Jury decides Rolling Stone defamed U. of Virginia dean

A federal court jury found that the magazine Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely defamed Nicole Eramo, a University of Virginia dean who oversaw sexual assault cases at the school. Significantly, the jury also decided that the magazine and Erdely had acted "with actual malice" which will probably lead to significantly more damages awarded than the $7.5 million Eramo was asking for.

The saga associated with the article, "A Rape on Campus," centers on the tale told by "Jackie," a supposed victim of a fraternity gang rape. The horrific details shocked America when the article was first published in November 2014. It galvanized sexual assault activists on campus across the country and fed the narrative that sexual assault was at epidemic proprortions on America's college campuses.

But within days of the article's publication, Jackie's story began to fall apart. The Washington Post wrote an investigative piece that proved the accuser had created people and events that never happened. And as exposed at the trial, reporter Erdely took deliberate aim at Eramo, making her the villian in her allegorical tall tale. The jury decided that was deliberately malicious.

Rolling Stone continues to tout its innocence.

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.

In a statement after the verdict, Rolling Stone said that the magazine, for nearly 50 years, has 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.”

Note that Rolling Stone is claiming that since the issue of sexual assault was so important, the story's flaws should be placed into some kind of context that absolves the magazine of responsibility. "Our heart was in the right place," RS seems to be saying.

It's clear that in their desire to advance a narrative, Erdely and the magazine exaggerated  the role of Ms. Eramo, actually making up facts to portray her as a typical uncaring college administrator:

Eramo’s attorneys presented evidence that Erdely had a predetermined notion of what her story would be, discussing the concept of the story that became “A Rape on Campus” well ahead of her reporting, including a note describing how college administrations can be “indifferent” to rape survivors. They said that Erdely had “a preconceived story line” and acted with “reckless disregard” by ignoring conflicting information in her reporting.

“Once they decided what the story was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were,” Clare said.

Clare noted that despite Rolling Stone’s reporting, Eramo had, indeed, cared for Jackie in the aftermath of her alleged assault, counseling her and organizing a meeting with police detectives to help bring her attackers to justice. But Jackie refused to participate in any police investigation.

This is not the end of Rolling Stone's ordeal. The fraternity Phi Kappa Psi has also filed suit against the magazine and is seeking $25 million in damages. If the frat wins their case, the damages Rolling Stone will be forced to pay could bankrupt the magazine, forcing them to close.

For those whose reputations were destroyed by this act of journalistic malpractice, it's a punishment to be devoutly desired.

 

A federal court jury found that the magazine Rolling Stone and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely defamed Nicole Eramo, a University of Virginia dean who oversaw sexual assault cases at the school. Significantly, the jury also decided that the magazine and Erdely had acted "with actual malice" which will probably lead to significantly more damages awarded than the $7.5 million Eramo was asking for.

The saga associated with the article, "A Rape on Campus," centers on the tale told by "Jackie," a supposed victim of a fraternity gang rape. The horrific details shocked America when the article was first published in November 2014. It galvanized sexual assault activists on campus across the country and fed the narrative that sexual assault was at epidemic proprortions on America's college campuses.

But within days of the article's publication, Jackie's story began to fall apart. The Washington Post wrote an investigative piece that proved the accuser had created people and events that never happened. And as exposed at the trial, reporter Erdely took deliberate aim at Eramo, making her the villian in her allegorical tall tale. The jury decided that was deliberately malicious.

Rolling Stone continues to tout its innocence.

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.

In a statement after the verdict, Rolling Stone said that the magazine, for nearly 50 years, has 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.”

Note that Rolling Stone is claiming that since the issue of sexual assault was so important, the story's flaws should be placed into some kind of context that absolves the magazine of responsibility. "Our heart was in the right place," RS seems to be saying.

It's clear that in their desire to advance a narrative, Erdely and the magazine exaggerated  the role of Ms. Eramo, actually making up facts to portray her as a typical uncaring college administrator:

Eramo’s attorneys presented evidence that Erdely had a predetermined notion of what her story would be, discussing the concept of the story that became “A Rape on Campus” well ahead of her reporting, including a note describing how college administrations can be “indifferent” to rape survivors. They said that Erdely had “a preconceived story line” and acted with “reckless disregard” by ignoring conflicting information in her reporting.

“Once they decided what the story was going to be about, it didn’t matter what the facts were,” Clare said.

Clare noted that despite Rolling Stone’s reporting, Eramo had, indeed, cared for Jackie in the aftermath of her alleged assault, counseling her and organizing a meeting with police detectives to help bring her attackers to justice. But Jackie refused to participate in any police investigation.

This is not the end of Rolling Stone's ordeal. The fraternity Phi Kappa Psi has also filed suit against the magazine and is seeking $25 million in damages. If the frat wins their case, the damages Rolling Stone will be forced to pay could bankrupt the magazine, forcing them to close.

For those whose reputations were destroyed by this act of journalistic malpractice, it's a punishment to be devoutly desired.