The "offending" fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, was suspended by the University, and Ms Erdely's story was heralded as raising national awareness to the "problem" of campus rape. There was only one problem with the story. It never happened.
On 12 January, the Charlottsville Police Department reported to UVA that they had found no evidence of the allegations raised in the Rolling Stone Article, and Phi Kappa Psi was reinstated. On 23 March, the four-month police investigation was officially closed with no evidence having been found that the Rolling Stone article was anything other than pure fiction. Erdely's story was featured in the Columbia Journalism Review as "the worst journalism of 2014."
On April 5th, Rolling Stone published a retraction of the Erdely fable, but they could not resist supporting Erdely's fantasy that had sparked the story. The final words of their retraction were: "Sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses, and it is important that rape victims feel comfortable stepping forward. It saddens us to think that their willingness to do so might be diminished by our failings."
In other words," Our story was totally made up of whole cloth, but that should not detract from the reporter's efforts to create the illusion that 'sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses.' Honestly. It really is a problem. Really. Trust us."
Following this debacle, National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson wrote: "There is no epidemic of rapes on American college campuses. And Rolling Stone cannot make that true, nor can 1,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 student activists, bloggers, administrators, compliant law-enforcement agencies, feminist scholars, or New York Times columns.
"In reality, rape and sexual assault have declined dramatically in recent decades, as indeed have most kinds of crime. And college students are not at an elevated risk for being raped. If anything, the available evidence suggests that they are significantly less likely to be victims of rape than are members of the general public, and dramatically less likely to be rape victims than are members of populations with generally higher exposure to crime. The campus-rape epidemic is a fiction."
This brouhaha illustrates the major problem with the American media. Modern American journalism is often an agenda in search of a story to support it. And if a story has to be sculpted a bit to fit the agenda, so be it. The agenda, after all is far more important than the truth.
And if there's no story conveniently at hand, go out and find one. Spend a day trolling businesses in northern Indiana until you find one that says something into the mic that you can use to build a non-story into an exposé. Or set out, as Ms Erdely did, to troll Eastern Universities in search of a story to "prove" that college rape is a problem. Too often today, "news" is whatever can be found that can be spun to prove the predrawn conclusion of the journalist.
Journalists are, of course, expected to have opinions. As Brit Hume said, "We all approach a story with a viewpoint." But when a Brian Williams searches Tea Party Rolls to find a James Holmes, and then reports that James Eagan Holmes, the Aurora Colorado movie shooter, is a Tea Party member, that's deliberatly manufacturing a false viewpoint.
Too many journalists today are abstract artists, painting with words a picture – not of reality – but of what is in their minds. We need Pablo Picasos in the world of literature, of course, but their literary efforts must be confined to the pages of fiction – not brandished on the pages of Rolling Stone or the New York Times as truth.