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Rolling Stone ‘Jackie’ trial: Magazine and Reporter Ordered to Pay $3 Million for defamation

Nicole Eramo had sued the magazine for $7.5m, claiming it cast her as a villain who sought to discourage the woman identified only as Jackie from reporting her alleged assault to police.
Rolling Stones

In a case of Defamation being heard on Rolling Stone, Jurors have awarded a University of Virginia administrator $3 million. The case is of Nicole Eramo, a former associate dean of University of Virginia suing Rolling Stone for her portrayal in an article titled ‘A rape on campus’, which was about the school’s handling of a brutal gang rape a fraternity house.

Reportedly, the 10-member jury’s decision came after they concluded on Friday that the magazine, its publisher and reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely were responsible for defamation, with actual malice, of Eramo in the 2014 story ‘A Rape on Campus’.

Reportedly, Eramo had sued the magazine for $7.5m, claiming it cast her as a villain who sought to discourage the woman identified only as Jackie from reporting her alleged assault to police. However, a police investigation found no evidence to back up Jackie’s rape claims.

On Monday, Jurors heard testimony about the extent of damage done to Eramo’s life and reputation before they deliberated on the damages to be awarded to her. It has been reported that in the damages hearing, Eramo wept repeatedly as she recounted personal and professional difficulties after the article was published.

She told Jurors about her trouble in sleeping, fear of safety, and struggles she faced with her then seven-year-old-son. In an emotional acceptance, she said that one day, she crawled under her desk and contemplated suicide as she felt her world come crashing down around her. Her husband testified that she told him, “I don’t know that I can live anymore.”

“I just wanted to disappear,” said Eramo, adding “I didn’t know how it was going to be OK.”

She also claimed that the article prompted the university to move her out of her job as an associate dean into a different administrative role that she doesn’t like as much because she rarely works with students.  She informed that when the article was published, she was also preparing to undergo a double mastectomy for breast cancer, and the stress could have led to post-surgery infection.

Reportedly, some members of the jury were seen dabbing tears during Eramo’s testimony.

The story in 2014 had prompted calls for Eramo’s resignation and sparked a national conversation about sexual assault at elite institutions.

However, Jackie’s story fell apart after many other reporters hopped onto the story, and soon enough it was called into question for relying on a single source and it was reportedly determined that Rolling Stone never spoke to the woman’s alleged attackers — or even verified their existence — before going to print.

Since the Judge determined Eramo as a “public figure”, and had to prove that Rolling Stone made statements with “actual malice,” meaning it knew that what it was writing about her was false or entertained serious doubts about whether it might be true.

The Jury found after a two-week trial, that Rolling Stone; Wenner Media, its parent company; and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the author of the article, were all liable for defamation in a case that centered on faulty reporting and a failure to apply basic fail-safes in editing, the reports said.

The reports said that the magazine acted with actual malice as they republished the article on December 5 with an editor’s note after they knew about the problems with Jackie’s story. The jury also found that Erdely acted with actual malice on six claims: two statements in the article and four statements to media outlets after the story was published.

Jurors awarded $2m to Eramo for statements made by Erdely and $1m for the republication of the article by Rolling Stone and Wenner Media. Rolling Stone could appeal the verdict.

It has been reported that Rolling Stone has agreed to pay Erdely’s legal costs and the damages levied against her. But the attorneys have continuously argued that after the article was published, Eramo has gotten two raises, and her salary is now set at $113,000 a year. They also noted that a report from the United States Department of Education backed up the magazine’s general findings by criticizing how the University of Virginia handled sexual assault cases.

Rolling Stone has urged The Jury not to be tempted to award higher damages, as the article itself had been a punishment for the magazine and they had been “heartbroken” with the decision.

It is to be noted that Rolling Stone also faces a $25m lawsuit from Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity where Jackie claimed her assault took place. That case is schedule to go to trial late next year.

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