin and Allison Benedict, have good instincts. 
More broadly, if you're going to accuse someone of a crime, please try to give that person a chance to comment. And please assure me, your reader, that you did so.

For the moment I'm left wondering whether the reason Drew couldn't be reached for comment is that he doesn't exist.


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