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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Rolling Stone

Rolling Stone Fails a Police Fact Check

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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When Rolling Stone ran a story about a horrific rape that allegedly occurred at a UVA fraternity, I was sickened. After reading Richard Bradley's probing questions about that story's veracity, however, I said this: 

I read Bradley's article and thought, “well, if there are problems with Erdely's story, it will probably come out eventually, because there’s enough detail that can be checked.” But there’s a corollary to that: If the Rolling Stone article's allegations are true, there’s also enough detail to put at least a couple of people in jail, and possibly the whole group, even if Jackie (the victim) is reluctant to assist the investigation.

I called for the Charlottesville Police Department to investigate the case forthwith.

Well, they did. And today, at a press conference, they shared the results of that information. To summarize: "Jackie," the alleged victim, refused to cooperate with police. The fraternity, however, did, and extensive attempts to corroborate her story failed.  

There wasn't much new here for people who have followed this case closely, and know about the various problems with Jackie's story. They already knew that the guy she told friends raped her, with whom her friends had actually exchanged text messages with prior to their date that night, was a character named "Haven Monahan" who supposedly worked with her at the University's Aquatic Center. Earlier reporting indicated that this is not the name of a UVA student, and the number they were texting belonged to a web-based service that allows people to send texts. Fraternity records do not show an event that night.

Mostly the police provided a few extra details here and there, which they were able to do because, well, they're the law. For example, the story also includes a later incident where Jackie was attacked by people who threw a beer bottle at her, which broke on her eye. After that incident, Jackie told police that her nursing student roommate had had to take glass out of her skin from the thrown beer bottle; the roommate apparently denies this, and the police, who saw her wound about a week after the incident allegedly happened, said that while she did have an abrasion near her eye, appears to be more of an abrasion rather than a blunt trauma injury.

Police also said they had gone through the fraternity records, which showed no evidence of an event that night, and added that since their sister sorority was having a formal that evening, it's very unlikely that they would have held the kind of substantial party described in the article. They were unable to identify Haven Monahan "to the extent that he even exists,” and they went to pretty great lengths to try, including asking the inn where they allegedly dined for reservation records (which hadn't been kept), and interviewing an Aquatic Center employee who belongs to a different fraternity, and several of his brothers. That employee provided financial and work records, which don't seem to show that his shifts overlapped with Jackie's. Moreover, the fraternity to which he belongs is not laid out in the manner described in the article.

Meanwhile, they said they actually found a timestamped photograph of the accused fraternity's side entrance, taken at 11:30 pm on the evening of the rape, and it shows a guy standing there alone, with two chairs, which is not consistent with the sort of party described in the article, since the side entrance is right near the main staircase.

The police were at pains to say that they don't know that nothing happened on the evening of Sept. 28, 2012, and that they are not closing the investigation, just "suspending" it, since they have no evidence with which to prosecute a crime. But what I took away from their press conference is that whatever happened on that night, it is almost certainly not what Sabrina Rubin Erdely wrote in Rolling Stone.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Megan McArdle at mmcardle3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Cameron Abadi at cabadi2@bloomberg.net