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On Friday, a jury found Rolling Stone, parent company Wenner Media, and journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely liable in a defamation lawsuit brought forth by University of Virginia administrator Nicole P. Eramo. The suit was filed in May 2015, and the case went to trial in October.
Eramo sought legal action after the publishing and eventual retraction of the 2014 Rolling Stone investigative story “A Rape on Campus.” Written by Erdely, the piece followed the story of “Jackie,” a shortened version of the alleged victim’s real name. It was a detailed narrative and damning portrait of sexual assault at the University of Virginia that called into question the actions of university administrators. But key details didn’t add up.
Once the piece was formally retracted, investigations on Rolling Stone’s account began, courtesy of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. “A Rape on Campus” was riddled with basic journalistic errors, relying too heavily on one source and failing to spot the many red flags leading up to publication. Furthermore, the Charlottesville, Virginia, police department declared that there was no substantive proof to support Jackie’s claims.
“A Rape on Campus” also painted others, like Eramo and the fraternity that Jackie cited, in an incredibly negative light. Eramo received hundreds of angry letters and emails after the article’s publication, which depicted Eramo as someone who discouraged Jackie from reporting her rape to the police. Erdely was ultimately found responsible for libel with actual malice.
Eramo originally sought $350,000 in punitive damages in addition to $7.5 million in compensatory damages. She dropped the punitive claim in October.
It’s unclear when the damages phase of the trial will begin. The fraternity named in the article, Phi Kappa Psi, has also filed a lawsuit against Rolling Stone, which is expected to be heard in October 2017.
Nidia Cavazos is a multimedia journalist with an emphasis on political reporting. She's contributed to Univision, KXAN, and USA Today College, and she was named one of six NBC Fellows by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 2017.