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A U.S. jury has found Rolling Stone‘s publisher and one of its reporters liable for defamation in relation to an explosive 2014 story that detailed an alleged gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house.
The story, entitled ‘A Rape On Campus‘, was published in 2014, and detailed the experiences of a woman identified as Jackie, who said that she had been beaten and assaulted by seven men at Phi Kappa Psi.
In the outrage that followed, the university suspended all of its fraternities, but certain claims in the story were questioned, Charlotesville police found no evidence of the alleged assault and “no substantive basis” to support the version of events in the article.
Rolling Stone retracted the story after an independent report by the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism found that writer Sabrina Rubin Erdley failed to engage in “basic, even routine journalistic practice”, citing “failures at every stage of the process.”
After a trial of two weeks, at which more than 11 hours of video evidence was shown, the jury of eight women and four men found that Rolling Stone’s publisher Wenner Media and its writer Erdley had defamed school administrator Nicole Eramo.
Dean Eramo said that she had been portrayed as “the chief villain of the story”, in part because of a claim that she had tried to prevent Jackie from going to the police.
Lawyers for Eramo said that Edrley approached the story with a “preconceived narrative”, and ignored any contrary evidence, portraying the dean as “callous and insensitive to the plight of an alleged rape victim.”
Eramo reportedly wept in court as the verdict was read out, and her lawyer Libby Locke said:
“The jury’s verdict is a complete vindication of Nicole Eramo, and a complete repudiation of Rolling Stone’s and Ms. Erdely’s false and defamatory article. We are looking forward to the damages phase of the trial.”
Sabrina Rubin Erdely was found liable for defamation in relation to two parts of the original story, and also in relation to interviews she gave after its publication, with a Slate podcast and The Washington Post.
Wenner Media were found liable for defamation for three parts of the story, one of them relating to the fact that they chose to republish it with an editor’s note but did not change or remove any part of the original.
The jury will return Monday to consider damages; Eramo is reportedly seeking $US 7.5 million.
Rolling Stone have since released a statement apologising to Eramo, admitting that it “overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes” in relation to the story.
Source: CNN Money.
Photo: Jay Paul / Getty.