University of Virginia Associate Dean Sues Rolling Stone Magazine Over Rape Story

We have been following the ongoing controversy involving Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the investigative journalist who wrote a feature story for Rolling Stone on an alleged sexual assault on the campus in Charlottesville, Va. I previously wrote about the curious response of Rolling Stone in admitting a range of shocking journalistic failures but refusal to fire anyone, including Erdely, for a story that clearly defamed a host of people and damaged the reputation of both the University of Virginia as the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. I have commented in the past that Rolling Stone can clearly be sued in the case and probably should be sued. Now the first such lawsuit has been filed. University of Virginia associate dean of students Nicole Eramo has filed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone alleging that the magazine destroyed her reputation in her portrayal as callous and indifferent and that she was vilified by Erdely and the magazine. The magazine printed a photo illustration of Eramo that allegedly was edited from a mundane Cavalier Daily photo to a more menacing image that “demonstrates the lengths Erdely and Rolling Stone were willing to go to portray Dean Eramo as a villain.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the complaint below is that the accusing student remains not only anonymous but unnamed as a party. Presumably, Eramo is contesting not just the characterization of Erdely but the account of the student. Yet, the student is not named as a defendant. There are ample reasons to name the student in terms of litigation tactics but the optics of suing a student may have been too much for the Eramo. Not naming the student does not mean that she will not be called as a witness by the defense to bolster the defense that the magazine acted reasonably. Moreover, as a likely public figure due to her position at the university, Eramo may face the higher standard of showing a knowing disregard of falsity or reckless disregard by the defendants. The testimony of the student would be key in establishing or refuting that showing under controlling case law.

Rolling Stone magazine ran the story containing detailed accounts of the rape of Jackie, but it agreed to a demand by the alleged victim not to interview the accused man. It was an astonishing lapse of journalistic principles and the magazine also failed to fully investigate the details of the alleged rape. Notably, however, the magazine issued an apology but then removed this line: “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” That line was replaced with this line “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

The story “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, discussed how Jackie was a freshman in 2012 when she was forced to perform oral sex by seven men at the prestigious Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house. Various people raised questions over the reporting, including the fact that some of Jackie’s closest friends questioned her account despite Erdely’s insistence that her friends’ accounts were “consistent” with her story. These inconsistencies include Jackie’s initial claim, according to friends and the Washington Post, that she had been raped by 5 men and then later claiming it was 7. Other friends said that there was an absence of any physical injury despite the claim of the magazine that she emerged bloodied and battered. The fraternity also said that there was no party on the day identified by Jackie and that her identification of “Drew” did not match anyone at the house and that in conflict with her claims, no one at the house worked as lifeguards at the pool. One of the named attackers was from a different house and no one by his name is a member at the Phi Kappa Psi. The man named said that he never met Jackie.

The fact that the magazine agreed not to interview the accused was widely condemned. The magazine stated that “[b]ecause of the sensitive nature of Jackie’s story, we decided to honor her request not to contact the man who she claimed orchestrated the attack on her nor any of the men who she claimed participated in the attack for fear of retaliation against her.” A Rolling Stone editor claimed that it could not reach some of the men, though others including the Post were able to do so.

Eramo is seeking more than $7.5 million in damages from Rolling Stone, its parent company Wenner Media and Erdely. The most immediate threat is that discovery will now proceed and that could expose Rolling Stone and Erdely to even greater criticism. After all, editors claim that they were told by Erdely that she could not reach critical witnesses and were kept in the dark on some details — a conflict that could divide witnesses.

Eramo handles alleged sexual assaults and claims that she has been devastated emotionally by the portrayal and her professional standing injured. Erdely is the focus of the complaint, which alleges that the false account and image “were the result of a wanton journalist who was more concerned with writing an article that fulfilled her preconceived narrative about the victimization of women on American college campuses, and a malicious publisher who was more concerned about selling magazines to boost the economic bottom line for its faltering magazine, than they were about discovering the truth or actual facts.”

The most damaging portrayal was not just a callous disregard of the story (something that Jackie’s friends were also accused of) but that Eramo sought to suppress “Jackie’s alleged gang rape to protect UVA’s reputation.” That would seem enough for a case to go to trial. Indeed, the effort of Rolling Stone to avoid firing people and minimize the damage could come back to haunt the publication in this litigation. The carefully worded statements did little to redeem the reputation of Eramo and others in the story.

Here is the complaint: Eramo Complaint

46 thoughts on “University of Virginia Associate Dean Sues Rolling Stone Magazine Over Rape Story”

  1. MikeA, It is also incumbent upon parents, but particularly fathers, to teach sons the proper way to treat women that we were both taught. There are MANY fatherless young men out there. Many are athletes. And they are too often the men w/ no honor or nobility. They were never taught it. If we don’t teach children, how do we expect them to know? That goes for both young men and women.

