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. I do very well w/ smart, intelligent, tough, women. I’ve been married to one for almost 38 years. I think someone has serious problems w/ men who do not suffer fools, or foolishness well. To that I plead guilty.

  2. Old nurse, now he thinks you are me again, lol. Too much! OR he Is going to hone in on you too now. He seems to have issues with females who speak their minds, when they disagree with him or make him look foolish. And he doesn’t want to be called rude? Old nurse, if he becomes outrightly uncivil, I suggest sending Professor a Turley an email.

    “If only the nurse could read. Being able to read could have solved this drama. Well, maybe not. When lonely, w/ poor social skills, internet drama is all some folks got.”

  3. Paul, I doubt my son got many “no’s.” He’s very handsome and suave like his old man. We had our share of women, but I have been married faithfully to a great woman for almost 38 years now. I know you too have been able to maintain a great married relationship. It takes good communication skills, and an ability to love someone w/o constant drama to stay married.

  4. Old nurse, I think MANY of us have our “war stories” when it comes to this guy, lol.

  5. Annie, I learned a lot about Nick when he told me to “report back to me.” Priceless.

  6. Someone is getting himself very riled up. Breath deeply and slowly.

  7. Stanton, My bad. Thanks for the comment @ 12:22p. And as you know, I am always as calm as the other side of the pillow.

    “I don’t give them hell, I JUST TELL THE TRUTH and they think it’s hell.” Harry Truman

  8. Emotion over logic. I show you that you were flat ass wrong in accusing me of not seeing the importance to teach “no means no” to boys and you respond w/ calling me rude. Well, the truth is a mofo sometimes. And the truth is you accused me of something that was FACTUALLY and on its face wrong, and now you call my direct and honest rebuttal as rude. I refer you to my phrase, “Buck up Buttercup” Allie. LOL!

    Your 12:22p comment is correct. Kudos, and thanks

    1. Nick – if you taught your boys that “No means no.” you did not teach them a damn thing about women or girls. Lots of times no does not mean no. It means maybe. It means talk me in to it. It mean no right now, but try again in a little while, please don’t give up. It all depends on exactly how she says NO.

  9. nick speaks truth…just listen…what he speaks is most reasonable

  10. Nick, you are quite rude and make an awful lot of assumptions, all of them wrong.

  11. I covered that w/ my emphatic support for “No means no” in this thread!! [5/13/15 @ 9:49p in a response TO YOU!] Don’t let haters influence you old nurse. I was taught that, and I taught that to my son, students, and players I coached. Read what people say, not what others say they said! Read all my comments, WHAT I SAID, and then report back to me. Think for yourself!

  12. And, Nick, what practical information and facts would you suggest parents tell their sons?? Don’t worry, it’s all on the girls??

  13. Old nurse, AGAIN he is putting the onus on females. How about teaching your sons to control their impulses, drunk or not?

  14. Isaac, I’m not sure you understand this? Just because someone cannot post bond does not mean they don’t wear their own clothes @ trial. They do. And, if they have even a ‘C’ grade defense attorney, they wear a suit.

  15. old nurse, we are completely on the same page. I do not want to go back to the 1950’s regarding sexual mores. But, I do not want politics to make young women fodder for young men who consider them prey. As I originally said, I agree “No means no.” But, to tell a young woman only that, and not give her practical information and facts, like the FACT you should not be drunk, in a bedroom, alone, w/ someone you just met @ a party, is parental malpractice and neglect. In a perfect world, she could be in a room, alone, drunk, w/ someone she just met and say “No” and that would suffice. The world is far from perfect.

  16. Some athletes are not dishonorable because they were fatherless, they are dishonorable because they are put up on pedestals and allowed to get away with dishonorable behavior by those who need their talents, like high schools, universities and professional sports.nthey are not held responsible for their actions by more than just a husbandless mother. Many of these mothers worked hard and did their best for their sons. And the men that may have been in their lives may have been even a worse influence on them. Simply providing the presence of a male in a household does not mean the child will grow up to be honorable.

  17. Paul

    Again it went over your head. Also, you might pay attention, in Canada the accused is considered innocent until proven guilty and allowed to wear his or her own clothes. Whereas in the US these conditions are fast disappearing, unless one has the money. You don’t find many if any of the draconian police and legal goings on in Canada that you find in the US. Seizure of property and money without due course, where the victim is obligated to prove the innocence. The US may have the words but less and less the deeds.

    This blog should water down your ‘holier than thou’ statements. “In this country……”. Our son was born in the US and has no right to Canadian citizenship. However, there are times when I wish he did. He is 20 and in university. When one sees how easily lives are ruined in the US by the extreme positions of the various legal systems in all their dysfunction and prejudice, I wonder where he would be better off coming of age. He would be a lot safer in Canada than some states in ‘this country’ as you so broadly painted.

    Compare and contrast the length of sentences, amount of recidivism, level of crime and violence between the US and other countries including Canada and then tell me that the US is not just a little out of control.

  18. Nick, I believe that you misunderstood my comments. I am advocating for both men and women to learn how to communicate about sex effectively and maturely, particularly in the area of giving informed, SOBER consent. I am not seeking a return to the 1950s model of boys will be boys and girls have to watch out for themselves. Because if we go back to the notion that the girl has to be the responsible party in sexual encounters, then the flip side is that they only have themselves to blame when they are accosted.

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