‘Rolling Stone’ Found Guilty Of Defamation For UVA Rape Story
A jury has found Rolling Stone journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely, as well as the magazine and its publisher, responsible for defaming a former University of Virginia associate dean in a 2014 article about sexual assault on the campus.
The jury concluded that the journalist, the magazine and its publisher, Wenner Media, were responsible for libel against UVA administrator Nicole Eramo, who oversaw cases of sexual assault at the school when the Rolling Stone article, titled “A Rape on Campus,” was published.
A 10-person jury began deliberating Wednesday and after 19 hours of consideration, they agree that statements in the article, which was later retracted, were made with “actual malice,” defined as “statements that were knowingly false or made with reckless disregard for truth.”
The $7.5 million lawsuit centered on the 9,000-word article written by Erdely titled “A Rape on Campus.” The article appeared online in late November 2014 and on newsstands in the magazine’s December 2014 issue.
The story opened with a graphic depiction of a fraternity gang rape that went viral online and sent shock waves across the University of Virginia campus community. But within days of the article’s publication, key elements of the story fell apart after further investigation. The magazine eventually retracted the story in April 2015.
Eramo’s lawsuit came a month later, alleging that the magazine’s portrayal of her as callous and dismissive of rape reports on campus was untrue and unfair.
“Once they decided what the article was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were,” said the plaintiff, adding that Erdely was “blind to the facts” and that she painted Eramo as the villain because the university official represented an “easy target.”
This week, the case will continue as the jury will consider damages and hear more evidence from Eramo and her lawyers about how she was affected by the actions by Rolling Stone. Eramo originally asked for $7.5 million but can ask for a different sum after the verdict.
Rolling Stone published the following statement after the verdict was announced:
“For almost 50 years, Rolling Stone has aimed to produce journalism with the highest reporting and ethical standards, and with a strong humanistic point of view. When we published ‘A Rape on Campus’ in 2014, we were attempting to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that is more relevant today than ever. In our desire to present this complicated issue from the perspective of a survivor, we overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again. We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo. It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students. We will continue to publish stories that shine a light on the defining social, political and cultural issues of our times, and we will continue to seek the truth in every story we publish.”
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