The University of Virginia chapter of Phi Alpha Psi announced that it will file a lawsuit against Rolling Stone for its December article “A Rape on Campus,” which falsely accused members of the fraternity of participating in a gang rape of a freshman girl.
In a detailed review of the Rolling Stone story, the Columbia School of Journalism found that serious journalistic oversights led to the publication of the false rape claims. Rolling Stone announced Sunday that it fired no one involved in publishing the story.
“The report by Columbia University’s School of Journalism demonstrates the reckless nature in which Rolling Stone researched and failed to verify facts in its article that erroneously accused Phi Kappa Psi of crimes its members did not commit,” fraternity president Stephen Scipione said in the statement announcing the lawsuit. “This type of reporting serves as a sad example of a serious decline of journalistic standards.”
The article claimed that a girl named “Jackie” had been gang-raped by seven men during a Phi Psi party, at least one of whom was a Phi Psi brother. Some of the quotes attributed to the rapists (“Don’t you want to be a brother?” “We all had to do it, so you do, too”) strongly implied the rape was part of the frat’s initiation.
First Amendment scholar Eugene Volokh opined on Sunday that the fraternity brothers might prevail depending on what sort of claim they filed.
“The Columbia report provides powerful evidence that Rolling Stone was negligent in its investigation — and negligence is all that’s required for at least some kinds of damages to be recovered in some of the possible libel claims,” Volokh wrote.