Rolling Stone magazine and one of their writers was found guilty of the defamation of the University of Virginia’s former associate dean of students.
Nicole Eramo, the former dean, was awarded $3 million for the damages.
In November 2014, Rolling Stone released “A Rape on Campus,” written by reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely, which told the plight of a freshman student known as “Jackie” gang raped at a fraternity party. Jackie came to Eramo, the dean and head of the UVA’s Sexual Misconduct Board, and reported her story.
According to Eramo, she was reported in the story as the cold, emotionless “chief villain” and that she “used the trust of young women to cover up rapes.” As a result of the story, the school removed Eramo from her position as dean and relocated her to a different department. She also faced threats and lost credibility as a sexual assault prevention advocate and as a professional in the workplace.
Adam Henley, senior engineering major, said this is not the first time this has happened. He said he once heard about a teacher who was fired because a student lied about an assault and the truth was not revealed until over ten years later.
According to Fortune magazine, upon the story’s initial release, the Washington Post and the other news organizations found several discrepancies.
Rolling Stone sent Erdely’s story to the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism for a review, who reported the magazine neglected the “basic, even routine journalistic practice” in fact-checking and verification. The magazine retracted the story after the University’s review.
The Washington Post found that Jackie’s three friends—phoned after the attack—also were portrayed inaccurately.
Interestingly, the image of Jackie’s main assailant did not match any descriptions of students in the fraternity. Later, it was revealed it was the image of one of Jackie’s former high school classmates, who did not attend the same school.
At the trail, the jury agreed that Rolling Stone and Erdely knew the account was false, or simply showed “reckless disregard” in their reporting. As a result, the jury ruled in Eramo’s favor.
In response to the outcome, Rolling Stone issued an statement, apologizing for their negligence and said that in their attempt to shed light on an important issue, such as college rape, they overlooked certain “reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes.”
Rolling Stone promised not to make the same mistake again. “We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo.”
Rachel Barber, a junior family and human services and child and family studies double major at John Brown University, thinks Eramo seems justified in her retaliation to the Rolling Stone article as it was “published slander.”
Although it seems like an absurd amount of money for a defamation care, it makes sense to Barber as someone’s livelihood and reputation are at stake.
“The magazine claimed something untrue. It was a matter of clearing her name and she wasn’t responsible for anything they did,” she said.