Rolling Stone liable for defamation in campus rape story

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.

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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.

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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
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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.

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