A federal jury in Virginia today ruled against Rolling Stone and the reporter who penned the discredited story about a college sexual assault, finding the defendants liable of defamation.
The 2014 investigative piece, “A Rape on Campus,” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely chronicled an alleged fraternity party gang rape at the University of Virginia. The central figure in the story, a student called “Jackie,” told her story of a violent sexual assault, and the school’s compliance in dealing with the situation, would later be debunked by police after investigation. Rolling Stone subsequently apologized and retracted the story in April 2015.
Regardless, Nicole Eramo, the university administrator depicted in the story, filed suit against the magazine and Erdely a month later. The two-week trial was only considering the question of liability, not damages. The case will continue in the coming days over the question of damages. Originally Eramo asked for $7.5 million, but that sum may change.
A spokeswoman from Rolling Stone did not address whether there would be an appeal but offered: “For almost 50 years, Rolling Stone has aimed to produce journalism with the highest reporting and ethical standards, and with a strong humanistic point of view. When we published ‘A Rape on Campus’ in 2014, 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. 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.
“It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students. We will continue to publish stories that shine a light on the defining social, political and cultural issues of our times, and we will continue to seek the truth in every story we publish.”
The final outcome of the trial could have a damaging effect on the already beleaguered Wenner Media, parent company of Rolling Stone. In September, Jann Wenner, the cofounder and publisher of Rolling Stone, sold a 49 percent stake in the music and pop culture-focused glossy to BandLab Technologies.
The ruling Friday is the second major libel or defamation case to go against a media company this year. Gawker Media was forced to file for bankruptcy after Terry Bollea, also known as Hulk Hogan, sued the company’s web site Gawker for libel after it posted a tape online of him having sex with a friend’s wife. The case was finally settled this week for $31 million.