The latest move from Rolling Stone leaves more questions than answers. The magazine published an online piece by weekly columnist Beejoli Shah last Wednesday that questioned the silence from NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the league on the ongoing Derrick Rose rape trial, as well as their previous discipline on domestic violence. That piece created its own problems, though; Peter Sterne reports at Politico that after initially amending a couple of corrections, Rolling Stone removed the piece from the web entirely Friday. (An archived version with one of those corrections can be found here.)
Update: After initially declining comment to Politico, Rolling Stone has since commented on the takedown in a “To our readers” note, saying the decision to pull the piece was theirs alone:
On Wednesday, October 12th, RollingStone.com published an article about the Derrick Rose civil rape trial and the NBA’s handling of it. After publication, it became apparent that the story had substantial flaws.
We made the editorial decision to take down the article on Friday, October 14th. The decision to remove the article from the site was ours alone, and we apologize to anyone that may have been affected.
This comes at an interesting time for Rolling Stone, as the first of two defamation trials it’s facing over the discredited University of Virginia rape story it published in 2014 began on Monday, with the magazine itself, its publisher Wenner Media, and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely (who wrote the story in question) being sued for $7.85 million by UVA administrator Nicole Eramo. The second lawsuit, brought by the UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity identified in the case, is set for trial next year.
It’s not clear what exactly was so wrong with Shah’s piece. The one correction included with the archived version is about the date on which Silver punished Donald Sterling, but Sterne’s piece suggests there were initially others. Much of what she points out about previous suspensions for domestic violence (24 games for Jeffrey Taylor, eight for Darren Collison, both of whom pled guilty to one count of misdemeanor assault) and a lack of official investigation into the Rose case appear to be undisputed facts.
However, there is at least one other substantial problematic assertion here. The league’s statement on Collison says they did do their own investigation and had their panel of domestic violence experts involved in determining the punishment, something Shah’s piece implies they didn’t (“It also doesn’t explain why Taylor’s assault warranted an immediate NBA investigation, but Collison’s and Bryant’s didn’t.”) That appears to be a significant mistake, and it may be part of what’s at issue here. Here’s the NBA statement on Collison:
The NBA conducted its own investigation into this matter, including a review of all available materials and interviews of the parties involved. The NBA also consulted with a panel of experts in the field of domestic violence, upon whom the league relies in connection with such matters.
Based on this investigation, consultation, and a careful weighing of all the facts and circumstances, the NBA determined that an eight-game suspension was appropriate. Among other factors, the NBA took into account the conduct and its result, the player’s acceptance of responsibility, his cooperation with both law enforcement and the NBA, and his voluntary participation in counseling in addition to the court-mandated program.
So, there are certainly some parts of Shah’s piece the NBA can be critical of, some areas where her cited facts appear to be wrong, and some cases where her inferences don’t add up the way they would like. Maybe that’s what led to this deletion. However, there isn’t any apparent legal issue here the NBA could sue over, and there have been many much more negative things written about their handling of the Rose case. It’s also interesting that Stern reported “On Friday, Rolling Stone decided to delete the article altogether. And on Monday, it killed a forthcoming article from Shah about the NBA.”
Publications of course have the right to kill forthcoming articles, and if Shah’s last piece on the NBA was so inaccurate that it created too many problems for them, axing a further one can be justified. However, deleting this without explanation and without comment is not a good look for Rolling Stone.
Update: Rolling Stone has since released a note to readers on this, and said the decision was theirs alone thanks to factual inaccuracies. Deleting posts is still problematic in general, as we’ve noted in the past, but it’s good to see that now Rolling Stone has posted an editor’s note explaining the deletion. It would have been better if they’d explained their logic when they took the piece down, though.
This piece has been updated from its initial version to reflect Rolling Stone’s statement and the Collison errors in Shah’s piece.