Rolling Stone wins dismissal of defamation lawsuit over debunked rape article

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Rape article defamation suit dropped against Rolling Stone

NEW YORK, June 28 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by three University of Virginia graduates who accused Rolling Stone magazine, its publisher Wenner Media and a journalist of defamation over a now-debunked article describing a gang rape.

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U.S. District Judge Kevin Castel in Manhattan said details about the alleged attackers in the November 2014 article by Sabrina Rubin Erdely were "too vague and remote" to make readers believe that the plaintiffs George Elias IV, Ross Fowler and Stephen Hadford had a role in the alleged rape.

"In the plaintiffs' own words, 'any apparent connection between the plaintiffs and the allegations is an (unfortunate) coincidence,'" Castel wrote.

See images related to the case:

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A University of Virginia student looks over postings on the door of Peabody Hall related to the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape allegations at the school in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A few postings on the door of Peabody Hall related to the Phi Kappa Psi gang rape allegations at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 24, 2014, file photo, University of Virginia students walk to campus past the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va. Rolling Stone is casting doubt on the account it published of a young woman who says she was gang-raped at a Phi Kappa Psi fraternity party at the school, saying there now appear to be discrepancies in the student's account. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)
In this image taken from video, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, University of Virginia student Ryan Duffin talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Charlottsville, Va. Duffin and two other friends of an alleged victim of a gang rape at a U.Va. fraternity, challenged details in a Rolling Stone article that used the woman's attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on the campus was wrong on a number of key points: most important that they didn't encourage her to report the attack and that they were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being. (AP Photo)
In this image taken from video, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, University of Virginia student Alex Stock talks during an interview with The Associated Press in Charlottsville, Va. Stock, and two other friends of an alleged victim of a gang rape at a U.Va. fraternity, challenged details in a Rolling Stone article that used the woman's attack to paint a picture of a culture of sexual violence on the campus was wrong on a number of key points: most important that they didn't encourage her to report the attack and that they were more concerned about their reputations than her well-being. (AP Photo)
Tommy Reid, right, the president of the University of Virginia’s Inter-Fraternity Council says that a female student’s account of being sexually assaulted by seven men at a fraternity made him “sick to my stomach.” during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The University of Virginia on Saturday suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations on Saturday in response to the accounts of sexual assault in Rolling Stone. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Jalen Ross, president of the University of Virginia student council, ponders a question during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Ross called the Rolling Stone article on a fraternity house gang rape a “wake-up call” for the university. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
University of Virginia students walk to campus past the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The university has suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations amid an investigation into a published report in which a student described being sexually assaulted by seven men in 2012 at the Phi Kappa Psi house. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Tommy Reid, at podium, the president of the University of Virginia’s Inter-Fraternity Council says that a female student’s account of being sexually assaulted by seven men at a fraternity made him “sick to my stomach.” during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Jalen Ross, at podium, president of the University of Virginia student council, ponders a question during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. Ross called the Rolling Stone article on a fraternity house gang rape a “wakeup call” for the university. The University of Virginia on Saturday suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations on Saturday in response to the accounts of sexual assault in Rolling Stone. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Tommy Reid, at podium, the president of the University of Virginia’s Inter-Fraternity Council, says that a female student’s account of being sexually assaulted by seven men at a fraternity made him “sick to my stomach.” during a news conference at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The University of Virginia on Saturday suspended activities at all campus fraternal organizations on Saturday in response to the accounts of sexual assault in Rolling Stone. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article last week alleged a gang rape at the house which has since suspended operations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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He added that the plaintiffs had no connection to the rape described in the article, and were not named there.

Alan Frank, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said his clients will review their options, including a possible appeal. A lawyer for the defendants declined to comment.

The plaintiffs all graduated in 2013 and had been members of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity at the center of Erdely's article, "A Rape on Campus."

Rolling Stone apologized in December 2014 for what it called "discrepancies" in the article, which described an attack on a woman identified as Jackie, after it had sparked a national debate over sexual violence on college campuses.

A probe by police in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the university is located, found no evidence that Jackie had been gang-raped.

Managing editor Will Dana, who helped edit Erdely's article, later resigned. A review by the Columbia University journalism school commissioned by Rolling Stone faulted the magazine for reporting and editing lapses. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler and Andrew Hay)

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