Update – Nov. 4, 5:57 p.m.: A jury determined Friday that Rolling Stone and the reporter who wrote a 2014 article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia defamed a former associate dean of students. Nicole Eramo sued the magazine and the reporter, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, in 2015, seeking a total of $7.85 million. The ultimate financial compensation will be determined separately in arguments starting Monday, The Washington Post reported. Annenberg Media's original story, published Tuesday, continues below.
The defamation lawsuit over a now-retracted Rolling Stone article about an alleged rape at the University of Virginia went into closing arguments Tuesday in federal court in Charlottesville, Va.
Nicole Eramo, who was an associate dean of students at the time of the alleged rape, sued the magazine in 2015 over her portrayal in the story, which depicted Eramo as indifferent to the alleged victim's rape claim.
"A Rape on Campus," published in 2014 by Rolling Stone, told the story of a gang rape at a fraternity house. It attracted national attention when it was published, then prompted heated reactions when local police and other media outlets could not find evidence to support the story of the alleged victim, identified only as "Jackie."
Though the magazine retracted the article, Eramo said that she received hundreds of accusatory emails after it was published.
During the trial, according to news reports, testimony concerned the journalistic practices of the article's author, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, as well as University of Virginia's record of dealing with sexual assaults on campus.
Eramo, who is still employed by the university, is seeking a total of $7.85 million in damages. Her legal team must prove that Rolling Stone printed the article with malicious intent, which, according to USC Media Law Professor Susan Seager, is a high bar.
"The plaintiff would have to show that the reporter wasn't just sloppy but this was more than sloppy, which is a hard thing to prove," Seager said.
Eramo's lawyers would have to show that Erdely doubted her source and, as Seager said, "still published the story."
Erdely testified that she had full confidence in "Jackie" and had no reason to question her account at the time.
Eramo's lawyers focused on the inconsistencies in "Jackie's" story that they argued should have led Erdely to have doubts.
They cited "Jackie's" confusion about the specific fraternity at which she said the assault occurred and the lack of interviews with other individuals who were allegedly with "Jackie" at the time.
Eramo's lawyers also noted that there was information available to Rolling Stone that never made it to print that Eramo's team believes would have portrayed the associate dean more accurately.
There may have been evidence pointing toward "professional misconduct or carelessness, recklessness," said Richard Reeves, a journalism professor at USC. "But was Rolling Stone magazine out to get the associate dean? I don't think so; I can't imagine why they would."
The judge granted Rolling Stone's motion to dismiss part of Eramo's defamation claim on Monday, ruling that she was not defamed by the overall implication of the article. The jury will consider other aspects of her defamation claim, such as whether specific statements in the article were defamatory.
This case is the furthest any party has gotten in suing Rolling Stone for its 2014 article. Members of the University of Virginia's chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity named in the article, previously sued the publication, but the lawsuit was dismissed because the article did not identify the plaintiffs.
Reach Staff Reporter Jordan Winters here.