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Rolling Stone, Reporter Lose Defamation Suit Over Campus Rape Story

”We overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again,“ magazine says

Former University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo has won her defamation suit against Rolling Stone and one of the publication’s reporters over a retracted 2014 story on an alleged gang rape on the school’s campus.

A federal jury found the magazine and reporter Sabrina Erdely liable in the $7.5 million lawsuit on Friday after hearing closing arguments on Tuesday.

The suit was the result of a 9,000-word feature in Rolling Stone magazine written by Erdely that has since been labeled a hoax. The detailed story of the gang rape of University of Virginia student “Jackie” at a frat party ignited outrage over the handling of sexual assault on campuses nationwide.

Shortly after it was published in 2014, details of the article were brought into question. Eventually, Rolling Stone retracted the piece and apologized. Eramo claimed the article portrayed her as a villain who discouraged “Jackie” from reporting the incident to police.

“We overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again,” the magazine admitted in a statement following the decision.

Rolling Stone’s attorneys said there was no evidence that Erdely knew what she was writing about Eramo was false. Meanwhile, Eramo’s legal team said the story was published with “reckless disregard for the truth.”

The two-week trial had a jury of eight women and two men who watched 11 hours of video testimony, heard from numerous witnesses and examined nearly 300 exhibits.

Rolling Stone issued the following statement:

“For almost 50 years, Rolling Stone has aimed to produce journalism with the highest reporting and ethical standards, and with a strong humanistic point of view. When we published ‘A Rape on Campus’ in 2014, we were attempting to tackle the very serious and complex topic of sexual assault on college campuses, a subject that is more relevant today than ever. In our desire to present this complicated issue from the perspective of a survivor, we overlooked reporting paths and made journalistic mistakes that we are committed to never making again. We deeply regret these missteps and sincerely apologize to anyone hurt by them, including Ms. Eramo. 

It is our deep hope that our failings do not deflect from the pervasive issues discussed in the piece, and that reporting on sexual assault cases ultimately results in campus policies that better protect our students. We will continue to publish stories that shine a light on the defining social, political and cultural issues of our times, and we will continue to seek the truth in every story we publish.”

Rolling Stone has also agreed to pay all of Erdely’s legal costs and any penalties that may be levied against her, according to the Associated Press.