Jury finds Reporter, Rolling Stone Responsible for Defaming University of Virginia Dean with Fictionalized ‘Gang Rape’ story 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

University of Virginia administrator Nicole Eramo leaves federal court after closing arguments in her defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine on Tuesday in Charlottesville. (Steve Helber/AP)

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.

[Read the full story here, at The Washington Post]

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 »