Famed Publication, ‘Rolling Stone,’ Found Liable For Defamation Regarding University Rape Story

As reported by CNN, Rolling Stone Magazine, along with the magazine’s publisher and the authoring reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, were found liable for defamation regarding a discredited story about an alleged gang rape at a fraternity house at the University of Virginia.

The suit was brought by a school administrator, Nicole Eramo, who claimed that the story inaccurately portrayed her as insensitive to the plight of the alleged victim. Eramo is seeking damages in the amount of $7.5 million, though the federal jury will not consider the issue of damages until Monday.

The Rolling Stone story, titled “A Rape on Campus,” chronicled the alleged beating and rape of a woman identified as “Jackie.” Jackie stated that the attack was reported in 2012, and involved seven men and took place at the Phi Kappa Psi house, on the University of Virginia campus. The report suggested that Eramo discouraged Jackie from seeking help from the police after the alleged assault.

The Rolling Stone article originally appeared in the November, 2014, issue of the popular magazine, causing an uproar about the university’s handling of the situation. As reported by the New York Daily News, Eramo was dubbed “the dean of rape” and protesters called for her immediate removal.

An investigation by local police found no evidence that such an attack had even occurred. While Rolling Stone officially retracted the article in April of 2015, after the investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing, Eramo asserted that many statements contained in the article were false and defamatory in nature.

The original article featured a quote by Eramo suggesting that the university didn’t disclose all of the rape and sexual assault statistics intentionally since “nobody wants to send their daughter to a rape school.” Eramo denies such a statement was ever made.

For the defamation suit to move forward, Eramo had to prove that the statements made by Rolling Stone were released with “actual malice,” as is required for cases involving public figures. Actual malice requires that the magazine has a reasonable belief that the statement was false, or that it might be false, and published them with reckless disregard for the truth.

Erdely was found liable regarding six specific statements featured in the story, while Rolling Stone and Wenner Media were each found liable for three statements contained in the piece. As clarified by attorney Mark MacDougall, and reported via Reuters, actual malice does not require that the reporter, magazine or publisher have a specific dislike of Eramo, and does not require that the harm caused be intentional. MacDougall, released in an email, stated the following.

“When a reporter, an editor or a magazine behave like they don’t care whether what they publish is false, that’s enough to support a finding of actual malice.”

Once the verdict was reached, Rolling Stone did issue an apology statement.

“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.”

Eramo was originally serving as the associate dean of students during the time of the alleged attack. She now serves in an administrative role with the University of Virginia.

While the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, also brought a defamation lawsuit regarding the content of the article, it was dismissed by a New York judge.

[Featured Image by AP Photo/Steve Helber]