  2. It is the same group of parents that teach their children to NEVER talk to a stranger because they could be kidnappers, but do not teach them common sense rules on not being sexually assualted by a male acquaintance. Common sense is endangered in our culture.

  3. MikeA, Are you ALL men? Is it not incumbent upon parents to teach their daughters all men are not all as noble as you? Is it not prudent to teach your daughter not to be in a room alone w/ a man, kissing, when you are both drunk? You bought the feminist meme and you have set up a generation of women for being victims. Congrats! You have created victims and now kangaroo courts to deal w/ the alleged perpetrators. How wonderfully enlightened.

  4. There are no circumstances under which a male is unable to stop his pursuit of a female. None. My actions may be influenced by my passions, but they are controlled by my will. My decision to act is the foundation of criminal responsibility. That I have compromised my reason through the voluntary act of becoming intoxicated excuses nothing and is relevant only with respect to the penalty to be paid.

    1. Mike –

      My decision to act is the foundation of criminal responsibility. That I have compromised my reason through the voluntary act of becoming intoxicated excuses nothing and is relevant only with respect to the penalty to be paid.

      Does this hold the same for the woman? Can two play at this game or is the game only played by one?

  5. Paul

    Is it necessary to hold a reader’s hand so tightly? The great excuse of a college or youthful rapist is presented in court where the drunken a’hole is clean cut, well dressed, and supported by friends and family that attempt to convince a judge and/or jury that the wholesome lad sitting here could not have done this despicable thing, and if he did it was not him but circumstances, the girl, or something else. It is what it is.

    1. issac – opposed to the Canadian system, we tend to think the accused is innocent is until found guilty. Again, unlike the Canadian system we allow people to wear their own clothes to court.

  6. old nurse, You just expressed thoughts similar to what Camille Paglia speaks of passionately. Women my mothers and even my sisters ages knew you do not put yourself in a position where both you and the boy are drunk and alone in one of your rooms. Feminists have told women “No means no.” I AGREE. But, you are playing w/ a loaded gun, as it were, and the gunman is drunk. It is a very bad situation that women must take control of and not put themselves in that situation. That paraphrases what Paglia says and dovetails w/ what you said as well.

  7. I wish we would address the problem of young, inexperienced kids – sometimes under the influence of drugs or alcohol – who aren’t yet smart or experienced enough to really understand how to communicate about sexual activity. So there are cases where the guy is sure he has consent and the girl knows she did not give consent. And they are both right and they are both wrong, and therein lies the dilemma in these specific cases. We need to figure out how to help young men and women to be really clear about their intentions and their communications when they are sexually active.

    I’m not talking about being raped or lying about being raped.

  8. The raping of a person, typically woman by man, is such an expression of evil and everything we are supposed to be evolving out of that the perpetrator should be nailed to a wall. It is not an expression of youthful indiscretion nor can it be explained away by referring to rampant hormones. Some one who rapes someone else is sick, chemically, physically, and should be put away for a long time. The punishment should be severe to act as a deterrent as well as a punishment. The ‘boys’ in their nice suits and haircuts sitting in a courtroom, each of them a son of a respectable family, etc, etc, should be dealt with severely.

    Having said all that, when someone accuses another of this disgusting and cowardly act, unjustly, they should receive the same treatment. The Rolling Stone should not only be sued six ways from Sunday but there should be criminal charges of negligence and fraud. What is at stake here is not the credibility of the newspaper, that has been trashed and should be scrutinized continually. What is at stake here is giving a pass to rapists who can refer to the incident when they are sitting in court in their nice suits and haircuts, the sons of good families, just going through a phase.

    Each incident should be investigated as thoroughly as possible and given the full force of the law. If the accused is guilty then punishment most severe should be levied. If the accuser is guilty then the same. Or else we will be reacting to and being guided by mindless axioms such as, “Rape on campus is part of the feminist meme.”

    1. Issac – I do not understand your reference to rapists as being the sons of good families, going through a phase, sitting in court in their nice suits. Where the heck did you pick this up?

  9. I’m sure I would have immediately become very suspicious of it anyway. It was all too perfect & the villains, including her friends, were pure comic book characters

    I immediately called the story false because it relied on the ridiculous presumption that conscious rapists were not afraid of discovery. Rapists either intend to get away with their crime (victims don’t know the perps, intimidation using gang or immigration status), or they are emotionally crazed enough not to care (perhaps via drugs), or they don’t consider themselves rapists (they don’t realize they don’t have consent, or are using this as cover).

