Rolling Stone liable for defamation in campus rape story

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...
Before you go close icon

Nov 4 (Reuters) - A federal jury in Virginia on Friday found Rolling Stone liable of defaming a University of Virginia administrator by publishing a since-retracted story about an alleged gang rape at the school.

The decision followed a three-week trial in U.S. District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the administrator, Nicole Eramo, sued the magazine, owner Wenner Media and reporter Sabrina Erdely for $7.9 million. The jury returns on Monday to determine damages in the case.

SEE ALSO: Authorities: Verdict reached in NJ's 'Bridgegate' trial

Erdely was found liable of actual malice, a key element in libel law, in six statements in the November 2014 story, "A Rape on Campus." Rolling Stone and Wenner Media were each found liable of actual malice in three statements, according to court documents.

To prove defamation, it must be shown that a media organization published what it knew to be false, or did so with reckless disregard for the truth.

More on this story

23 PHOTOS
UVA rape allegations
See Gallery
UVA rape allegations
The Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014.  (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
A student walks into Peabody Hall the undergraduate admissions building at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. The door of the building is littered with notes relating to the recent gang rape allegations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
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)
Lyra Bartell, right, of Richmond, Va. hugs her friend, Irene Burgoa, grey top, in front of the undergraduate admissions building at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. the door of the building is littered with notes relating to the recent gang rape allegations. (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)
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)
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan speaks to the the board of visitors during a meeting at the rotunda at the school Tuesday, June 26, 2012 in Charlottesville, Va. Sullivan issued a statement Tuesday evening requesting a police investigation into allegations of sexual assault at a fraternity at the school. 
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)
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)
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)
Images captured by WTVR show the vandalized Phi Kappa Psi house in the wake of a bombshell Rolling Stone report including claims men in the fraternity sexually assaulted a student. 
Students Exercising on Campus by Fraternity Houses at University of Virginia in Charlottesville USA. Phi Kappa Psi, the University of Virginia fraternity where a student interviewed by Rolling Stone claims she was raped by seven men, can be seen on the left. 
Students at the University of Virginia in University of Virginia socialize in afternoon sun outside a fraternity house on campus
University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan (center) smiles for a picture with graduating students Brittany Smith (left) and Elizabeth Grizzle after the Valedictory Exercises at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville, Va. on May 18, 2013. 
A view of the Rotunda one of the best known structures on the campus of the University of Virginia
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA-JUNE 24, 2012-CAPTION: Over 1,500 students, professors and local citizens turned out forÊ'Rally for Honor' on theÊLawn on the campus of the University of Virginia, two days before the school's board reconsiders its decision. During the two-hour rally, faculty membersÊcalled for the UVA Board of Visitors to reinstateÊousted president Teresa Sullivan.ÊOn Friday Gov. Bob McDonnell threatened to replace the entire board if it fails to resolve the matter. (Photo by Jay Paul for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
University of Virginia in Charlottesville, VA
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)
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)
Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo speaks during a news conference Monday, March 23, 2015, in Charlottesville, Va. A five-month police investigation into an alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia that Rolling Stone magazine described in graphic detail produced no evidence of the attack and was stymied by the accuser's unwillingness to cooperate, authorities said Monday. (AP Photo/Melody Robbins)
A window is boarded up at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., Monday, Nov. 24, 2014. A Rolling Stone article alleged a gang rape at the house which has since suspended operations. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION

The magazine had reported that a female student known as Jackie was raped at a university fraternity in 2012. The story sparked a national debate about sexual assault on U.S. campuses.

Rolling Stone retracted the story in April 2015 after inconsistencies arose and police found no evidence of an attack. It was an embarrassing blow to the pop culture magazine founded by Jann Wenner in 1967.

Campus sexual assault remains a major concern, with some reports estimating that one in five female students will be victims of it during their college years.

Eramo, who was then an associate dean of students, accused the magazine of portraying her as the story's villain and focused on hushing up sexual assault reports. She now works in an administrative role at the university.

Mark MacDougall, an attorney at New York's Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld law firm, said actual malice did not mean that the defendants had to dislike Eramo or wish her harm.

"When a reporter, an editor or a magazine behave like they don't care whether what they publish is false, that's enough to support a finding of actual malice," MacDougall said in an emailed comment.

In a statement, Rolling Stone spokeswoman Kathryn Brenner said: "We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo."

A New York judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit in June brought by members of the University of Virginia fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, against Wenner Media, Rolling Stone and Erdely. The fraternity has also sued Rolling Stone over the story.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.

From Our Partners