Jury finds Reporter, Rolling Stone Responsible for Defaming University of Virginia Dean with Fictionalized ‘Gang Rape’ storyPosted: November 4, 2016
Deliberations about ‘A Rape on Campus’ spanned three days.
T. Rees Shapiro reports: 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 parent company, Wenner Media, responsible for defaming Eramo, who has said her life’s work helping sexual assault victims was devastated as a result of Rolling Stone’s article and its aftermath.
The lawsuit centered on Erdely’s 9,000-word article titled “A Rape on Campus,” which appeared online in late November 2014 and on newsstands in the magazine’s December 2014 issue. Opening with a graphic depiction of a fraternity gang rape, the story caused an immediate sensation at a time of heightened awareness of campus sexual assault, going viral online and ripping through the U-Va. community.
But within days of the article’s publication, key elements of the account fell apart under scrutiny, including the narrative’s shocking allegation of a fraternity gang rape. The magazine eventually retracted the story in April 2015, and 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. Eramo has asked for $7.5 million in damages but now, following the verdict, can argue for a different amount. The argument for damages is scheduled to begin Monday.
Regardless of potential damages, the verdict showed the jury’s willingness to slam a major media outlet for the impact of getting a story wrong. Originally hailed as a brave triumph of reporting for its raw accounts of rape and attempts at bringing accountability to a storied public university, the article led to protests of the U-Va. administration, vandalism of a campus fraternity and outrage among activists trying to prevent sexual assault. Once its flaws were exposed, the article’s deeper message of the effects of campus rape — a pervasive national problem — was lost amid the allegations of shoddy reporting. Read the rest of this entry »
By Steve Kolowich
Less than three months after Harvard University administrators admitted to signing off on secret searches in the e-mail accounts of more than a dozen resident deans as part of a cheating investigation, one leader implicated in those controversial searches is stepping down.
Evelynn M. Hammonds, dean of Harvard College, the university’s main undergraduate division, will leave her post at beginning of July, the university announced on Tuesday.
Ms. Hammonds, who has led Harvard College for five years, found herself at the center of a scandal-within-a-scandal after trying to plug a leak in a university inquiry into a cheating debacle that prompted dozens of undergraduates to withdraw from the college.
Ms. Hammonds and Michael D. Smith, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, last fall authorized searches of the e-mail accounts of 16 resident deans without informing them first.
The resident deans, faculty members who reside in undergraduate housing and oversee the students who also live there, sit on a committee charged with investigating the cheating scandal. Ms. Hammond and Mr. Smith suspected that one resident dean had leaked confidential information about the investigation to the news media, according to The Boston Globe.
Those suspicions turned out to be correct. But Ms. Hammonds and Mr. Smith failed to inform most of the deans—namely, the ones whom the searches had exonerated—that any search had occurred until much later. That delay was a violation of Harvard’s e-mail policy, which requires that faculty members be informed immediately if their accounts have been searched.
Complicating matters, it came out later that Ms. Hammonds herself had authorized additional searches of e-mail accounts of the dean who had leaked the confidential information. That step escalated tensions with faculty members over privacy rights.
Ms. Hammonds said repeatedly that her only intention had been to protect the privacy of the students being investigated for cheating. She nonetheless apologized to the professors for overstepping their own privacy boundaries in the process.
Ms. Hammonds, who is a professor of the history of science and of African-American studies, will return to her faculty post following a sabbatical, Harvard officials said on Tuesday in a news release, which enumerated Ms. Hammonds’s achievements as dean and made no mention of the e-mail scandal.
When she returns, officials said, Ms. Hammonds will head a new program at Harvard to study the intersection of race, science, and medicine.