Jury Will Decide If Rolling Stone Acted With 'Reckless Disregard' in Publishing Discredited UVA Story

The Phi Kappa Psi house, where Jackie alleged she had been gang-raped. Photo via AP.

A defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone filed by Nicole Eramo, University of Virginia’s Associate Dean of Students, is set for trial next month. A judge has ruled that the jury will have to decide whether the magazine acted with a “reckless disregard for the truth” in publishing Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s now-debunked story of a gang-rape on campus, and whether they showed further disregard by re-publishing it with an editor’s note after cracks in the story began to show.

Eramo sued the magazine and Erdely in a $7.85 million defamation suit in May of last year, arguing that the story was irresponsible as a whole and made “disparaging” remarks about her personally, damaging her career prospects and her health.

In his pre-trial rulings, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, Judge Glen Conrad agreed with Rolling Stone that Eramo was a “limited-purpose public figure” in the context of the story. Eramo’s attorneys had argued that she was a private citizen, which would have made it easier to prove that she had been defamed; the bar is higher for public figures.

Eramo’s attorneys also argued that republishing the story with an editor’s note after December 5, 2014 showed a “reckless disregard” for the truth. On that day, Erdely sent an email to her editors saying she’d lost faith in the truthfulness of Jackie’s account and asking for the story to be retracted.

Instead of pulling the story down, the republished piece came with a note that read, in part, “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 note was widely criticized for placing the blame on a college student instead of the magazine’s editors; a new note published in its place said, “These mistakes are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.”

In April of this year, a judge ruled that Jackie will have to testify in the suit. Jackie’s attorneys had argued that she would be “re-traumatized” by a deposition; a judge disagreed with that, but allowed the deposition records to be sealed, and the time and location to remain private. It’s unclear whether she has already been deposed. The trial is set to run from October 17 to the 28.

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About the author

Anna Merlan

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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