A federal jury found Rolling Stone magazine, its publisher Wenner Media, and one of its reporters guilty in a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit related to their discredited story about a college gang rape.
A 10-person jury concluded that the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, defamed Nicole Eramo, a University of Virginia administrator who handled sexual assault claims at the school when the bombshell article, “A Rape on Campus,” first appeared online in November 2014.
Eramo was featured in the article and characterized as being dismissive of the rape claims. In disputing this account, Eramo said it made her out to be “the chief villain,” according to the New York Times.
The trial began October 17, and the jury spent three days deliberating before delivering its decision on Friday.
The article centered on a UVA student, identified as “Jackie,” who said she was gang raped at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party in 2012. (The fraternity is suing Rolling Stone in a separate case for $25 million in damages.) The article, which detailed a horrific story of sexual assault and callousness afterward, received national attention.
But soon after it was published, Jackie’s story began to unravel. After extensive reporting by other outlets, foremost among them the Washington Post, it emerged that Jackie had made up the ordeal and changed her story multiple times.
Rolling Stone also commissioned the Columbia Journalism Review to investigate the story and how it was reported. Erdely did not interview Jackie’s alleged attackers, and the magazine failed to thoroughly double-check the facts of her account, a common practice at most magazines. CJR found that Rolling Stone was responsible for a “story of journalistic failure.”
Rolling Stone retracted the story in April 2015.
“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,” said Rolling Stone spokesperson Kathryn Brenner. “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.”
In April 2015, Erdely issued a public apology and acknowledged that she “did not go far enough to verify her story.”
“I allowed my concern for Jackie’s well-being, my fear of re-traumatizing her, and my confidence in her credibility to take the place of more questioning and more facts,” Erdely said.