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'Rolling Stone' Deletes Web Article Critical Of NBA's Handling Of Rape Case

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Rolling Stone made headlines a couple of years ago when it published a sensational cover story about an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia. That story soon unravelled. It was found to be untrue.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now there is yet another problem for Rolling Stone. Its website had posted a story about how NBA commissioner Adam Silver disciplined basketball players accused of domestic violence. The writer, Beejoli Shah, wrote that Commissioner Silver gave preferential treatment to stars like Derrick Rose, a New York Knicks player who was then facing a civil trial for rape.

He's since been not found not liable. Turns out, the article was flawed. Within 48 hours, corrections were posted, then the story was yanked with no explanation. We turn to NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik for more.

So what has been the thinking about how Rolling Stone handled this?

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Well, it's really hard to know. One of the things I've been able to learn and others have reported as well is that Shah did not reach out to the NBA for - to comment or to fact-check. And there were a number of inaccuracies alleged by the league in what Shah had written.

But we are left, because Rolling Stone was not transparent about the problems, with either thinking that the magazine has caved to pressure from the NBA or that it was desperately unfair to how the NBA has handled domestic violence. And Commissioner Silver has received praise from advocates and from others in how he's addressed this issue in the past.

MONTAGNE: And, obviously, this decision isn't or wasn't made in a vacuum. Rolling Stone is in court now, defending itself against a lawsuit filed by a former associate dean at the University of Virginia charging defamation in a story - another story that involved rape.

FOLKENFLIK: That's right. If you think back to late fall of 2014, there was a cover story about a gang rape that allegedly occurred at a fraternity at the University of Virginia. None of the particulars held up. The key figure - the victim in this case - demanded, essentially, that the reporter not follow up with possible witnesses, not really seek out confirmation of her account.

And it turned out that there was no party at this fraternity and that the people she was accusing didn't exist. So a dean who was presented as essentially remiss in handling these accusations - she argues that she was very unfairly portrayed because the magazine failed its journalistic duties to pursue the story and to check its facts before publication.

MONTAGNE: What, then, are the stakes here for Rolling Stone magazine?

FOLKENFLIK: The stakes are pretty real. I mean, the lawsuit itself is for $8 million down in Virginia. Although, sometimes, juries award a little bit more. It's a really tough time in the magazine business. Jann Wenner, the owner of Rolling Stone, just sold a 49 percent stake in the magazine to the son of a Chinese billionaire.

And there's really a - fundamentally, the question of the magazine's credibility. This story about the University of Virginia and that dean, I think, is worse than a black eye. I think it seals the reputation among some readers that it's more interested in its advocacy than its journalism. That's a consequence of getting a cover story so very wrong.

MONTAGNE: David, thanks very much.

FOLKENFLIK: You bet.

MONTAGNE: NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.