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- Actress Kristina Cohen accused actor Ed Westwick of raping her three years ago. Westwick denied the accusation, and said he does not know Cohen. Multiple outlets wrote about the accusation before any comment had been made by Westwick, and IndieWire and BuzzFeed News retracted their stories Tuesday morning, before publishing them again later in the day. This accusation raises questions about journalistic responsibility in the social-media age.
On Monday, actress Kristina Cohen wrote in a Facebook post that actor Ed Westwick raped her three years ago.
Westwick, who gained fame for his role as Chuck Bass on The CW’s “Gossip Girl,” and currently stars on the BBC series “White Gold,” denied Cohen’s allegation in a tweet Tuesday.
“I do not know this woman,” Westwick wrote. “I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape.” Cohen’s representative told Business Insider she had “no comment at this time” about Westwick’s denial.
In Cohen’s Facebook post, she wrote that Westwick raped her in his home, which she visited with her then-boyfriend.
“I was woken up abruptly by Ed on top of me, his fingers entering my body,” Cohen said. “I told him to stop, but he was strong. I fought him off as hard as I could but he grabbed my face in his hands, shaking me, telling me he wanted to f— me. I was paralyzed, terrified. I couldn’t speak, I could no longer move. He held me down and raped me.”
But there’s another story within this accusation: the question of journalistic responsibility, particularly in the social-media age.
Retractions and republications
With allegations of sexual harassment and assault pouring out of Hollywood against powerful men, often posted on social media, what is the correct level of scrutiny before reporting on claims that are already out in the open, proliferating on the internet?
On Monday and Tuesday, many publications posted stories about the rape accusation before Westwick or his representatives had made a comment, including Vanity Fair, HuffPost, Rolling Stone, Glamour, and Vulture.
But two publications, IndieWire and BuzzFeed News, ended up temporarily retracting their stories, in a move that shows how tricky navigating this situation can be for a media company.
Late Monday night, IndieWire was the first outlet to report Cohen’s accusation, with a note that his representatives weren’t available for comment. On Tuesday morning, however, IndieWire deleted the article from the site. The page where the article existed now said, “Sorry, we couldn’t find this page.”
In response to a question about the removal of the story, IndieWire Editor-in-Chief Dana Harris told Business Insider via email, “We took down the story because I wasn’t comfortable publishing until we’d made our own calls for comment.” Harris also specified that the reporter who wrote the story is based on the East Coast, and she’s based on the West Coast, so she didn’t see the story until it was already live on the site.
Indiewire republished the story with Westwick’s comment on Tuesday afternoon.
BuzzFeed News also temporarily retracted its article on the accusation against Westwick, after the post was originally published at 1:52 a.m. on Tuesday morning. BuzzFeed left a note on the article page that it had been removed for “failing to meet editorial standards.”
Matt Mittenthal, spokesperson for Buzzfeed News, responded to Business Insider’s request for comment with the following:
“The original version of this post did not meet the editorial standards we expect for stories about serious allegations of sexual assault and misconduct, including our bombshell reporting on Kevin Spacey, R Kelly, and other powerful individuals. We’re continuing to investigate all sides of this story, and will update the post once we believe it is fair and rigorous.”
BuzzFeed republished the article with Westwick’s comment on Tuesday at 12:26 p.m.