News & Politics

'Rolling Stone' Faces Defamation Trial Over UVA Rape Hoax

From The Hollywood Reporter:

A jury will decide whether Rolling Stone defamed the University of Virginia’s dean in its since-retracted article about a gang rape at a campus fraternity, after a federal judge on Thursday denied summary judgment on key issues in the lawsuit.

Nicole Eramo sued Rolling Stone in May 2015, claiming the story cast her as the chief villain and painted the school as one that is indifferent to rape on its campus.

During the time of the alleged incident, Eramo was in charge of performing intake of sexual assault complaints, providing support to victims and participating in panels and conferences related to the issue. She claims the November 2014 article destroyed her reputation as a supporter of sexual assault victims and triggered hundreds of threatening messages from the public.

Within weeks of publication, Rolling Stone issued an editor’s note acknowledging that there were discrepancies in the story “Jackie” told reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdley — who admittedly did not attempt to contact any of the men Jackie claimed raped her or even confirm their full names.

Chief U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad on Thursday concluded that Eramo is a limited-purpose public figure, which means she will have to prove the magazine acted with actual malice to prevail on her defamation claims.

“The volume of her media appearances, and in some instances their depth, supports the conclusion that Eramo attempted to influence the outcome of the controversy,” writes Conrad. “[Th]e court’s analysis of the five requirements for limited-public figure status, and its overall review of the record, lead to the conclusion that defendants have met their burden of establishing that, at the time of publication, Eramo warranted the limited-purpose public figure designation.”

The judge explains that Eramo will have to prove the magazine “entertained serious doubts as to the truth” of its story. Rolling Stone had moved for summary judgment on the issue of actual malice, but Conrad dismissed it Thursday.

Rolling Stone is getting off very lightly thus far for something that, taken at face value, shouldn’t be allowed to go unpunished. A major national publication shouldn’t be allowed to make public accusations of rape without verifying its story. As this sad saga has played out, it doesn’t seem that the magazine did even the bare minimum editorial work to determine the veracity of the story. They just went ahead and defamed a fraternity and the university.

The lawsuit filed by some of the fraternity members was dismissed last summer and now there is a more difficult standard to achieve in this trial.

Rape is heinous; thus being falsely accused of it is pretty disturbing too. This story wasn’t one of misinterpretation either — it was complete fabrication. The ongoing response from Rolling Stone to the fact that its “reporter” made up the story has essentially been one long shrug of the shoulders, mostly because they’re more interested in the overarching narrative than little things like the law or facts.

If there are no repercussions whatsoever for them, what’s to prevent them from doing it again?