Rolling Stone is an undeniably important music magazine, perhaps the most influential one we’ve seen. In 2017, the publication celebrated its 50th anniversary since founder Jann Wenner had the great idea to borrow $7,500 from his family and his fiancée’s, and start a magazine dedicated to counterculture. Since then, Rolling Stone has elevated music criticism in the popular culture, published some of the sharpest political writing of our time, and produced a generation of writers who ended up in the magazine, something like the kid from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. It’s the gold standard, and it took decades to get here. It looks like things may only get worse from here.
ABC has cancelled its plans to air a three-hour documentary on the history of Rollling Stone, Spin reported on Thursday. The tribute was originally announced in May 2017 and scheduled for February 2018, according to the Hollywood Reporter. That’s the news, but that’s not the real story. ABC declined to give Spin a reason for the cancellation, but it isn’t hard to speculate. In November, Wenner was accused of offering a freelance writer a contract in exchange for sex. Last week, another writer, Jonathan Wells, came forward and said that Wenner sexually assaulted him in 1983. (Wenner responded to the allegations and said he “sincerely believed our relationship was totally mutual and consensual.”)
Wells has said he had long tried to grapple with his assault, and recently started to see what Wenner did as rape, after considering the growing number of stories concerning sexual assault by powerful men that have been reported by various news outlets in the past few months (via BuzzFeed News):
Wells has had a hard time through the years defining what exactly happened that night. He said he had always considered the incident an assault, but found himself trying to normalize it and bury his emotions. Then in October, when the national conversation turned to sexual harassment and abuse of power in the workplace, Wells started regarding what happened as rape.
It’s both a trying time right now for Rolling Stone as a business, and a historic moment for the magazine, having just celebrated its 50th anniversary. But with this story, it’s now also a difficult time for Wenner and his legacy—and if ABC’s decision is any indicator, we can now expect more backlash against any scheduled hoopla, like the now-cancelled three-hour documentary, meant to celebrate Wenner’s life and work. The question is how big that backlash will be.