Rolling Stone article, and at what point writers should be fired

This thread isn’t advocating for or against firing people, but rather, asking in which situations journalistic staff should be fired.
Does an incident like the recent Rolling Stone article cross the “Yes, this calls for firing” line?

Does an incident like Brian Williams’ helicopter story cross the “Yes, this calls for firing” line?

Edit: Thread title should read “journalistic staff,” not just “writers.”

It depends on how the Rolling Stone wants to be viewed, by its peers and its readers, in the future. They don’t have to fire anyone. No one has to believe any story they release in the future, either.

It appears to me that the Rolling Stone’s credibility problem starts at the top, and goes all the way down to the writers. Fire one person? Fire them all? Maybe someone could resign, for the good of the Rolling Stone, of course.

What would renew my faith in the credibility of the Rolling Stone reporting? New blood at the top. It’s the current leadership that created this piss-poor, journalistic environment.

If Rolling Stone is going to keep Sabrina Rubin Erdely as a writer and the entire editorial staff responsible for this fiasco, then surely no intelligent person can treat them as a serious journalistic enterprise again. Then again, I’m not sure any intelligent person can has treated them as a serious journalistic enterprise since around the time that Jefferson Airplane was popular. Given their proud indulgence of everything from anti-vaxer nonsense to conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines, they deserve to be treated with the same credibility as Timecube.

For what it’s worth, Erdely wrote many stories for Rolling Stone and other sources where, by all appearances, she used the same standards as in the UVA story. That is to say, she appears to have simply talked to one source, believed everything that source said, and made no effort to confirm it with anything else. Rolling Stone has removed the UVA story from its website, but not any of her other, equally dubious stories.

I will say that the Rolling Stone article is much, much worse. Brian Williams did lie, but the nature of the lie - that he was a witness to something that really did happen - is not dangerous beyond the fact that journalists lying is bad.

Sabrina Erdley might not technically have lied, but she negligently pointed fingers at a group of innocent men and told the world they were rapists. Hers was a call to action, and a call to action on false pretenses is a dangerous thing. You only need to look to the Iraq War to see that.

In both cases, they have to be out.

Excerpt from her apology:
“I want to offer my deepest apologies: to Rolling Stone’s readers, to my Rolling Stone editors and colleagues, to the U.V.A. community, and to any victims of sexual assault who may feel fearful as a result of my article.”*
Notice any group missing? Is there any likely explanation for this absence besides her still thinking that they’re guilty? In her mind, they may not be guilty, but they’re Guilty.

Well, like the Iraq War, one of the key problems is that someone was manufacturing lies. On average, you can only blame someone so much for having been misled by a nefarious third party.

The more problematic thing, I would say, is that she explicitly called the school up, to find a name to use for a predetermined goal. To me, that says that the object of the task was anything but impartiality.

But in terms of having released something full of lies, I would blame the fact-finder who was working with Erdley. It sounds like the way that Rolling Stone magazine is organized, they put a writer in charge of making sure everything tells a story and has a nice human element. So that person, Erdley, isn’t really a “journalist” per se, just a person who is good at stringing words together. They aren’t really concerned with how accurate what they write is. But then they pair that writer with someone whose job it is to actually go out and double-check everything in the article and, basically, do the investigative work.

And if that’s your only job, then to simply swallow what the source is saying is sheer laziness. It doesn’t sound like it required a ton of work to determine that the key characters in the story didn’t exist. So overall, it sound like the fact finder didn’t fact-find. She just rubber stamped the story. Erdley’s name might be the one attached to the article, but I would put the blame on the fact-checker. That that person goes unnamed in the review possibly indicates that they have been fired.

Erdley should be fired IMO. What I don’t understand is why the Columbia report refused to assign any culpability to “Jackie”. It seems that she’s part of this whole fiasco.

Rolling Stone actually has made progress on retracting bad journalism.

With “Deadly Immunity”, R.F.K. Jr.'s 2005 hack piece on vaccines and autism, it took about five years for Rolling Stone to act (and even then, they just deleted the piece from their website without explanation). By contrast, Salon (which posted the article online in '05) at least grudgingly acknowledged there was good reason for retracting it.

Rolling Stone needs to address the systemic failure which led to the UVA article being printed without proper oversight. Maybe the reporter/editor/fact-checker involved could be reassigned to stories about Beyonce’s wardrobe or dope-smoking accessories (where any mistakes would be less damaging).

Because in American society today, there’s an unwritten rule that you never, ever say anything bad about a woman who claims to be a rape victim, regardless of how bleedingly obvious it is that she’s lying. It holds particularly among the academic left and the media.

You wouldn’t assign culpability to Jackie for much the reason that you wouldn’t call out o-rings to be shamed for the NASA Shuttle explosion. To be certain they’re both the catalyst to all the bad stuff which followed, but intrinsically it’s the job of Rolling Stone and NASA to have planned for such eventualities correctly, so that a disaster doesn’t unfold.

It’s expected that sources will lie and that hardware will fail. A professional is supposed to be able to navigate around that.

People are capable of motives or decisions, though. O-rings aren’t.

Or, more generously, because Columbia is a journalism review, thus they focused on the journalists.
I mean, did anyone at the CJR say something along the lines of: “Jackie bears no blame”? Or are you inferring that the CJR refused to assign blame because they didn’t say: “Jackie bears blame”?

I agree that they should assume that any source can lie; Jackie’s lies don’t absolve RS. But the story doesn’t exist unless she makes it up. It feels to me like the report gives a free pass to Jackie. Her lies not only caused grief for some innocent people/institutions but it makes real claims of rape more suspect. That’s a big problem.

Never mind, Sage Rat, I understand now what you meant.

Writers should be fired when they lose their employers money or prestige. If you start using other considerations, like whether they lie or shill, then you’ll have to transform the American mediascape.

Sources extremely frequently have an agenda other than making the truth known. For example suppose the source brings a story about a political issue. He may want to kill the issue, damage a political opponent, further his own career… Reporters and editors should automatically understand this and verify everything he says with other sources.

The employer/employee relationship should end when it is no longer mutually beneficial. I’m not much for prescribing punishment.

They should both be fired. A journalist is dependent on their credibility, and both have ruined their professional reputations.

Erdley should be fired if she lied to Rolling Stone. If Rolling Stone was aware of what decisions she was making and what follow up or confirmation had or had not been done, then the fault is Rolling Stone’s, not Erdley’s, for publishing the article. When you are a writer working for a publication, you have a legitimate expectation that the publication to have your back if there were bad decisions that the publication made as a publication, or approved, or ratified.

In my eyes, what Williams did was worse. He fabricated an experience and lied to everybody about it. He didn’t go to NBC and say “This is what I’m going to say, but it’s not exactly what happened.” If that had happened, I would put the blame on NBC, not on Williams.

While both incidents constitute “lying,” they’re dramatically different.

Erdley’s lying was part of a systematic problem she’s just one part of.

Williams’ lie was his own, quite bizarre, deception.

They’re very difficult to compare.