A University of Virginia (UVA) dean triumphed in her lawsuit against Rolling Stone magazine Friday, with a jury finding the magazine liable for defaming her in an article about a bogus gang-rape on campus.
Nicole Eramo sued the magazine in 2015 over her portrayal in the infamous Sabrina Erdely article “A Rape on Campus,” which recounted allegations by then-UVA student Jackie Coakley that she had been gang-raped by seven men while attending a fraternity party.
The article provoked an immense wave of outrage, but follow-up reporting by The Washington Post and other outlets soon found huge holes in Coakley’s story. Eventually, it was revealed that Coakley hadn’t been raped at all, and had apparently invented her story as part of a convoluted scheme to win the affections of a boy she had a crush on.
In addition to repeating Coakley’s false claims, Rolling Stone’s article portrayed Eramo in an extremely negative manner, accusing her of taking a callous attitude toward rape victims because she was more concerned with preserving UVA’s reputation. The magazine even edited a photo of Eramo to make her appear more sinister. (RELATED: Rolling Stone Paid $43,000 For Disastrous Article)
In the end, a jury believed Eramo’s defamation claim, despite having to meet the high burden of showing that the magazine acted with actual malice against her. Erdely, the article’s author, was found liable on six claims of defamation, while Rolling Stone and its publisher Wenner Media were found liable for three claims each. The exact amount of damages has not been set yet, but Eramo is pursuing $7.5 million. The jury could potentially go far above that amount if it chooses to award punitive damages.
Rolling Stone and its co-defendants will have the chance to appeal the verdict, and may also try to settle for a lesser amount before its appeals are exhausted.
The magazine sent a statement to The Daily Caller News Foundation immediately after the verdict apologizing for publishing the original article.
“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,” the statement says. “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.”
The verdict sets a strong precedent for another lawsuit being pursued by Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity accused of committing the gang rape. That lawsuit is still being litigated, but has survived an attempt by Rolling Stone to dismiss it.
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