Rolling Stone magazine paid reporter Sabrina Erdely nearly $43,000 for her now-retracted article, “A Rape On Campus,” which triggered a massive defamation lawsuit against the magazine.
Erdely’s article, published in Nov. 2014, told in lurid detail of Jackie Coakley’s gang-rape at a University of Virginia (UVA) fraternity. The article provoked a massive wave of outrage, but shortly after its publication serious holes in Coakley’s story were exposed. The story was subsequently retracted, and an investigative report by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism exposed many serious errors in Erdely’s reporting.
Now, Rolling Stone is fighting a $7.5 million defamation lawsuit from UVA dean Nicole Eramo, who says Erdely’s article defamed her by portraying her as callously indifferent to sexual assault victims at UVA. The trial phase of the lawsuit began this week, and Erdely has testified three consecutive days.
As part of her testimony, Erdely revealed the massive compensation she received for writing her disastrous article. “A Rape On Campus,” she said, was her first article under a lucrative new contract with Rolling Stone she’d signed the previous summer. Under the terms of the deal, Erdely would be paid $300,000 in return for producing seven long-form articles for the magazine over the next two years. The first three articles were due by June 2015.
Assuming that “A Rape On Campus,” as the first article of seven, was worth about $42,800, then the nearly 9,000-word article cost Rolling Stone about $4.75 per word.
According to local NBC29 news, Eramo’s attorney Libby Locke used the high-paying contract as an explanation for Erdely’s mistakes as a reporter. Because Erdely felt pressured to fulfill the terms of her contract, Locke suggested, she pressured a hesitant Coakley to let her story be published, and also overlooked Coakley’s many flaws as a source.
Erdely’s testimony has included other strange revelations. On Friday, she revealed that Coakley showed her a tattoo she claimed commemorated her non-existent gang-rape and how she overcame it. Rolling Stone defense attorney Scott Sexton used this tattoo as a way of defending the magazine’s decision to trust Coakley. (RELATED: UVA Jackie Invented Rumor Friend Had Syphilis)
“Did it ever occur to you that somebody would get a tattoo to memorialize something that never occurred?” Sexton asked, according to the New York Daily News.
“Never,” Erdely replied.
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