On Friday, a Virginia jury found that Rolling Stone magazine, publisher Jann Wenner, and reporter Sabrina Erdely are guilty of libel with malice against University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo. They were so eager to publish Jackie Coakley’s account of her brutal gang-rape by a bunch of frat boys that they didn’t bother to check whether it actually happened. And they falsely blamed Eramo in the process.
Today began the penalty phase of the trial, and the jury heard from Eramo herself. WVIR in Charlottesville:
Eramo took the witness stand a little after 8:30 a.m. She talked about her life before and after the article was published. Eramo recounted how she read “A Rape on Campus” the day it was released.
“It was like reading about somebody who had my name and my face, but I didn’t recognize me,” she said.
Eramo told the court that she contemplated committing suicide the weekend after Erdely’s article came out, saying “I just wanted to disappear.”
Eramo also testified that she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer when the Rolling Stone story came out, and it added to her stress during her recovery.
She’s asking for $7.5 million, but the jury can award more. I think they should. They need to look to the example of Hulk Hogan v. Gawker, and really send a message to “narrative journalists” everywhere: Don’t do things like this. Facts matter, and you can’t just accuse people of rape with no proof. Sure, your peers will pat you on the back for furthering the preferred narrative, but is it really worth getting ruined for it?
These people can’t be motivated by shame. They don’t have the capacity for it. If you want to change their behavior, you have to hit them in the wallet.
If it’s too good to check, check it anyway. Do your jobs, reporters. Or get ready to pay.