Can RollingStone magazine survive? That’s the question after a jury ruled that RollingStone and its writer Sabrina Erdely were guilty of libel with malice, and of defamation. The trial lasted two weeks before the 10 member jury delivered their judgment. The case stems from an article published in RollingStone entitled “A Rape on Campus”. In the article, the writer told the story of “Jackie”, who claimed she was raped at the University of Virginia. It turned out the story was a fabrication.
The plaintiff, Nicole Eramo, a University administrator, claimed she was unfairly portrayed by the writer and RollingStone, as someone who was trying to prevent the story from coming out because “nobody wants to send their daughter to the rape school.” The plaintiff’s lawyers had to prove that RollingStone made her appear “odious, infamous or ridiculous” and that the magazine acted with “actual malice,” meaning that it knew that what it was writing about her was false or should have known that it was false.
The article was first published in the Dec 4th 2014 issue. According to Wikipedia: “The article included a claim that a student, identified only as “Jackie” by the magazine, had been taken to a party hosted by the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity at the University of Virginia by a fellow student. At the party, Jackie alleged in the article, her date led her to a bedroom where she was raped by several fraternity members as part of an initiation rite. Jackie’s account generated much media attention, and the university suspended the fraternity. After other journalists investigated the article’s claims and found significant discrepancies, RollingStone issued multiple apologies for the story. Further investigation concluded that Jackie had fabricated the incident”.
The lawsuit sought $7.5 million in compensatory damages.
“According to the Associated Press, Eramo told jurors that, after the story’s publication, she had trouble sleeping, feared for her life, and struggled explaining the events to her then-7-year-old son. She said she contemplated suicide at one point, and her husband also testified that Eramo told him she didn’t know that should could live anymore.” She was awarded $3 million, of which $2 million was a judgment against the writer and $1 million against the magazine. RollingStone has also agreed to pay Erdely’s legal costs.
Erdely was not fired after the article was retracted and continues to write for RollingStone.
RollingStone also faces a $25 million lawsuit from Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where Jackie claimed her assault took place. That case is scheduled to go to trial late next year.