    Since at least two of the rapists were known to the victim and they had no way of intimidating her into silence they had no way to escape identification. Pre-staging the scene with accomplices showed it could not be a drug fueled rape of opportunity (as did the allegations of an initiation ritual). The punch in the face and other violence eliminated the possibility of confusion over consent. In fact it eliminated their ability to claim consent even if they knew such a claim was false.

    Erdely clumsily tried to cover this hole in logic with the claim Drew intended to drug her but she surreptitiously dumped her drink. But this still fails because she would have awoken the next morning with a black eye, cuts all over her lower body, and obvious signs of intercourse. And as I noted she’d know exactly who to accuse. We’re to believe a rape kit with 7 positives on a woman with a black eye, shredded skin, and trauma consistent with rape would be ignored? We’re to believe 9 students at a moderately high end university were willing to bet their lives on this?

    Not only is this crazy it shows the extremism of the insular world of rape hysteria activism. Not just Erdely believed this story, but many people attacked those who criticized it even after the holes were pointed out. Some (Valenti et. al.) are still defending it even after we discovered the entire event was a romantic cat-fishing effort.

  10. I don’t know what financial effect the lawsuits will have but otherwise I wonder if the entire Jackie affair has actually cost RS any money. I know this sound very cynical but maybe the reason no one has been fired is strictly money-based. This incident has gotten RS tons of publicity. Maybe their thinking is that all publicity is good, bad publicity is a non-concept. Maybe their relytng on readers following SRE’s future stories.

    This might be hindsight bias–I didn’t read the Jackie story until it started disentegrating–but I’m sure I would have immediately become very suspicious of it anyway. It was all too perfect & the villains, including her friends, were pure comic book characters. Maybe RS management never really believed the story but just didn’t care. Maybe as far as RS management is concerned SRE & her editor’s did a fine job.

  11. Good for her. This may improve accountability and journalistic integrity, which is sliding downhill.

    RS’s shockingly lax journalism caused irreparable damage to all those accused, as well as Eramo. Those rumors are going to follow them forever.

  12. When Duke University had this same problem the media condemned the athletics without knowing the truth.
    When the teachers were teaching hatred and terrorist ideas the students were blamed.
    When a criminal was killed by a cop whites only were blamed and not just cops.
    But several factors came to light. The media had an overall one sided view to incite the riots.
    Religious leaders stuck their noses into a state issue and thus violated the ‘separation of Church and State.’ By the way by doing so opens the door that allows the State to investigate the Church.
    When a party becomes injected and incites into an act that is considered unlawful, then an investigation is warranted under the Constitution of all parties involved.
    The Church does not have the power to cover up a criminal act.
    This also holds on the ‘Freedom of the Press and Speech.’ If a criminal act is claimed then it can be investigated by the authority of the State and ‘Obstruction of Justice’ by the entity can be charged.
    So make a public statement for or against can be a means to an action.

  13. How would it affect the success of the suit if Rolling Stone had published a series of stories with defamatory statements, and if the publisher had a secreted enterprise whose revenues were accruing also to the “survivor”?

  14. Rolling Stone and Erdely are SJWs.
    If you remember that SJWs always lie, you’re never surprised to find out that, well, they lied.

    The problem is that universities like UVA are chock full of SJWs.
    So they repeatedly lie to each other, along with everyone else.
    Must be confusing. Maybe they could adopt some secret hand signals.

    As a result, I only feel sorry for the frat guys here.
    Everyone else got -or will soon get- what they deserved.

  15. It’s hard to tell if Rolling Stone is stupid-evil or stupid-chaotic.
    Maybe stupid-evil-chaotic, the trifecta of evolutionary disappearance.

    UVA is clearly just stupid-evil.

  16. For less than 8 million I expect RS to settle even if they have to do it for the full amount. The story is such a blatant fraud the press coverage alone is more damaging to their brand..

  17. The story “A Rape on Campus” by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, discussed how Jackie was a freshman in 2012 when she was forced to perform oral sex by seven men at the prestigious Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house.

    This is not correct. The oral sex story was the original story Jackie told her friends and rape activists shortly after the events occurred. The Rolling Stone story alleged intercourse.

  18. Rape on campus is part of the feminist meme. They have helped create kangaroo courts and they have a propaganda machine in place to spread this agenda. Jon Krakauer, an author I like, has a new book out about rape on campus. In typical fashion on campus, he appeared to promote his book in a forum but no opposing questions were allowed.

    If someone wants to know the real truth they need to read Camille Paglia on this subject. She states emphatically feminists are complicit in sexual abuse on campus by not telling women the truth.

  19. This will the first of many suits. I am sure the fraternities will sue both individually and as a group and the school will eventually sue. Rolling Stone just made this whole thing worse by not firing Erdeley. It’s like they put a big target on their chest. Maybe they are judgment proof?

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