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Legal saga

Jury orders Rolling Stone, reporter to pay UVA dean $3 million over retracted rape story

By WITW Staff on November 8, 2016

A federal jury in Virginia on Monday awarded the dean of the University of Virginia, the school at the center of a sensational 2014 story of a student gang raped on campus that was later debunked, $3 million in damages. Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the reporter who wrote the retracted story, was ordered to pay UVA dean Nicole Eramo $2 million and Rolling Stone, its parent company, Wenner Media, are on the hook for another $1 million. Eramo had been seeking $7.5 million in damages.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours on Monday. On Friday, the jury had returned a guilty verdict in the case. The jury ruled that details in the story as well as public statements made by Erdely and Rolling Stone were done with “actual malice.” During her testimony on Monday, Eramo broke down and cried when describing the professional challenges she’s faced in the wake of the article. According to a report by The New York Times, some jurors were seen also weeping as she spoke. Eramo also was unmoved by an apology from Rolling Stone. “It took two years and all this to get an apology,” Eramo said. “And I still don’t believe it is a real apology. The regret I see is that they’re in the position they’re in today.”

A lawyer for Rolling Stone said after the ruling that the magazine was required to cover paying the penalties for Erdely, and did not say whether the magazine was planning to appeal the verdict.

The story, titled ‘A Rape on Campus,” was published in November 2014 and left the nation in shock as it described the account of a young woman identified only as “Jackie” who said she’d been gang raped at a fraternity house. However, the allegations made by Jackie soon began to unravel and eventually the story was retracted after it became clear that “Jackie” had fabricated many of the key claims in the piece. Months later, the deans of a top journalism school conducted an investigation of what went wrong — and how. They concluded that “a newsroom culture where there didn’t seem to be much discussion and debate about editorial decisions” was one of the influential factors that led to the debacle. In court documents unsealed over the summer, written testimony by Erdely revealed some insight into her thinking and approach to the story. “For me to have witnessed her spontaneous, uninhibited reaction dramatically reinforced the fact that Jackie appeared as a traumatized sexual assault victim,” Erdely was quoted as having written.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


The bungled Rolling Stone rape article doesn’t change the fact that sexual assault is the most under-reported crime in the U.S.