Embattled Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s first ever story for Rolling Stone had serious factually problems according to her.
On camera in 2012 Erdely describes how her award-winning college article was seriously, seriously wrong.
She profiled Michelle Shocked, a born again Christian, and was called by none other than Shocked’s husband.
“Michelle Shocked’s husband called at my house… calling to tell me that he had read the story and just about everything in the story was wrong,” Erdely said.
“Was that true?” Erdely’s interviewer asked. “It actually was true [that just about everything in the story was wrong],” Erdely replied.
Erdely missed Shocked’s press conference and then went to archived media sources to fill in the rest of the story. She “fused” the story together.
“I went to the library and pulled up tons of clips on her, borrowed whatever I could find. I just borrowed whatever facts I could find. It turns out that those facts which were in mainstream publications and magazines were not actually factual. Which completely shocked me. I just assumed those were real and legit but they were not at all.”
Winning that college award was taken by Erdely as a “sign from God” that she should be a journalist instead of a psychiatrist.
But the revelation by Erdely also raises profound questions about Rolling Stone’s fact checking capabilities in the 1990s.
It also raises intriguing questions about Shock’s relationship with fabulist Stephen Glass who once disciplined her for making something up at the University of Pennsylvania newspaper.
“Sabrina Rubin, who says she and the rest of the editorial board “adored” him, puts it another way: “There are reporters who get ahead because they’re great schmoozers, and I think Steve was definitely one of them.” When he became the paper’s executive editor, the editorial board hailed him as a “man of principle,” and in her Philadelphia magazine piece, Rubin describes how Glass threw a righteous fit when she and a colleague concocted a funny and obviously made-up travel story for 34th Street — going so far as to call an emergency session of the DP’s Alumni Association board to apprise them of the transgression. (Rubin also acknowledges that she felt “terrible” about writing a fairly dishy article about someone she had once liked and admired. “Actually, Eliot [Kaplan] had to force me to do it,” she says. “I didn’t want to do it at all.”)
Will Rolling Stone now fire her editor, Will Dana?