Rolling Stone mag settles suit with UVA dean over fake gang rape story
Rolling Stone magazine has settled one of the defamation lawsuits brought against it after it ran a discredited story about a gang rape on the University of Virginia campus.
The settlement was with former associate dean Nicole Eramo, whom the magazine portrayed as indifferent to sexual violence. Other lawsuits, including one by the fraternity named in the fake rape story, are still going forward.
The magazine's November 2014 story, "A Rape on Campus," recounted the shocking story of a young woman's gang rape at a U-Va. fraternity house – a story that was discredited after serious flaws were revealed.
An investigation by The Washington Post showed that aspects of the account were not true. For example, no one in Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity in question, matched the name or description that the young woman – known as Jackie – gave for the person who allegedly was the ringleader in her 2012 assault.
A person whom Jackie had described to friends at the time as her assailant was complete fiction, according to Eramo's attorneys, and The Post found that a photo she shared of her alleged attacker was actually of someone she knew from high school, who attended a different university out of state.
The magazine soon acknowledged that it had lost faith in its main source for the story and – after a police investigation and a report by the Columbia University School of Journalism found that aspects of the account were false – ultimately retracted the article.
In a trial that began in October 2016, Eramo's lawyers argued that the article's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, had arrived on campus determined to write a story about a university's callousness to the problem of sexual assault. She did not let facts get in the way of the story, they argued, and she wrongly turned Eramo into the face of institutional indifference.
Eramo testified that she faced threats, lost professional credibility and lost her ability to work as an advocate for sexual-assault prevention.
Tom Clare, one of the attorneys representing Eramo, said during his closing statement that his client had become "collateral damage in a quest for sensational journalism."
Jackie's tale "had all the elements of a perfect story," Clare said. "And when something appears too perfect, it usually is."
Scott Sexton, an attorney for Rolling Stone, told the jurors in his closing statement that the magazine "acknowledges huge errors in not being more dogged. ... It's the worst thing to ever happen to Rolling Stone."
The judge awarded Eramo $3 million in damages. The magazine was moving toward an appeal when it decided to settle.
There were so many red flags thrown up by Jackie's story that a reporter who was working without an agenda would have easily spotted them. But when a reporter shapes the facts to fit a narrative, the inherent bias and political agenda of the journalist is exposed. And the fact that Rolling Stone magazine was complicit in this fakery is the result of its own politically driven effort to promote an agenda that, as we've seen, is injurious to individual liberties and due process.
By all rights, Rolling Stone should have been sued out of existence. That they weren't says a lot about the shortcomings of our justice system.