Jury finds reporter, Rolling Stone responsible for defaming U-Va. dean with gang rape story
CHARLOTTESVILLE — A federal court jury decided Friday that a Rolling Stone journalist defamed a former University of Virginia associate dean in a 2014 magazine article about sexual assault on campus that included a debunked account of a fraternity gang rape. The 10 member jury concluded that the Rolling Stone reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, was responsible for defamation, with actual malice, in the case brought by Nicole Eramo, a U-Va. administrator who oversaw sexual violence cases at the time of the article’s publication. The jury also found the magazine and its publisher responsible for defaming Eramo.
The $7.5 million lawsuit centered on Erdely’s 9,000-word article titled “A Rape on Campus.” The article appeared online in late Nov. 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 U-Va. campus community. But within days of the article’s publication, key elements of the account fell apart under scrutiny. 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.
The jurors reached a verdict Friday after deliberating across three days.
In a statement after the verdict, Rolling Stone said that the magazine has for nearly 50 years aimed to produce journalism “with the highest reporting and ethical standards, and with a humanistic point of view,” noting that Erdely’s story attempted “to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses.”
“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,” Rolling Stone said in the statement. “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.”
It still sounds like Rolling Stone hasn’t learned anything.