Trial Against ‘Rolling Stone’ Magazine And Journalist For False Gang Rape Story Begins Tearfully

Sabrina Rubin Erdely, a journalist for Rolling Stone, took the stand on Thursday to testify in regard to a story she had written about the alleged “gang rape” of a University of Virginia student known only as “Jackie.”

Questioning began by attorneys representing the university administrator who is suing Rolling Stone over the piece due to defamation of character, focusing on an email that Erdely sent to Rolling Stone editors.

The Washington Post shares the contents of the email that indicated Erdely had lost trust in Jackie and her account.

“Journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely fired off an email to Rolling Stone editors in the middle of the night with a sobering subject line: “Our worst nightmare.” She wrote that she no longer trusted “Jackie,” the central figure in her article about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, and she believed the magazine should issue a retraction.”

While the attorney read the email aloud in court, it brought Erdely to tears. Attorney Libby Locke proceeded to question, “Are those your words?”

“Yes,” Erdely said softly, tears streaming down her face.

The subject of the piece, Jackie, had told the journalist about surviving a gang rape at a University of Virgina fraternity when she was a freshman. The story intrigued Erdely, as it brought to light the problem with sexual assault on campus and how the schools respond to such incidents. Jackie shared her brutal tale about the rape and also about how little the university administrators did in response.

However, Erdely was given conflicting information from Jackie and found that some of the details wavered. She noticed that certain aspects of the account were changed, but Erdely never questioned Jackie’s credibility or questioned her about the discrepancies she noticed.

The journalist stated on Thursday that she linked the shifting details to the trauma the young woman experienced. Erdely had written many pieces about victims of sexual assault and shared that they often change the details of their stories due to trauma.

“It takes trauma victims some time to come forward with all the details. It’s not unusual.”

Erdely learned that Jackie had told two different versions of the tale to her first year roommate, as well.

Later, she admitted that she regretted having trusted Jackie, stating, “It was a mistake to rely on someone whose intent it was to deceive me.”

Attorney Locke, who is representing Nicole Eramo, a U-Va administrator, in the $7.5 million defamation lawsuit against Erdely and Rolling Stone, focused on the Erdely’s failure to explain inconsistencies in Jackie’s tale and her decision to run the story before contacting key figures in the account, including one of the young men identified by Jackie as an assailant. As Locke stated, Erdely relied solely on the words of the student, even after Jackie showed signs of distress when Erdely pressed for a means to corroborate the account.

Rolling Stone countered the accusations in a statement, noting that Jackie was not the only one who had trusted Jackie.

“It is clear that she firmly believed in the credibility of Jackie, as did U-Va. and Dean Eramo, when the article was published. We made journalistic mistakes with respect to Jackie’s story and we have learned from them, but these mistakes do not support Dean Eramo’s lawsuit.”

The story “painted U-Va. as indifferent to victims of sexual assault, prompted protests, vandalism and calls for Eramo to resign.” A top administrator who was working on sexual assault prevention, Eramo stated that the article was a defamation of her character and undid her life’s work. The article was said to portray Eramo as suppressing Jackie’s claims. However, she states that she had actually pushed Jackie to report her story to police.

Within weeks of the article’s publication, details within it began to be pointed out as false and fiction, which led the magazine to issue a retraction.

Locke went on to note the failure by Erdely to contact Eramo about her interactions with Jackie on the matter and also her failure to interview the trio of friends that Jackie stated she met with following her assault, in addition to one of the assailants who Jackie claimed brought her to the party, at which she stated she was raped.

[Featured Image by Jay Paul/Getty Images]