Jury Finds Rolling Stone Guilty Of Defamation
Hopefully the fraternity will get the same verdict against Rolling Stone magazine and the reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely.
A federal jury in Virginia found Friday that Rolling Stone magazine, parent company Wenner Media and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely were liable for defamation. According to the full jury verdict, Erdely was found liable on six counts of defamation, while Wenner Media and Rolling Stone were each found liable on three counts of defamation.
The defamation case concerns a November 2014 cover story in Rolling Stone magazine about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The story was later discredited and the magazine retracted it, in April 2015.
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After Rolling Stone retracted the story, U.Va. dean of students Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone for defamation, arguing that the magazine knew or should have known that the article was false, and that her reputation and career had been harmed because of how she was portrayed.
After deliberating for around two weeks, a federal jury found Erdely liable for six counts of defamation — three related to the article itself and three related to statements she made in interviews after the article’s publication with Brian Leherer, The Washington Post and Slate. The jury also found that Rolling Stone and Wenner Media were liable for three counts of defamation each because RollingStone.com republished the article on Dec. 5, 2014, with an an editor’s note explaining discrepancies in the piece.
The jury will have separate deliberations to determine the amount of damages that Eramo should be awarded. Eramo has asked for at least $7.5 million in damages.
Rolling Stone has also been sued for defamation by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity and, separately, by individual members of Phi Kappa Psi. While the lawsuit from individual Phi Kappa Psi members was dismissed in June, the lawsuit from the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity is expected to go to trial.
Rolling Stone released the following statement after the Eramo 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.