A jury found Rolling Stone and its reporter liable in a defamation suit over the UVA rape story

Sabrina Rubin Erdely Rolling Stone Writer Rolling Stone writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely Screenshot Via YouTube

A federal jury has found Rolling Stone magazine, its owner and reporter Sabrina Erdely liable in the defamation lawsuit brought over a retracted story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia, a television station reported on Friday.

WVIR-TV said that Erdely had been found liable with malice on six claims in the lawsuit brought by school administrator Nicole Eramo. The jury in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia found Rolling Stone and owner Wenner Media was each found liable on three claims, it said.

"Eramo’s lawyers wrote in their complaint that the magazine defamed her by casting the former associate dean as a villain in the article, portraying her as the public face of an administration indifferent to rape victims," The Washington Post's T. Rees Shapiro reported.

Lawyers for Rolling Stone countered that while the magazine made mistakes, it hadn't acted with "actual malice," the standard needed in defamation cases involving public figures, according to The Post.

The case will now continue, and damages will be assessed by the jury. The original filing asked for $7.5 million.

The article

This defamation case sprung from a 2014 article called "A Rape on Campus," which was retracted by Rolling Stone in early 2015.

Before the retraction, the UVA article sparked a months-long controversy for Rolling Stone, as various elements of the story were disproved by other media outlets and discredited by a local police investigation . A review of the story by the Columbia Journalism School found that Rolling Stone's article had failings that included "basic, even routine journalistic practice."

Writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and the magazine's editors have also been criticized for not reaching out to key people involved in the story, specifically those with supposed knowledge of a fraternity gang-rape described by UVA student "Jackie."

Jackie told Rolling Stone that she was gang-raped during a date party on September 28, 2012, at the campus' Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Various subsequent reports — notably by The Washington Post — discovered that no Phi Psi member matched the description of Jackie's alleged rapist in the Rolling Stone article and the fraternity did not hold a party the night she alleged she was raped.

Additionally, a group of Jackie's friends who are mentioned using pseudonyms in the Rolling Stone story came out and denied many of the details she provided the magazine. All the friends said that no one from Rolling Stone — including Erdely — ever reached out to them during the course of reporting the story, even though they were quoted in it based on Jackie's comments.

Jackie reportedly asked the magazine to not name or contact the people she described in the story. However, according to the Columbia report, "Jackie never requested ... that Rolling Stone refrain from contacting" the three friends that she said were with her that night, although she did only give the writer their first names.

"All three friends would have spoken to Erdely, they said, if they had been contacted," Coll reports.

This may have led to the various problems in Rolling Stone's reporting, according to the Columbia report — "In hindsight, the most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was to accept that Erdely had not contacted the three friends who spoke with Jackie on the night she said she was raped. That was the reporting path, if taken, that would have almost certainly led the magazine's editors to change plans."

Coll also points out a major problem with how the magazine handled covering Jackie's alleged rapist, referred to in the article as "Drew" — "Rolling Stone's editors did not make clear to readers that Erdely and her editors did not know 'Drew's' true name, had not talked to him and had been unable to verify that he existed."

(Reuters Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Alden Bentley)

Previous reporting by Peter Jacobs for Business Insider.


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